Since he took over as the Kansas City Royals closer mid way through the 2012 season, Greg Holland has been among the best closers in baseball. He has made two All-Star Games, and in each of the past two years, has earned votes on the Cy Young and MVP ballots. Holland has been as close to automatic as any closer in the game during that time, a force unto himself at the end of the Royals bullpen.
Over the previous three seasons, Holland has produced a 1.88 ERA and a 1.054 WHiP, saving 109 of 118 opportunities. He struck out 284 batters in 196.1 innings of work, while walking only 72 batters. That blend of velocity and control helped make Holland one of the elite closers in the game, and perhaps the best closer in the American League. Except for those rare occasions, the Royals knew the game was safe with Holland on the mound in the ninth.
This season has been different. While Holland may look to be close to the same statistically, having saved eight of nine games with a 2.19 ERA, he just is not the same pitcher. His control, which has usually been solid, has deserted Holland thus far, resulting in eight walks in 12.1 innings. Meanwhile, Holland’s strikeouts are down, as he only has ten strikeouts on the season.
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Given those numbers, it is not surprising that Holland’s ERA is considered to be better than expected. Indeed, his FIP indicates that Holland should have a 4.50 ERA, taking him from the realm of the elite closers and closer to the level of pitchers like Jason Grilli. That is not what the Kansas City Royals need in the back of the bullpen.
So, what has been the reason for this dropoff? First, Greg Holland has lost almost two miles per hour from his fastball this season, dropping from 96.43 MPH over the past three seasons to 94.58 MPH. While that may not seem like a big difference, those two miles per hour can mask the occasional struggles with command that Holland is experiencing this season. However, this drop in velocity may not be as troubling as it would appear.
Perhaps these struggles are due, in part, to the injuries that Holland has dealt with this season. He was placed on the disabled list with a pectoral strain in the middle of April, and was unable for a game because of a strained neck. By themselves, these injuries would seem to be minor, but given Holland’s inconsistent control this season, it may be that these injuries are causing more of a problem than one would think.
If Holland is able to get his control back on track, that may be all he needs to get back to being the elite closer that the Royals have come to expect. Holland has actually done quite well when the ball is put in play against him, allowing only five hits. For the season, Holland has allowed a mere 14.8% line drive rate, while inducing a ground ball in 59.3% of at bats ending with the ball in play. Unsurprisingly, opponents only have a .148 batting average on balls in play against Holland.
Perhaps the return of the dominant closer that the Royals expect is just a matter of a mechanical tweak. Even with the decrease in velocity, opponents are faring worse against Holland when putting the ball in play than they had in years past. It is just a matter of getting that command back, letting Holland return to the form that the Royals have come to expect.
The Kansas City Royals need Greg Holland to be that dominant closer once again. Despite his struggles this season, he may be a lot closer than one would think.