Kansas City Royals and the Reinvention of Greg Holland


Over the last three years, if the Kansas City Royals had a lead going into the 9th inning, the game was over.  With his bombastic delivery throwing 95+mph missiles, hard breaking downward sliders, and precision command, Greg Holland was the best closer in the American League.  As part of the three-headed bullpen monster, Holland’s presence at the end of a game was an assured victory for the Royals.

But not in 2015. 

Marred by a series of injuries, a plummeting velocity, and lack of control, Greg Holland’s season has been dismal.  His 3.64 ERA is a career worst.  And sadly, his presence on the mound elicits finger-crossing from fans rather than sighs of relief. 

What’s going on with Greg Holland? Is it an aching pectoral muscle?  Heavy 2014 work load catching up to his arm?  Or can we blame the Kansas City Royals improved offense?  Closers thrive on tense situations, and Holland certainly blossomed in one-run situations.

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In other words, who knows.  Whatever has worked for Greg Holland in the past is either a page in Royals history or in a holding pattern. 

In the meantime, Holland is working with what he has with some very promising results.  Take a look at the Minnesota game on September 8th.  He got Joe Mauer to ground out on an 91mph fastball on the outside (with a little help from Alcides Escobar).  Trevor Plouffe grounded out on the second pitch he saw.  And Eddie Rosario flew out to Lorenzo Cain.  10 pitches.  Save number 30.  By looking at Salvador Perez’s indications, Holland missed his spots a few times, but the results worked in his favor.

The very next day, Greg Holland kept the Royals in the game.  He gave up a lead off hit to Kennys Vargas, but a well-placed pitch to Rosario put out the fire with a double play.  Another quick inning of work for Greg Holland.

His velocity is noticeably five miles slower on average, but Holland still knows how to throw a pitch with confidence.  As of late, many Royals games have ended in offensive blowouts, and Holland’s presence has not been needed.  If he is indeed injured, all of the extra rest will benefit the team come the postseason.  But if the golden age of flamethrowing Holland has come to pass, then he will need to continue to transform.

Over the course of a career, many good pitchers will lose their fire.  Truly great pitchers accept change, stay competitive, and reinvent themselves.  Over the course of a bafflingly rough season for Greg Holland, he’s proven that he’s able to forget a rut and keep competing.  And in a close game, down to the wire, Holland still owns the 9th.

Next: Royals Thrust into Villain Role Once Again