The KC Royals had a vastly improved bullpen in 2020. Greg Holland had much to do with the improvement and would be a good fit for 2021.
Dayton Moore, the KC Royals’ resolute general manager who seems to march only to the beat of his own famous “process,” surely had to wonder himself last winter if signing Greg Holland was, all things considered, a solid move.
After all, Holland had struggled for two straight seasons and simply wasn’t the same pitcher who anchored the Royals’ bullpen during their wonderfully transformational 2013, ’14, and ’15 seasons. A UCL tear and Tommy John surgery kept him out of the 2015 World Series and Kansas City didn’t tender him a 2016 contract; since then, only in his 2017 campaign, when he saved a National League-leading 41 games for the Rockies, did he resemble the hurler he was with the Royals.
Holland left the Rockies, bouncing from St. Louis to Washington to Arizona during two seasons beset with control problems and inconsistency. He spent most of last winter unemployed.
But enter Moore and his affection for former pitching stars struggling to regain their once-great forms. Just in time for spring training, and despite Holland’s obvious decline, the KC Royals signed him to a one year minor-league deal in late January and invited him to spring camp as a non-roster player.
Holland soon extinguished any significant doubts about his ability. An excellent spring assured his return to the Royals’ summer camp when baseball resumed in July and his regular season was even better. Back in form, Holland went 3-0 with a 1.91 ERA (242 ERA+), saved six games, averaged almost 10 strikeouts per nine innings, and registered a 0.953 WHIP.
He was back. That sub-2.00 ERA was Holland’s best since his 1.44 in the club’s 2014 pennant season and the sub-1.0 WHIP was his lowest season mark since the 0.914 he posted the same year. He recorded the lowest walk rate of his career (2.2 BB9). And although his SO9 dipped a bit from 2019’s 10.3, it was nearly a strikeout per inning better than 2018.
Holland’s three wins were his most since he won three with Colorado in 2017. Wins may have lost much of their luster as prime indicators of pitching success (especially for relievers), but they still retain some relevance in gauging a hurler’s effectiveness.
The six saves he recorded must be measured against the just-ended short season, and it’s important that five of them came after Holland became the Royals’ closer when they traded Trevor Rosenthal in late August. Back in his familiar role, Holland didn’t surrender a run, walked only one batter, and struck out 18 in 12.1 innings following Rosenthal’s departure.
And he pitched in 28 games, slightly less than half the KC Royals’ total of 60.
The 2020 sample size is smaller than usual, of course, but there isn’t a bad metric in the bunch. And he fulfilled another critical role for first-year manager Mike Matheny who, per Royals broadcaster Joel Goldberg, relishes Holland’s leadership:
It isn’t at all surprising that Holland, the linchpin of KC’s 2014 and ’15 lockdown bullpens, was so valuable. He’s seen the best and worst of times in 10 major league campaigns and knows how to win in Kansas City. His ability to enhance the progress of young players, coupled with his return to vintage Holland form, should compel the Royals to aggressively pursue him this winter. The club’s relatively young bullpen needs a veteran leader and guide. Already familiar with the role, who better to fill it next season than Holland?
Although he’ll be in more demand this offseason than last, and will cost more than the $1.25 million (and possibly some incentive payments) he collected by making the 2020 major league roster, he won’t command a multi-year mega-deal entering his age 35 season. He’ll likely be affordable and Kansas City should have the inside track. Holland’s superb 2020 season proves he can still pitch, can still get high-leverage outs, and can still close. He clearly likes the Royals, they like him, and he’ll have the chance to play a vital role in another Royal transformation.
Holland will officially become a free agent a few days after the World Series concludes. The Royals shouldn’t let him get away.
Greg Holland returned to form in 2020. The KC Royals should bring him back for another season.