KC Royals Projections: A Greg Holland encore in 2021?

(Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports) /

Will pitcher Greg Holland repeat his excellent 2020 season for the KC Royals?

Welcome to Kings of Kauffman’s KC Royals Projections series for 2021. Between now and Opening Day, our writers are analyzing how various Royals performed last season and predicting how they might fare this year. Up today is pitcher Greg Holland.

The KC Royals took their kind of chance last winter when they brought back reliever Greg Holland on a low-cost, minimal-risk deal with high-yield potential. Now, little else will please the Royals more if Holland repeats the kind of season he had in 2020.

Holland rewarded the club’s faith in him with a superb comeback from the career extremes he’d endured since leaving Kansas City after the 2015 season. As closer, Holland played a pivotal role in the Royals’ drives to the 2014 and 2015 World Series, although late season Tommy John surgery cut short his ’15 season and deprived him of playing in that year’s Fall Classic.

He looked much like the Holland of old last season, especially after replacing Trevor Rosenthal as closer when KC traded Rosenthal to San Diego. Holland finished the campaign with six saves (five of them followed Rosenthal’s departure), a 1.91 ERA and perfect 3-0 record. His control improved (2.2 BB9 compared to a career 4.0) and he characteristically fanned almost 10 batters per nine innings (9.8 SO/9).

Is an encore in store for him in 2021?

Baseball Reference and FanGraphs projections for Holland’s 2021 season

Like most effective relievers, Holland doesn’t post many wins or losses—he averages 2.7 victories and 2.2 defeats per season. He has a career 2.90 ERA, 4.0 BB/9 and 11.4 SO/9. And because player projections from any source are necessarily based on past performance, it isn’t surprising that both Baseball Reference and FanGraphs predict Holland’s control won’t be as good this season as it was last, and his record won’t differ remarkably from his typical marks.

Baseball Reference projects Holland will go 4-3 with a 4.16 ERA, save nine games, and post a 4.2 BB/9 and 9.3 SO/9; FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) predicts he’ll have 16 saves and go 3-3 with a 4.47 ERA, 9.44 SO/9 and 4.84 BB/9.

How will Greg Holland actually perform for the KC Royals this season?

From the start of 2020 spring training through the end of the shortened regular season, sustained inferior performance never plagued Holland; simply put, bad moments were almost non-existent. Yes, 2020 didn’t provide a full sample, but what Holland made of the campaign was excellent. That, combined with the absence of injury, bode well for Holland in 2021.

Look for the righthander to open the season in his familiar closer’s role. How many saves he collects is, of course, a function of how often the Royals win; they should be better, so 20-25 saves aren’t unrealistic for a pitcher who’s saved over 40 games three times for good clubs (the 2013 and 2014 Royals and 2017 Rockies). His won-loss record, important for relievers only at the extremes, won’t be much different than in the past; while history suggests his control may slip a bit, expect him to still strike out a lot of hitters.

If there’s a significant unknown for Holland, it’s Trevor Rosenthal, the presumptive closer if the Royals somehow manage to re-sign him. Despite a stellar 2020 comeback season of his own, Rosenthal remains unemployed; as improbable as his return might seem, it could happen, with Holland returning to a setup role if it does.

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Greg Holland is back. Expect him to pitch well for the KC Royals this season.