Many thought Greg Holland would be the closer for the Kansas City Royals going into the 2012 season. Despite the incredible numbers he put up in 2011 as the primary set up man for Joakim Soria, the Royals turned to Jonathan Broxton to close out games at the beginning of last season. As it turned out, it may have turned out for the best for Holland and the Royals for 2013 and beyond.
Holland struggled right out of the gate in 2012. In seven April appearances, covering 6 1/3, he allowed 13 hits, 7 walks (3 intentional), and 8 earned runs, while striking out 10. He sported an ERA of 11.37 and an astronomical WHIP of 2.684. After a particularly awful outing on April, 20th, when he allowed 5 base runners and 3 runs without recording an out, Holland went on the Disabled List for basically a bruised rib cage. After his return more than three weeks later, Holland got things turned around. From May 12th, the date of his return from the DL, through the end of the season, Holland resembled the pitcher he was in 2011. For the rest of the season, he only allowed 14 earned runs in 60 2/3 innings. In those innings, opponents only amassed 45 hits and he struck out 81. When Broxton was traded to the Cincinnati Reds at the end of July, Holland stepped into the closer’s role for the Royals. Holland was flat out dominating over the last three months of the season. In 40 2/3 innings, he allowed 29 hits, 10 earned runs, and struck out 52. His ERA was 2.21 and his WHIP was 1.107 and he saved 16 games.
If there is one worrisome aspect of Holland’s 2012 post-injury performance, it is his walks. He had 4 unintentional walks (from now on, all walk stats will not include intentional walks) in April and gave out 30 free passes the rest of the way. Walks are the bane for any pitchers but with so little room for error, they are particularly dangerous for closers. His Base on Balls per 9 innings ratio leaped from 2.9 in 2011, to 4.6 last season. Holland really needs to improve his BB/9 ratio. He needs to get that number back to where it was in 2011. If it stays as it was in 2012, he could be in for a rocky season.
Part of Holland’s terrific 2011 was due to his Strand Rate (83%) and Batting Average on Plays in Play (.252). Good relievers and closers tend to be better than average in these categories, usually because they have dominant skill sets and smaller sample sizes, but these two numbers were both unsustainable. In 2012, Hollands S% stabilized to a more normal 78% but his BABIP regressed completely in the other direction to .354. Eliminating a chunk of free passes and having a just a little bit better luck on balls in play would drive Holland’s ERA and WHIP down, making him a near elite level closer in 2013. In conjunction with making those improvements, and if he maintains his fantastic Strike Outs to 9 innings Ratio (K/9) of 12.2 from 2012 (11.6 for his career), he can be a dominant closer. For his career, he has only allowed 1 home run per 18 innings pitched. Again, this is an outstanding number. Keeping the ball in the ball park is a key element in a closer’s success. His skill set is right there. Only his excessive walks are holding him back.
There is one other aspect of Holland’s game that he needs to addressed if he is to become a dominant, elite closer. There is a major chasm dividing his home performances and his work away from Kauffman Stadium over his career thus far. He only has 8 1/3 more innings at home than on the road. His ERA at the “K” is 1.99 but it is more than twice as high on the road at 4.06. His WHIP at home is an outstanding .974 but his WHIP on the road is an awful 1.515. He has basically 9 innings less pitched on the road (77 IP at home, 68 2/3 on the road), yet has allowed 12 more hits and issued 17 more walks. Some of this is driven by a degree of bad luck because his BABIP on the road is .354 but only .278 at Kauffman. One can infer from these numbers that Holland is either uncomfortable on the road, or he doesn’t focus as well as he does in Kauffman Stadium. His command obviously isn’t as sharp and he probably isn’t locating his pitches as well. It is imperative for him to improve his performances away from the confines of his home stadium. He has to match his stats on the road to his stellar numbers at home. If he cannot pitch on the road, his tenure as the Royals’ closer will be a short one. The Royals do have a couple of in-house options if Holland can’t make these improvements. Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Crow have both displayed skill sets that could translate positively into a closer’s role for either pitcher. Kansas City’s bullpen is stronger and deeper with Holland at closer.
Greg Holland‘s overall skill set justifies the Royals’ confidence in him and he deserves the shot to be the Royals’ closer. He seldom seems flustered on the mound and he misses a lot of bats. If he can curtail the number of walks he issues, and can get his road performances more on line to his effectiveness at home, Holland can be an elite closer. At 27 years old, he could be that closer for a number of years and would give the Royals one more reliable component as they continue to work toward crafting a post season caliber roster.