Greg Holland was one of the premier closer with the Kansas City Royals, then he fell to Tommy John surgery and missed the 2016 season. He returned last season with the Colorado Rockies to pretty good results. He declined his player option for 2018 and will re-enter the free agent market.
Bob Nightengale tweeted that the Cardinals were ready to pounce on Holland. While on the surface he looks like an intriguing option for the team, there are some concerns.
Holland’s 2017 was a tale of 2 seasons. From the start of the year until August, Holland dominated. He was 1-1 with 33 saves in 34 opportunities. His ERA was 1.64 in that time, had a 1.07 WHIP, and struck out 12.05 batters per 9. When he pitched, the Rockies were 37-3.
From August 1st through the end of the season, it was totally different. He went 2-5 with 8 saves in 11 opportunities. His ERA was 7.58, WHIP was 1.37, and K/9 was 9.47. He capped it off by allowing 2 runs on 3 hits and walk in 2/3rds of an inning during the NL Wild Card game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
His overall line was fine: a 3-6 record with 41 saves in 45 tries. 3.61 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. K/9 of 11.00. Add in the All Star appearance and pitching for a post-season team will help his resume.
His velocity also fluctuated during the rough periods. If you look at the average velocity of his fastball, there isn’t much change; throughout the season it averaged between 93.19 (September) and 94.50 (April).
There was a gradual decrease over the season with a spike in July. Could that spike in July caused the issue in August? Hard to say. When you look at his max velocity over the season, there is more of a trend.
His velocity was around 96 to 97 for the first 4 months, then drops down to the 95 range. That might not seem huge, but the different in 2 MPH led to his hits per 9 rising from 5.30 in the first 4 months to 8.53 over the final 2.
A move like this is something the Cardinals haven’t done in recent history. The last time they signed a closer on the open market was Jason Isringhausen in 2002. They’ve either used in house options (Jason Motte, Fernando Salas, Trevor Rosenthal) or setup men who were dominating (Ryan Franklin, Edward Mujica). Part of the issue is the attrition rate of relievers. Fish Stripes looked at this and found about 75% of closer who are good for 3 seasons will not be the following 2.
It’s hard to say if Holland will fall off, since he had a missed season in his last 3 years. I’ve run his projections and they are mixed. I’ve got him at a 3-3 record with 30 saves in 55 innings with a 2.86 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 1.15 WHIP, 10.44 K/9, and a 1.4 WAR. The comp list is incomplete, since Bryan Harvey at age 32 only pitched a handful of games (it was his final season) and comps Steve Cishek and A.J. Ramos haven’t played their age 32 season. He’s showing the potential to have solid numbers again.
The issue is beyond 2018; he’s going to want a multi-year contract and predicting relievers is tricky, especially going out past 1 season. He’ll also want money close to the option he turned down and the qualifying offer; there is no way the Cardinals will be interested in a guy for 3 years and a projected $18M per season (my guess). I couldn’t see the team doing $18M for a closer for 1 year. I also don’t see signing a potential 1.4 WAR closer for $18M per as a wise investment.
Closer is a pressing need for the team. There best option will be using their outfield and starting pitching depth for an option on the trade market. I’ll look at some of those options in future installments.