Greg Holland earned his 46th save of the season Thursday night against the Chicago White Sox, the most saves during a single season in Kansas City Royals history. 46 saves is an impressive number, but not particularly telling; there are many more accurate statistics to show how dominant and overpowering Holland has pitched this season.
It's not exactly breaking news to announce that Holland has been dominant this season, but his level of dominance has been quiet impressive. Below is a table showing more useful statistics to describe Holland's season, along where he ranks among all qualified relievers in MLB (stats do not include Thursday's game)
A few of his 2013 statistics really impress me. First, his 1.38 FIP is the best figure in the league and is absurdly low. He has shown an absolutely ridiculous ability to miss bats all season, while keeping his walk and home run rates under control.
Not everyone is familiar with Shutdowns and Meltdowns, so I will let the Fangraphs glossary explain the statistics:
Using Win Probability Added (WPA), it's easy to tell exactly how much a specific player contributed to their team's odds of winning on a game-by-game basis. In short, if a player increased his team's win probability by 6% (0.06 WPA), then they get a Shutdown. If a player made his team 6% more likely to lose (-0.06), they get a Meltdown.
SD and MD are an alternative to saves and blown saves, and they more accurately describe the impact a reliever has on the game. Unsurprisingly, Holland dominates the field. The closer has recorded the most Shutdowns in the league, while having the fifth-fewest Meltdowns.
The Royals have used Holland in a number of close game situations; he has the fifth highest Leverage Index among relievers. He has excelled all season in that role, which has helped him compile the most Shutdowns in MLB.
Finally, Holland's WAR is absolutely ridiculous for a reliever. Luke Hochevar, who had an impressive season himself, had the second-highest WAR among Royals relief pitchers at 1.1. Holland's 3.1 WAR suggests he was the second most valuable pitcher on the team (behind James Shields) and the fourth most valuable player on the team (Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon), despite only throwing 65 innings this season. His 2013 campaign is the sixth-most valuable season thrown by a relief pitcher since 2008.
It seems strange to think about this now, but there were rumblings earlier in the season that Kelvin Herrera should be closing games for the Royals, not Holland. Holland's 2013 may have been the best season ever by a Royals closer, but it didn't start that way. He blew a save in his second appearance of the season, had to be bailed out by Herrera in his third appearance of the year and barely escaped from a self-inflicted, bases-loaded jam during his fourth appearance.
I wrote an article supporting Ned Yost's decision to stay with Holland, so high-fives all around for that one. Looking back on that post reminded me of Holland's self-diagnosis early in the season, blaming his problems on his mindset throwing his fastball:
"My [past] mindset was to get ahead so I can use all my pitches, which I haven't done the last few outings, I was so [focused] on getting ahead with my fastball that I haven't pitched like I pitched in years past, when I would throw any pitch in any count."
Whatever changes the difference in mindset brought were certainly a good thing. Holland did a better job mixing his pitches after his fourth appearance; he started 95% of the batters he faced during his first four games with fastballs, compared to 75% the remainder of year. More importantly, he started locating his fastballs better; 48% of his fastballs were strikes in his four four games, 68% percent after his fourth appearance.
It's not groundbreaking analysis to suggest throwing more fastballs for strikes is a good thing, but it is interesting that Holland blamed (and seemingly fixed) his problems on mental issues. Hopefully Holland will remember to start 2014 more relaxed, as his 2013 effort has been the best season by a closer in Royals history and an absolute pleasure to witness.