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Is Greg Holland being overworked?

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Should we be concerned Nervous Ned is driving Dirty South into the ground, or can he take the heat?

Jamie Squire

When something goes wrong these days for the Kansas City Royals, you can be assured that manager Ned Yost will likely take the heat for it. From batting orders to pinch hitters to bullpen management, Royals fans will find a way to tie in a "Yosted" reference to just about anything.

As of recent, one of the most popular complaints among Royals fans was the notation that Kansas City’s All-Star closer Greg Holland was being overworked.

Ned Yost, as we all know, is a "stats" manager. If there’s a save situation, regardless of how preposterous it may be to have Holland pitch in that particular game, Ned is going to insert his closer. It’s very simple in Kansas City – if the Royals have a lead of no more than three runs entering the seventh inning, assuming the starting pitcher isn’t on cruise control, Yost is going to go to Kelvin Herrera for the seventh, Wade Davis for the eighth, and Holland for the ninth. The complaint going around is that because of the team’s recent hot stretch when late game leads are aplenty, Ned has been going to his closer too much.

Holland leads the majors with 40 saves. He has been used in 13 of the team’s last 24 games. Some of the time, the Royals go into the ninth inning with a four or five run lead, and it appears that Holland may be headed for a night off. It’s then when Aaron Crow or Francisley Bueno will enter and immediately work into trouble by allowing a run or two, prompting Yost to go to his closer at the first moment the game becomes a save situation.

Take the game last Tuesday at Colorado for example. Entering the bottom of the ninth, the Royals led 7-2. Yost called upon Bueno to mop-up the ninth inning, who picked up a flyout, a hit batter, a two-run-homer, a groundout, and an infield single that saw the runner go to second via error. Up 7-4 with the tying run on deck, Yost immediately called for Holland to finish the game, and the closer got the final out of the game on just one pitch.

Recently, Royals fans have been asking if this was truly necessary. In the grinding days of August for a contending baseball team, is it truly wise to use your best reliever when up 7-4? The tying run wasn’t even at the plate.

Everybody recalls Greg Holland’s 2013 campaign as brilliant, and truthfully so. I looked back at his numbers from last year and compared them to his 2014 stats, and the results show a lot of similarities.

Through August 23:

2013: 51 games, 50 IP, 31 hits, 8 ER, 78 K’s, 13 BB, 1.38 ERA, 34/36 saves

2014: 53 games, 50.1 IP, 34 hits, 10 ER, 70 K’s, 17 BB, 1.79 ERA, 40/42 saves

Greg Holland has pitched in two more games, logged just 1/3 more innings and accumulated extremely similar results across all stat categories. His save total is up due to the Royals winning more. While Holland’s 2013 campaign appears to be the superior year, his 2014 has still been enough to be the league’s best closer.

Here are his complete season numbers from a year ago, followed by his current pace projections for this year:

2013 season numbers:

68 games, 67 IP, 40 hits, 9 ER, 103 K’s, 18 BB, 0.87 WHIP, 47/50 saves.

2014 projected numbers:

66 games, 62.1 IP, 42 hits, 14 ER, 87 K’s, 21 BB, 1.01 WHIP, 50/52 saves.

Even in 2012, Holland logged 67 games with 67 innings. For the third straight year, he’s working at a busy but not overbearing pace.

Greg Holland is the American League’s best closer. While it seems that he’s been worked a lot in the last few weeks, the stats show that it’s nothing out of the ordinary for him. In fact, September 2013 was Holland’s busiest month as a major league pitcher, throwing in 15 of the Royals’ 26 games. He’s being used a lot, but the numbers don’t show any impending doom that we should be dreading.

As for the idea of the other big-time bullpen guys being worn out, Wade Davis has been a starter as recently as last year, and Kelvin Herrera is projected to throw fewer innings this year than he did in 2012. I’d be much more concerned about Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura pitching more innings than either of them have yet in their careers.

If the Royals are going to continue the success they’ve achieved thus far in 2014, they’re going to need Herrera, Davis, and Holland to continue being All-Star caliber pitchers. The Royals have no reason to believe that will change. Will they give up runs and blow saves? Absolutely – it’s inevitable. Will it be because they’re doing something they’re unaccustomed to doing in their careers? No.