Today, Greg Holland met his re-maker.
For two years, Greg Holland was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball. This was quite a coup for Dayton Moore, who selected him in the tenth round of the 2007 amateur draft. Holland rocketed through the minor leagues and distinguishing himself as the first player Moore drafted to make it to The Show in 2010.
While Holland's prowess for strikeouts in the minors followed him to the big league mound in his first season, he struggled with the long ball, allowing three homers in just 18.2 innings. Despite this setback he was thought to have a decent shot at making the team the following season, but he wound up among the final cuts and found himself in Omaha to start 2011. He returned to the Royals for good in early May and blossomed. He increased his strikeout rate while cutting down on his walks and allowing as many home runs over 60 innings as he had the previous season.
Holland was so good that, although he entered 2012 with just over a year of service time and four career saves, he had a shot to replace Joakim Soria as the team's closer. Although free agent acquisition and (more) proven closer Jonathan Broxton won the job out of camp, Holland would finish the year in the role when Broxton was traded the Cincinnati Reds at the deadline.
Holland's first save opportunity came the day after Broxton left town. He locked down a 5-2 win over Cleveland and went on to convert 16 of 18 save opportunities over the final two months, enough to earn the job for the 2013 season.
This is the year that Greg Holland became GREG HOLLAND. After a shaky start that had some calling for flame-thrower Kelvin Herrera to assume the role, Holland settled down and finished with 47 saves, third most in the majors. More impressively, he had a 1.21 ERA and the peripherals to back it up. He added nearly 9 percentage points to his strike out rate, joining Aroldis Chapman as one of only two regular relievers to eclipse the 40% mark. His 1.36 FIP was best among all relievers. He was voted the TSN AL pitcher of the year and received Cy Young and MVP votes. Kansas City had an elite closer again.
Holland was great again last season, rounding out the top three in saves (46) and posting another sub-1.50 ERA. He led the most fearsome bullpen in the league with a max effort delivery that often left him completely off the mound, more than ready to cover first base with every pitch. His fourseam fastball sat in the high 90s and his slider was a wrist breaker. He also threw the occasional curve and splitter but he was at his core a two-pitch robot, programmed to save Kansas City Royals' baseball games.
Then, this happened.
Seemingly overnight, Holland lost two miles per hour off his average fastball. No one doubted Greg Holland's toughness. Not after he walked onto the Western Carolina college baseball team despite his diminutive stature (and lack of talent) by maxing out on every drill, all with a broken jaw that had been wired shut. Knowing now that his reckoning in the playoffs was done in pain and knowing that ligament damage in his elbow was the likely cause makes it all the more impressive. Eleven innings. Fifteen strikeouts. One run. Along with Davis and Herrera, Holland had the baseball world wondering if Dayton Moore had finally found the secret sauce for playoff success in the elite three at the back of the pen.
In the offseason, there was talk that Moore could flip Holland -- the most expensive member of HDH -- to fill an area of need. Turns out that was never an option given the tear in his UCL so Holland rested, took his vitamins, and hoped that things would feel better in 2015.
From the beginning of the season it seemed from the outside like something wasn't right with Holland. His fastball wasn't popping the way it used to and he was turning more and more to his secondary pitches as the season wore on. There was already public concern for his elbow when he entered the game on September 18th against the Tigers. That night -- watching Holland throw fastballs in the high 80s -- it was clear that Holland was more than not right. Everyone feared the worst.
When Holland lost the closer role to Davis it all came pouring out. The pain last September. The refusal to take an MRI for much of this season. The MRI that revealed the injury. Holland convincing the team to let him keep his closer job.
The Royals are now left with a decision. The club could non-tender Holland, allowing him to pass to the after(Royals)life, or sign him to a Lazarus contract like the one that kept Luke Hochevar in Kansas City when his elbow blew out. Here's hoping that rather than saying good bye to Holland, it's see you soon. Either way, fans will remember his name and what he did, here in Kauffman.