The ending H of the HDH trio, Greg Holland has been a stalwart presence in the closer's role for the Royals. In the 2013-2014 seasons, Holland was one of the best relievers in baseball. In fact, if you go to FanGraphs and look at the reliever leaderboard ("qualified" relievers) for 2013-2014 combined, you'll find Greg Holland on top.
You'll find him on top by fWAR (5.2), better than Kenley Jansen.
You'll find him on top by ERA (1.32), better than Craig Kimbrel.
You'll find him on top by FIP (1.59), better than Aroldis Chapman.
You'll find him just below the top by xFIP (1.88), second only to Aroldis Chapman.
Simply put, Holland was the best reliever in baseball over that time period. Things have changed.
This year, Holland's line is not as good. To be fair, he quite clearly set a high standard for what we expect of him. The highest of standards. As a reliever, we should expect his performance to fluctuate. No one can stay the best forever. However, his line this year resembles a good number two starter, except he's not starting. A 3.12 ERA / 3.24 FIP / 3.48 xFIP is not what we're used to. Holland isn't quite himself.
It starts with velocity.
He's down about two miles per hour on his fastball this year. His wipeout slider has not seen a corresponding decrease in velocity. I don't know if that is good or bad, but the velocity difference between his fastball and slider is now smaller.
Overall, Holland is more hittable. Hitters have increased the rate at which they swing against Holland, and all of that increase is on pitches within the strike zone. Hitters are also making more contact. Hitters are performing better against the fastball this year with a .246 BA / .386 SLG compared to .214 / .276 last year.
Holland is having trouble commanding the fastball. The rate of balls on the pitch has increased two years in a row, and it has never been higher - according to Brooks Baseball, about 40 percent of Holland's fastballs are balls. Looking at the zone profile of his fastball against lefties and righties separately is just a jumbled mess. Holland kept his fastball against righties up and away in general; this season it's just everywhere. He's still doing a good job of keeping the ball away from lefties, but he's further away from the zone this year compared to last year.
Given Holland's injury stint and decreased velocity, I thought it would be interesting to look at the number of days of rest between outings for Holland to see if there was any relationship with velocity. It was not interesting. There is no relationship in 2015 between Holland's days off and his average fastball velocity. Early in the season, he got some days off when his velocity dipped. However, that was only two occurrences. The first was his DL stint, and the other is a sample size of one.
Something to note is that Holland's velocity has been trending a bit upward since 7/10, when Holland faced Toronto. Though his fastball velocity was low that inning, he struck out three guys. As his velocity has risen over the past 30 days or so, Holland's performance hasn't changed much. It's hardly even worth considering though since it's all of 10 innings.
That leads us to the decision part. Holland is making $8.25 million this year, and he still has one year of arbitration left. He will likely make in excess of $10 million next year, and the payroll situation is pretty strained as it is. The decision to keep or trade Holland will come up this offseason whether you like it or not. I'm sure I won't be the only one bringing it up.
Holland's new level of performance may be real. It may not be; we're talking about 34 and 2/3 innings so far this year. That's like six starts of a starter. Does anyone make sweeping declarations about a starter six starts in?
If his new level of performance is what we should expect going forward, the Royals can't afford to pay $10 million or more to Holland next year. The club needs to consider trying to hold on to Alex Gordon and maybe restock the farm system a bit after trading some value away to get Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist.
Even if Holland improves through the rest of the year, the payroll concern is still present. What are the Royals willing to spend for ~60 innings of Holland? Which Holland is real? I'm afraid I don't have the answers to those questions. That's why the Royals have a hard decision coming up.