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Does Greg Holland have anything left?

We’re getting the band back together!

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives.” But what did he know about baseball?

As we know, the Royals reunited with the second H of the HDH Cerebus earlier this week, signing former closer Greg Holland to a minor league deal. According to Jeffery Flanagan, the right-hander can earn $1.25 million if he makes the big league squad, and once there, there is another $1.125 million waiting for him in incentives. Holland is in the mix with several other relievers, both club veterans and newcomers, who will be vying for a spot in the bullpen. Last summer, the Royals’ pen was not awful, but it wasn’t good, either. With an 8.65 K/9 (ranked 25th in the majors), a 4.3 BB/9 (25th) and a strand rate of 70.8 percent (also 25th) there were more downs than ups. Holland joins his old team as part of a group the Royals will undoubtedly hope will push them just a little closer to average when it comes to the relief corps.

Of course, it’s Greg Holland. Forever Royal and all that. This isn’t Trevor Rosenthal or Chance Adams. We know this guy. He rejoins Salvador Perez, Danny Duffy and Alex Gordon as the ties to the Championship Era. The hopes are just a little elevated that Holland can deliver.

But can he?

Holland’s velocity chart is…really kind of brutal. He’s never regained the velocity he lost after his Tommy John surgery. And since he’s returned from that procedure, he’s seen his average four-seam fastball speed tumble from around 94 mph to just a tick under 92 mph. That’s in three full seasons.

Brooks Baseball

It’s important to note that the above represents all competition levels, meaning spring training and the postseason are included. It’s kind of an interesting look at his process when he was healthy. He would take it easy (or easier) in Arizona in March and then let it eat once the real games started, oftentimes adding two to three mph to the heater. He did the same thing in 2019 (for the first time since 2014) but unlike those years earlier in his career, he could not maintain his velocity.

But there are a bunch of pitcher who have reinvented themselves after injury. They may not throw the same brand of smoke, but they can adjust and get hitters out based on a little bit of craftiness.

But that doesn’t seem to be happening for Holland. The four-seamer comes in straight and, as mentioned, with average velocity. It’s a pitcher hitters can make a meal out of. Last year, opponents hit .245 with a .408 slugging percentage against his four-seamer. And that was an improvement from his previous two seasons. But the exit velocity on balls put in play off his fastball was up to 91.5 mph.

Greg Holland Fastball Outcomes

Year Avg FB Velo BA vs FB SLG vs FB Whiff% on FB
Year Avg FB Velo BA vs FB SLG vs FB Whiff% on FB
2011 95.5 mph .235 .408 13.1%
2012 96.7 mph .316 .453 21.0%
2013 96.8 mph .260 .356 27.3%
2014 96.4 mph .214 .272 19.7%
2015 94.3 mph .280 .427 15.7%
2017 93.4 mph .278 .506 19.6%
2018 92.9 mph .297 .438 16.8%
2019 91.6 mph .245 .408 10.4%

As we know, it’s not about the fastball for Holland. It’s the wipeout slider. In his days at the back of the Royals pen, the 95 mph heat set up the slider that seemingly was heading for the center of the dish before breaking off into the left-handed batters box. Straight filth. Dirty South indeed.

The slider is still a weapon. It’s just not as lethal as it was five years ago.

Greg Holland Slider Outcomes

Year Avg SL Velo BA vs SL SLG vs SL Whiff% on SL
Year Avg SL Velo BA vs SL SLG vs SL Whiff% on SL
2011 87.2 mph .124 .144 57.6%
2012 86.4 mph .161 .226 42.0%
2013 87.6 mph .107 .182 53.1%
2014 86.2 mph .138 .211 57.3%
2015 86.2 mph .200 .288 46.1%
2017 85.8 mph .137 .226 47.4%
2018 86.2 mph .200 .253 41.5%
2019 84.3 mph .176 .353 45.5%

It’s the post-Tommy John surgery trends that are troubling. The whiff rate is down double-digits from it’s peak. As you would expect from the increase in slugging percentage, his exit velocity allowed on the slider has crept up over the last couple of years, from 84 mph in 2017 to just under 88 mph last year. It’s what happens when the fastball becomes average. Hitters have just enough more time to decide what’s coming and whether or not to swing. The slider may still slide, but without the velocity of the fastball and the slider it’s easier to time.

We can see the difference in outcomes from Holland’s swing percentage profile charts against the slider. Here’s the chart from 2014.

There’s plenty of red in the bottom third of that chart. Contrast that to his swing percentage on the slider from last year.

Still plenty of red, but it’s just not as widespread—at least not in the areas where you want it to be widespread. He’s getting more hacks against the slider in the meaty part of the zone (remember his elevated slugging percentage on sliders?) while he’s getting more takes against the low slider than previously. And we know those takes are generally getting called for a ball. That outcome is reflected in Holland’s walk rate.

Greg Holland strikeouts and walks

Year K/9 BB/9 K/BB
Year K/9 BB/9 K/BB
2011 11.1 2.9 3.9
2012 12.2 4.6 2.7
2013 13.8 2.4 5.7
2014 13.0 2.9 4.5
2015 9.9 5.2 1.9
2017 11.0 4.1 2.7
2018 9.1 6.2 1.5
2019 10.4 6.1 1.7

In 2015 he pitched with a bad elbow. The dip in velocity from the previous year and the spike in walk rate all but confirms he suffered the initial injury in September of 2014. He returned with a decent enough showing his first year back, but since then, the walk rate has really jumped. Back to back years with a BB/9 above six just isn’t going to get it done.

The fortunes of average (and even below average) relievers fluctuate year to year. Or month to month. Last year’s bullpen stud is this year’s waiver wire fodder. Holland isn’t the same pitcher who made two All-Star teams and helped the Royals to back-to-back postseason appearances, but that doesn’t mean he can’t put together a decent stretch out of the bullpen. He has experienced bursts of success since his return (and earned another All-Star appearance), just not anything sustained through an entire season. But with the Royals still in the treading water phase of a rebuild, why not bring Holland back for a look? If they somehow catch reliever lightening, perhaps they can spin him for a low-level prospect at the deadline.

However, the trends are not encouraging. I can’t be optimistic that he can contribute meaningful innings to even a rebuilding team. Still, at this stage, at that price, and with his pedigree, everything is worth a look. Just don’t be surprised when the pitcher and the team part company once again.