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2020 Season in Review: Greg Holland

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A return to dominance

Relief pitcher Greg Holland #35 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on September 6, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Relief pitcher Greg Holland #35 of the Kansas City Royals throws in the sixth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on September 6, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Greg Holland’s Kansas City Royals tenure needs little introduction. Drafted in the 10th round of Dayton Moore’s inaugural draft in 2007, Holland made his big league debut in 2010. Over the next four years, Holland was arguably the second-best reliever in baseball. A frayed UCL in his elbow sent him under the knife for Tommy John surgery in September 2015. This prompted the Royals to release him in the offseason, thus ending his Royals career—or so we thought.

Holland missed the 2016 season, but spent the last three years bouncing around in the National League in search of his pre-TJS form with varying success. Entering his age-34 season, Holland entered the “reclamation project” phase of his career. The Royals, firmly in the “reclamation project” phase of their own, saw a match and signed him to a minor league deal in January. Holland showed enough during Spring Training 1.0 and Summer Camp 2.0 to make the team, converting his salary to a meager $1.25 million in guaranteed money.

Spoiler: the reclamation project went well!

Quick Stats

  • IP: 28.1
  • ERA: 1.91
  • FIP: 2.52
  • K%: 27.7
  • BB%: 6.3
  • bWAR: 0.9

Overview

During his time at the back end of one of the best bullpens in recent MLB memory, Holland dominated with a two-pitch mix consisting of a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and a nearly unhittable upper-80s slider. Royals fans didn’t have to wait long to see Greg Holland do vintage Greg Holland things; the pitcher with the fourth-most saves in Royals history added his first in five years in the opening series against Cleveland.

The question for Royals fans, and for Holland himself, was whether or not he could bounce back from a pair of mediocre seasons. In his first stint with the Royals, and before he shredded his elbow, Holland’s fastball averaged at around 96 MPH and change. When he made the All-Star team with the Colorado Rockies in 2017, it had fallen about 3 MPH from his peak. And over the next two years, his average fastball velocity fell below 92 MPH for the first time in his career.

But there were two parts to Holland’s resurgence in 2020, and one of them was velocity related. While Holland will never go back to his upper-90s heat, he regained his initial post-TJS velocity that he had with the Rockies. Combined with better control, he regained some of his vintage strikeout-to-walk ratio, too.

Greg Holland Average Pitch Velocity

Year Average Fastball Velo Average Slider Velo K:BB Ratio
Year Average Fastball Velo Average Slider Velo K:BB Ratio
2011 95.4 87 3.89
2012 96.6 86.3 2.68
2013 96.9 87.6 5.72
2014 96.7 86.5 4.50
2015 94.1 86.1 1.88
2017 93.6 86 2.69
2018 92.9 86.3 1.47
2019 91.8 84.5 1.71
2020 93.3 86.2 4.43

The second part to Holland’s resurgence was due to a rather dramatic shift in pitch usage. Pre-TJS during Holland’s peak dominance, he threw his fastball over half of the time. Even after his surgery, when he started throwing more sliders and incorporating a slower curveball, he still threw fastballs in the mid-to-upper 40 percent range. But in 2020, Holland doubled down on breaking balls, throwing his slider over half the time for the first time in his career and throwing more curveballs than he ever has before, too. The result? The lowest fastball rate in Holland’s career—by a mile.

Greg Holland Pitch Usage

Year Fastball Usage Slider Usage Curveball Usage
Year Fastball Usage Slider Usage Curveball Usage
2011 49.6% 40.3% 6.0%
2012 56.1% 40.5% 0.8%
2013 57.4% 39.8% 0.0%
2014 55.4% 42.3% 0.0%
2015 47.8% 45.6% 5.2%
2017 44.6% 48.6% 6.3%
2018 43.4% 45.2% 11.1%
2019 47.3% 43.3% 9.2%
2020 37.6% 50.7% 11.2%

Holland’s pitch usage is another example of analytics’ effect on the game. Old-school pitching protocol is to “establish the fastball” so you can use your breaking pitches. But if nobody can hit your breaking pitches regardless...why not just throw breaking pitches? Why not use your best pitches more then your worst pitches?

At the trade deadline, Kansas City offloaded Trevor Rosenthal to the San Diego Padres. However, they kept Holland, who finished the year as the Royals’ closer. Holland is now a free agent, but his age, his history with the Royals, and the team’s apparent interest in becoming competitive again may contribute to another reunion next year.

Statistics from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference

Poll

How would you grade Greg Holland’s 2020 season?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    A
    (100 votes)
  • 22%
    B
    (30 votes)
  • 2%
    C
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (1 vote)
134 votes total Vote Now