Before the days of HDH and an impenetrable Royals bullpen that would carry them to back-to-back World Series’, there was Greg Holland. From 2011-2013, the Royals bullpen was worth 15.7 fWAR and Holland was worth 46% of that total. During that span, Holland was more valuable than every reliever in baseball not named Craig Kimbrel and made that Royals bullpen the best in baseball virtually on his own. He was similarly dominant in 2014, and this time with the help of prime Herrera and newly-developed cyborg Wade Davis, Kansas City formed arguably the most dominant three-headed reliever monster baseball had ever seen.
He pitched much of the 2015 season with a tear to his ulnar collateral ligament, eventually being shut down in September and missing the postseason. Since then, he has struggled at every turn, posting a 4.27 ERA across three seasons for four different teams.
Last month, the 34-year old signed a minor-league contract with the Royals that included a spring training invite. It is a feel-good story, to be sure, but does he have anything left in the tank? His 2018 and 2019 season could provide some insight.
After posting a 7.92 ERA in 25 innings with St. Louis and being designated for assignment in July of 2018, Greg Holland did rebound nicely after being signed by the Nationals. In 21 1⁄3 innings, Holland gave up just two earned runs and recorded an impressive 0.89 WHIP. That carried over into 2019, when he was pitching with the Diamondbacks. Heading into July, Holland had a 2.33 ERA with a healthy 10.67 K/9.
However, he did struggle down the stretch, giving up 11 runs over his final 8 2⁄3 innings pitched, including a brutal July series in Miami that saw him give up six runs in just 2⁄3 of an inning. He lost his job as the closer and was eventually designated for assignment on August 7.
That leaves us with an interesting situation. From the time Holland signed with Washington in August 2018 until right before that terrible July 2019 series that cost Holland his job, he posted a 2.15 ERA across 54 1⁄3 innings of work. During that span, he struck out 65 batters, held opponents to just a .157 average and a 1.09 WHIP. For reference, from 2011-2014, Holland never recorded a lower opponent batting average and his average WHIP during that span was 1.02.
So, while he is no longer the Greg Holland of old, he might not be a completely lost cause, that is, as long as his fastball and slider are working together.
We all remember the “Dirty South” that would hit 98-99 with some regularity. In 2013 and 2014, he even occasionally hit 100. Those days are long gone. Holland’s fastball rested at 93 mph in his first two post-Tommy John seasons, but that number dropped nearly two MPH in 2019, down to 91. While that velocity is below-average, the bigger problem is that his fastball is straight as an arrow.
Among the 432 pitchers that were registered, only Brad Keller and Tyler Glasnow averaged less horizontal movement on their fastballs than Greg Holland. Yet, Holland’s fastball was still productive for much of the season. There were 249 relief pitchers that worked in at least 30 innings in 2019 and Holland’s fastball was in the top third of that group according to wFB.
But that was in large part due to his slider being one of the best in baseball to start the season, and at this point in his career, that is the only pitch that batters are swinging at and missing. Holland induced 75 whiffs all season, or 11.9% of his pitches. That was his lowest mark since his rookie season by a fairly significant margin, but it was still right around league average. Of those 75 whiffs, 59 came by his slider. That’s almost 80 percent.
Unfortunately for Holland, however, most of those whiffs came early in the season. In June, July, and August, opposing batters whiffed at just 17.8% of Holland’s sliders compared to 27.7% in March, April, and May.
Opposing batters absolutely hammered his slider during those months, which also led to them hammering his fastball, ultimately resulting in being let go. Which leads back to our original question: Does Greg Holland have anything left in the tank?
Well, as early as last season, his slider was mostly unhittable and his fastball, while straight as an arrow and lacking velocity, was still productive. And even more importantly for Holland, the Royals bullpen figures to one of the worst in baseball, if not the very worst. According to ZiPS, only the Tigers and Giants relief staff is projected to be less valuable than the Royals.
It isn’t difficult to imagine Holland getting a shot out of camp, perhaps even getting some looks in the later innings. Given the decline of his fastball, he will be operating on pins and needles, but he has found some success even with that being the case. Given that his slider still has the capability to get swings and misses, it’s safe to assume he has something left. The question is whether or not he can tap into that.