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Greg Holland and the closer mentality

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Greg Holland has struggled in a handful of non-save situations this season. Does he suffer from the closer mentality?

Holland cradles the vessel that holds the fabled closer mentality
Holland cradles the vessel that holds the fabled closer mentality
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Before Monday's game against the Brewers, Greg Holland hadn't appeared since June 9, when he converted a fourth consecutive save opportunity. Yost decided that after five days rest Holland could use some work and deployed him in his customary 9th inning slot,  but with an uncharacteristic 6-run lead. At least one person saw where this was headed.

Things actually went much worse. Holland lasted eighteen pitches over which he allowed four hits, issued a walk, and uncorked a wild pitch. When it was all said and done, he'd allowed three runs without recording a single out, forcing Yost to bring in Wade Davis for a surprise save. Less than a month ago, Holland struggled against the Yankees in another non-save situation. He appeared in 7th inning of the Jeremy Guthrie debacle in the Bronx, giving up two walks and a home run in just a third of an inning. So what gives? Again, from the soothsayer:

So is the closer mentality a Greg Holland reality? Does he thrive under pressure only to struggle when he doesn't have the weight of the game on his shoulders? When considering this baseball axiom, perhaps you think about your own life. Maybe you take more care in work emails to your boss than your peers. There are plenty of examples where it seems natural get a bit complacent in the absence of looming consequences. It would be foolish just to dismiss that this could happen to athletes.

On the surface, that Holland's career ERA is nearly a full run higher in non-save situations seems to support the notion that he performs worse when the pressure is off. But there are a limited number of factors under the pitcher's control that contribute to run prevention. That's why the metric Fielding Independent Pitching was created. FIP incorporates walks, strikeouts, and home runs to assess the performance of the pitcher without the influences of defense, luck, or sequencing. Look at these rate stats for Holland's career across the two situations and the difference is much less stark. His walk rate is nearly identical, and his strikeout and home run rates are just a tick worse. Look at the batting average on balls put in play against him and you'll see the difference in defense and luck Holland has experienced in non-save situations. This accounts for at least some of the discrepancy in ERA across this split.

Save Situations 650 1.92 9.4% 35.2% 1.2% .279
Non-Save Situations 517 2.71 9.3% 31.9% 1.4% .316

But Holland hasn't always been a proven closer. In fact, when he was first promoted to The Show in August, 2010 he appeared mostly in low leverage situations. It wasn't until a year and a day after his first appearance that Holland received his first save opportunity, which he converted. Holland was marginally better in save opportunities in that year, but the sample is so small that it's hardly compelling evidence for the closer mentality. Besides, hadn't he been in the big leagues too brief a time to be so comfortable outside the closer role? It was when Soria (miss you, Boo) went down with a torn UCL in March 2012 that Holland got the job full time. So let's consider that season the point when he became a proven closer. How do the stats over which he has the most control compare in save and non-save situations from that point forward?

2012-2015 TBF BB% K% HR%
Save Situations 537 10.2% 35.8% 1.4%
Non-Save Situations 310 8.7% 33.9% 1.0%

Once you strip away Holland's pre-closer tenure,  he's actually performed marginally better in non-save situations. For the number of batter's faced, these differences are too small to suggest that Holland is better in non-save situations, but this should put to bed the notion that he suffer's from the closer mentality.

A special thanks to Jim McClintock for permission to include his tweets in this article. Follow him on twitter, after you follow me, of course!