To say Greg Holland has struggled lately would be a stretch. Mostly because the “qualifier” lately implies only for the past few weeks or so, when in reality Holland has posted below average numbers all season. While he has just five blown saves on the year compared to 32 saves, a lot of his numbers have trended in the wrong direction. Bullpen arms tend to be pretty fungible, SAGNOF after all, but the question isn’t if Holland has struggled, but why? Even more concerning than the worst ERA/FIP/xFIP and SIERA (other than his 2010 campaign) of his career is his walk and strikeout rates. Sure, Holland’s .319 BABIP this season is worse than his .301 career average, and as mentioned his 5.23 BB/9 is the worst of his career, but those seem to be symptoms of a bigger issue. Like most pitchers, the first thing I look at when someone is struggled is the average fastball velocity.
To get a solid view of Holland’s velocity, we can take a gander at the numbers courtesy of Brooks Baseball. The table below shows his average velo for each pitch going back to his rookie season.
Holland’s offspeed repertoire, consists of almost exclusively his slider. Of the six year’s we have data on him, Holland has thrown a combo of his fastball + slider a minimum 88 percent of the time, and that was 2010 where he tossed a mere 18 1/3 innings. As his fastball has dropped a couple of ticks compared to seasons past, it has dipped even more in as this year progressed.
Yikes. After a strong opening few months, Holland’s fastball has plummeted in September. Add in the fact he’s posted a 14.6 percent swinging strike rate this year, below his 15 percent career average and the third lowest mark of his career.
Beyond his overall struggles, Holland has been relatively torched by opposite-handed hitters. He’s held righty hitters to a mere .276 wOBA thus far, however left-handed hitters have posted a .370 wOBA against him. A .340 BABIP from lefties has hurt him. With a declining fastball, the lefties have been able to take his slider — something his poor control has allowed as he can’t punish them for it — and sit on a mediocre heater. Holland’s fastball has a liner pitch value (something I’m usually hesitant to cite given the synergistic effects of pitching, i.e. sequencing) sits at a -3.2 as per FanGraphs, ranking 131st out of 153 relievers with at least 40 innings pitched.
The general workload of 44 2/3 innings this season shouldn’t be a factor, though perhaps the accumulated innings of past seasons has taken its toll. From 2011 through this year Holland’s 301 innings in relief are the 22nd most and his 294 appearances rank 38th most. That’s a lot of warm up pitches and innings, particularly high leverage ones. From the slipping control and falling whiff rate and thus strikeout rate, it’s hard to have much faith in Holland heading into next year’s draft, especially when the Royals have Wade Davis being dominant once again. Toss in his evaporating fastball velocity and you have a pretty unflattering pitcher.