Should the Royals be worried about Greg Holland?
The Royals' shutdown closer has done as much shutting down this year. Should the AL champs be concerned?
From 2013-14, Royals closer Greg Holland pitched to a 1.32 ERA (306 ERA+) and 1.59 FIP, and he struck out 39.0 percent of opposing batters while walking just 7.7 percent of them. Even among the subset of shutdown relievers, Holland stood out.
This season, though, he's fallen well short of his established standards, and that's still the case after he notched the save on Tuesday night against the Reds (box score). In 37 2/3 innings thus far in 2015, Holland has registered an ERA of 3.82 (105 ERA+) and an FIP of 3.21, and he's struck out 27.3 percent of opposing batters while walking 13.7 percent of same. While those numbers aren't terrible by any means, career-worst marks abound.
Relievers don't pitch all that much, of course, so you see a lot of random variation in their numbers, even over the course of a full season. It's of course possible that this is the case with Holland. However, things like strikeout percentage and walk percentage tend to become meaningful pretty early, and Holland has shown a clear decline in those regards. Holland's also seen a decrease in his swinging-strike rate -- a good thumbnail indicator of dominance -- albeit not to the extent he's seen decline elsewhere.
This is also isn't a case of one or two disastrous outings dragging down the overall numbers, as is sometimes the case with relievers. This season, Holland has allowed one or more runs in 23.1 percent of his appearances this season, and he's allowed two or more base-runners in exactly one-third of his appearances. During that 2013-14 peak, those figures were, respectively, 13.3 percent and 23.0 percent. Along these lines, Holland from 2013-14 registered "meltdowns," which occurs when a reliever comes in the game and significantly worsens his team's chances of winning, 7.4 percent of the time. This season, he's suffered a meltdown 15.0 percent of the time.
There's also this ...
(Chart via Brooks Baseball)
As you can see, Holland's fastball velocity is in a general state of decline. Since he arrived on the scene in 2010, his average fastball, per season, has checked in at 96.1 mph, 95.4, 96.3, 96.7, 96.3, and finally 94.6 this season. When Holland's fastball is the "decision" pitch of an at-bat this season, batters have a line of .290/.429/.452, and they've walked more often than they've struck out. That diminished fastball in tandem with his reduced strikeout numbers and worsening control are troubling. Holland of course spent time on the DL earlier this season with a pectoral strain, and it's possible he's not fully healthy.
On the upside, Holland's velocity has rebounded a bit in his most recent outings, so that's something to monitor moving forward. On the team level, the Royals have Ryan Madson as a hedge against Holland's continued struggles. Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera are still dominating, so the Royals may again be able to attack their October opponents with a trio of unaccommodating right-handers. Whether the stalwart Holland will be one of those three remains to be seen.