Heading into the 2013 MLB campaign, the standard go to names in any ‘best closers’ debate were typically men like Mariano Rivera, Joe Nathan, Fernando Rooney and of course, next generations gods like Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel. If the discussion was spawned by fantasy baseball musings, then names like Jonathan Papelbon and Ernesto Frieri were likely thrown into the mix.
If any hardcore baseball nerds were involved, you may have had Greg Holland’s name dropped, but with the caveat added that the jury could still be out on his closing performance. Although he put up double take numbers in 2012, Holland didn’t start closing for the Royals until after Jonathan Broxton was traded to the Reds at the deadline last year.
Well, here we are approaching the end of August, and if you didn’t know, the 27 year-old Holland has been mopping up quite nicely for the Royals all year long. How nicely? Well, according to the ESPN Cy Young Projector, Holland’s performance thus far has him positioned at #9. Now granted, it’s kind of silly talk to even consider Holland as a Cy Young candidate, but the bottom line here is that his season’s been so good, he’s ranked #9…The other relievers ahead of him on this list include Fernando Rodney, Mariano Rivera, Addison Reed and Joe Nathan.
Let’s take a look at some other numbers though. As of August 25th, Holland has recorded 35 saves (which depending on your metric leanings may not mean much), he has an ERA of 1.41, a WHIP of 0.90 and opposing batters are hitting .182 off of him. These are the kind of numbers which make GM’s toss obscene amounts of money at closers.
Now let’s compare those stats to Mr. Kimbrel, who as you probably know, is a ridiculously good closer. The Braves’ stopper has saved 41 games so far, scored an ERA of 1.03, has a WHIP of 0.91 and the opposition are hitting .168 off of him. Those are comparable no?
Where Holland does have Kimbrel beat is in the strikeouts per 9 innings pitched department, as the Royals’ closer is sitting at 14.3/ 9 and the latter is at 13.3. According to the awesome folks at Fangraphs, Holland has already put up a wins above replacement (WAR) of 2.5, while Kimbrel has a 1.8. This is as relievers, not starting pitchers or positional players.
So, what makes Holland so ‘filthy’? Essentially it’s his 95 MPH plus four seam fastball and an 88 MPH slider that is prompting tear drops of joy throughout Royals’ nation. According to Brooks Baseball, Holland’s slider is making the opposition swing at a rate of 51%, and whiff 27% of the time when they do…That’s ridiculous.
Now of course, it remains to be seen whether Holland can maintain these numbers for another season, but it seems pretty clear that as it stands, he belongs in that ‘best closers’ talk. If he played for the Dodgers, Yankees, or Red Sox, he probably already would be.