Why an All-Star MLB Closer Who Had 41 Saves Last Year Can’t Get a Job

Opening Day of the 2018 season is upon Major League Baseball, yet a three-time All-Star closer who’s coming off a 41-save season is still looking for work.

Seriously, somebody should sign Greg Holland.

It’s weird enough that Holland hasn’t found a job in the four-and-a-half months since the Colorado Rockies granted him free agency in November. What’s even weirder is how few whispers there are about where his next job might be.

At the start of the offseason, it was easy to imagine that Holland would either return to the Rockies or be lured away by a closer-needy team like the Chicago Cubs or St. Louis Cardinals. Instead, the Rockies opted to give Wade Davis the largest-ever per-year contract for a relief pitcher. The Cubs (Brandon Morrow) and Cardinals (Luke Gregerson) moved on to other targets.

Now, interest in Holland seems to be as scarce as refreshing beverages in a desert.

According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves have “at least” considered making a run at the 32-year-old right-hander. But that’s about it.

Knowing that, it seems entirely likely that Holland will be forced to settle for much less than whatever he was hoping for. Per ESPN’s Buster Olney, executives and agents believe that could mean a one-year deal for $7 million-to-$10 million.

Now that everyone has all the background, it’s time to transition to the “to be fair” portion of this program.

The first “to be fair” is that Holland is represented by Scott Boras. He’s never had a hand that he hasn’t wanted to play aggressively. The result is he overplays his hand every now and then.

Thus follows the second “to be fair,” which covers how Boras probably shouldn’t have gotten his hopes too high for Holland to begin with.

For one thing, his All-Star creds are only so convincing. Two of his All-Star nods happened before he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015. He did just earn his third last year en route to his 41 saves, but these things ultimately have little to say about how well he did his job.

To that end, his good-not-great 3.61 ERA and rate of 4.1 walks per nine innings constitute two reasons for skepticism. The fact that, at 93.5 mph, his average fastball velocity refused to return to its pre-Tommy John form constitutes a third. The horrible slump that he endured immediately after the All-Star break constitutes a fourth.

And then there’s the third “to be fair,” which is that Holland rejected a $15 million player option and a $17.4 million qualifying offer. He passed up an opportunity for good money in both instances and dove headlong into the risk of being tied to signing penalties with the latter rejection.

To all these extents, it’s not surprising that Holland is where he is. He was a flawed player to begin with, yet he and Boras swung for the proverbial fences anyway. It was worth a shot, but there always was a high risk of backfire.

And yet, it really is weird that Holland remains unsigned.

It’s not as if there’s a lack of demand for relief pitchers, after all. Quite the contrary, in fact. Per Spotrac, the average money guarantee for free-agent relievers has progressed like so over the last six offseasons:

  • 2012-2013: $2.7 million
  • 2013-2014: $3.5 million
  • 2014-2015: $3.3 million
  • 2015-2016: $4.3 million
  • 2016-2017: $11.6 million
  • 2017-2018: $9.6 million

Relief pitchers used to be bargain buys. Now they’re rolling in the dough.

As they should be, given that their share of the innings pitched and wins above replacement produced by all pitchers are climbing ever upward:

Davis obviously benefited the most when he accepted three years and $52 million to replace Holland on the Rockies. Also not to be forgotten about are guys like Jake McGee ($27 million), Bryan Shaw ($27 million), Brandon Morrow ($21 million), Tommy Hunter ($18 million) and Juan Nicasio ($17 million).

Simply put, this is supposed to be a good time to be a good reliever. And despite the many nits there are to pick, Holland is indeed a good reliever.

That shows most in his ability to miss bats. As much as you’d think this ability would be hit the hardest by his velocity decline, he had a higher strikeout rate in 2017 than he did in 2015 and the exact same contact rate (65.5 percent) as Andrew Miller.

As Brooks Baseball shows, the whiff rates on both Holland’s fastball and slider are holding steady. As the video shows, the latter is as nasty as ever:

And while Holland may have finished with an ugly walk rate last year, there’s one reason to hope that he can improve on that in 2018: He actually threw pitches in the strike zone at a career-high rate last year.

The market is treating Holland like he’s broken beyond repair and/or just plain terrible. In reality, he’s neither. If not quite one of the best, he has what he needs to at least be one of the better relievers in MLB

Had this article been written a month ago, the end of it would have covered how he was probably still unemployed because teams were biding their time and waiting for his price to drop.

It’s hard to believe that’s still the case now, though. Quite a few players have already given up and signed for well-below-market rates, including a few Boras clients: Carlos Gomez, Mike Moustakas and Carlos Gonzalez. The war over mid-range free agents is over, and the owners have won. There’s no need for them to rub it in by pinching every last penny.

So, seriously, somebody should sign Greg Holland. It’s past time for it.

     

Data courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Spotrac and Brooks Baseball.

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