Holland is in the midst of a remarkable comeback. In 2013 and 2014 he was one of the top closers in the league, totaling 93 saves and 193 strikeouts with an ERA and WHIP of 1.33 and 0.89 respectively. Then in 2015 things went downhill. The control wasn’t there, the elite strikeout total slipped, and he missed time due to an injury leading to Tommy John surgery in the off-season. Colorado rolled the dice on him in this year, and the team and fantasy owners alike have been reaping the rewards ever since.
Everyone loves a good comeback story. Unfortunately this story is still being written, and it has the potential to have a not so happy ending. Holland ends the first half leading the league in saves (28), and also has the fourth best ERA (1.62) and sixth best WHIP (1.02) among the current closer core. The ERA and WHIP was actually 1.39 and 0.99 prior to his blown save on Saturday. The happenings in that inning reflect some of his underlying issues and serve as a potential window of things to come in the second half.
On the surface the one rocky inning seems harmless enough. Holland gave up a home run, just his second of the year, and also walked one batter. Hardly seems like anything to make a fuss about, right? The man just saved 28 consecutive games so we can overlook and dismiss one little hiccup. However, as I was digging into Holland’s numbers for another article I saw some disturbing things that lead me to believe that one game could be the beginning of a trend.
First off, there are the obvious signifiers we use as an early warning system when it comes to pitchers. Holland. A .235 BABIP, 2.79 FIP (2.29 before Saturday, and 3.72 xFIP paint a bleak second half for Holland. Not dreadful mind you, but dark in comparison to his current ERA. It appears there has been some luck, but let’s dig into the numbers and see exactly what the problems are.
Holland has a 62% F-Strike% (63.2% before Saturday). That’s decent enough for a starter, but as a relief pitcher it is just average. Despite getting ahead of batters at an average pace, he is walking batters at an above average rate. He has a 4.32 BB/9 or 12.4% walk rate. This is nothing new for him as we’ve seen him have success in the past despite the walks. However, walks are only one of several issues in a much larger picture.
Both the fly ball percentage (45.7 – 44.8 before Saturday) and hard hit rate (35.7 – 34.3 before Saturday) are career highs. Holland spent his career with a fly ball rate in the mid 30’s and a hard hit rate in the mid 20’s, so a 10 point jump in both is disturbing – even more so now that he spends half his life in Colorado.
You would think a pitcher giving up that many flies and hard hit balls would be surrendering home runs left and right, but that hasn’t been the case. His HR/FB (6.3% – 3.3% before Saturday) is much too low to be sustained. The current rate is something we’ve seen from Holland in past years, but that was with a much lower fly ball and hard hit rate. When you factor in the high walk rate you have a recipe for disaster in the making.
Home runs are not the only thing we need to concern ourselves with. Holland currently has an 11.4% line drive rate. That is completely unsustainable, even for an elite pitcher, and it is eight percentage points higher than his career. The line drive rate is bound to rise, and with an elevated hard hit rate those ball should make their way through the infield. We know those balls will be hit hard because Holland is producing the second lowest soft contact rate of his career (15.7%). Raisel Iglesias and Fernando Rodney are the only two closers with a lower soft contact rate.
Now there are some positive things to focus on – it’s not all doom and gloom. Holland has an 11.61 K/9, striking out 33.3% of batters faced. That’s solid, but not good enough to rank him in the top-10 among closers for the category. It’s still better than average, though, and among the top-30 for all relievers. The second positive attribute is the career best 62.7% contact rate. That is the 5th best mark in the league, right there with Kimbrel and Betances. He is also giving up the least amount of contact outside the zone (34.9).
I can see several different scenarios playing out here. The first involves minor regression. He gives up an extra homer or two, a few more line drives, and sees his ERA rise into the mid two’s. The second involves those untimely walks taking place prior to those extra long balls or well overdue line drives, in which case we could see the ERA mirroring his current xFIP in the mid to high three’s.
Then there are the best and worst case scenarios. The best being the luck holds out, Holland continues to avoid home runs, the damage from the additional line drives is minimal, and he finishes the second half with only slightly higher numbers than the first half. The worst is the line drive rate spikes, he gives up a few more home runs than expected, attempts to adjust by either attempting to paint the corners or attack the zone only making matters worse, and shakes his confidence all together. I don’t see either one of these playing out, but you never know.
The home run we saw Saturday is just a blip on the radar, but the slight rise in his underlying metrics pointed out above show how things were affected by just a single homer. Add on a few more along with an increase in line drives and those elite surface numbers can finish anywhere from strong to resembling Trevor Rosenthal’s.
The pitching staff in Colorado is rocky enough (no pun intended) that Holland should be afforded an ample number of save opportunities in the second half. Even if he falls upon hard times, it’s not like Adam Ottavino, the man everyone though would be the closer this past spring, is a threat to take the job. You will still get saves from Holland along with a higher than average number of strikeouts, but the ERA is at risk and to a less extent the WHIP.
The trade value for Holland will never be higher than what it is now. If you are in a H2H or points league I would advise you to sell-high right now before the second half starts. Those in roto leagues will need to weigh their options and decide if they can afford to lose the saves from Holland. Maybe you can package Holland, getting a lesser closer in return along with another player that can help you elsewhere. I don’t see Holland losing the closer role, but I don’t see him continuing to be the pitcher we’ve seen so far. Winter is coming…..
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