Arizona Diamondbacks Sign Greg Holland, Widen Spectrum of Expected Performance

The Arizona Diamondbacks add to the back end of their bullpen with the signing of Greg Holland, a star reliever once upon a time, looking to earn back his reputation in the desert.

The Arizona Diamondbacks signed Greg Holland to a one year, $3.25MM contract, per the Athletic’s Robert Murray and Ken Rosenthal (via Twitter). It’s a rare bit of acquisition news coming from the desert, as GM Mike Hazen searches for creative ways to put his minimal budget to use.

Jon Heyman from Fancred adds (via Twitter) that Holland will have the chance to earn up to $3.5MM in additional incentives. Holland should compete for high-leverage innings and potentially saves, though a strong spring will go a long way in deciding his role under newly-extended skipper Torey Lovullo.

Holland’s five-year run of five with the Royals early in his career was about as good as a team can hope for out of a young closer. Those Royals took back-to-back pennants with a strategy predicated on speed, contact, and defense, but the backbone of those clubs was the bullpen – the backbone of those bullpens was Holland.

Though he missed their actual World Series victory due to injury, he teamed with Wade Davis to shorten games for those Royals. In his five years as the Kansas City closer from 2011-2015, Holland saved 145 games while pitching to a cumulative 2.15 ERA with 12.2 K/9 versus 3.5 BB/9 and a perhaps lucky but nonetheless impressive 0.4 HR/9.

He was a stud who, unfortunately for him, got hurt just as he was hitting free agency and a potential major payday. After missing all of 2016, he came back to save 41 games and earn his third All-Star nod with the Colorado Rockies, but there was never the same excitement around his stuff as in his KC days.

He was still missing bats (29.8% K%), but he surrendered more hard contact than usual as batters barreled him up 4.3% of the time. Mind you, that’s still pretty good, but the 3.61 ERA doesn’t scream shut-down closer.

The 36.2% hard hit rate was less good, speaking perhaps to a decline of his stuff, though it one could jus as easily interpret Holland’s 2016 as a working himself back into shape after missing a whole season of baseball.

The verdict last season was not so good, however. Holland didn’t find a contract to his liking until after the season began, when St. Louis gave him $14MM for the year and rushed him back to the bigs to help an injury-depleted bullpen. He never quite found his footing with the Cardinals in 32 games, marking a horrendous 7.92 ERA in 25 innings.

After his release and subsequent signing with the Nationals. however, Holland turned things around in a major way, pitching to a microscopic 0.84 ERA in 24 games.

In a different era, Holland would have a chance at a major payday even now, but the market has turned and Holland will never provide enough security to earn the type of deal he might have gotten at one time. I’d call it a “Craig Kimbrel” type deal, but we’ve yet to see if that type of deal exists anymore.

The Dbacks benefit by snagging him for a mere $3.25MM. Even if he earns the full boat, $6.75MM is still a bargain for Arizona – the kind of lottery win they’ll need to have any hope of surprising the league as they did in 2017.

Along with Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano, the Diamondbacks could have three high-impact right-handed arms to shut the door on leads and keep close games close. As we’ve said all offseason here at Venom Strikes, there’s upside in the Diamondbacks pitching staff – Holland raises the ceiling as much as he deepens the floor.

Worth noting, Holland’s fastball is dropping in velocity. When he gets hit, it’s the fastball taking the brunt of the damage. Holland seems to recognize this, as he relies more heavily on his slider these days, but he’ll need to learn to use his fastball at this lower velocity if that’s where it’s gonna sit as he enters his mid-thirties.

The fastball clocked in at 92.9 mph in 2018, down from 93.4 mph the year before. Batters hit .297 against it with a .419 expected wOBA. The league collectively hits like an All-Star against his fastball.

Next: Another Piece of the Diamondbacks Bullpen Puzzle

No matter where in the Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen hierarchy Greg Holland ends up, he’s going to need two offerings to dominate. He can pound sliders away all day long, but eventually they stop chasing. Hopefully, he’s got a bullet or two left in him.

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