The Diamondbacks have signed reliever Greg Holland to a one-year contract, pending a physical. The news was first reported by Robert Murray, and the deal is heavily incentive-laden. According to Jon Heyman, Holland will get a base salary of $3.25 million, but can make up to the same again in incentives for games and games finished. Holland started his career in 2010 with the Kansas City Royals, and from 2013-17, only Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen racked up more saves than Holland’s 166. That’s despite him missing the entire 2016 season because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. He rebounded very nicely, joining the Rockies the following year and notching a league-high 41 saves.
He was able to parlay that into a one-year, $14 million contract last season with the St. Louis Cardinals as their closer. But right from the start, he struggled. In his debut, he retired one of six batters faced, walking four and taking the loss. He spent some time on the DL with a hip issue, but in the end, the Cardinals designated Holland for assignment on July 27. He was 0-2 with three blown saves in six attempts and a 9.45 ERA - given the Cardinals missed the second wild-card by three games, you can argue Holland was that difference. However, when he signed with the Nationals, Holland was an entirely different pitcher. He had an ERA of just 0.84 over 24 games, holding batters to a .130 average.
This move seems an extremely Hazen-like move, and I imagine Holland is likely to start the season as the Diamondbacks’ closer. As with Fernando Rodney in 2017 and Brad Boxberger last season, the team has brought in someone with closer experience, but who did not end the season in the role, and so was not looking for “closer bucks”. As with Rodney - also traded in the middle of the season before we acquired him, and who performed radically differently for his two teams - the success of this move will depend on which pitcher we get. If it’s the Cardinals’ version, it’s gonna suck. But Holland could also turn out to be a bargain, if his early season struggled were something “fixed” in Washington.
Blake Finney had a look at the difference in Holland between the two versions. “The noticeable improvement in his stats was the contact rate against him, which dived down from 73.8 percent to 65.7 percent after joining the Nationals... Based on FanGraphs Pitch Value, his slider went from a -2.1 value with the Cardinals to a 5.8 value with the Nats. He did this by focusing on getting his slider down and away, mostly out of the zone. If you compare his slider’s heatmap from his time with the Cards, to the same heatmap with the Nats, you notice how much the pitch leaked over the plate in St. Louis. The swings and misses followed and were a big reason he turned his season around.”
As with most such extreme splits, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Holland is neither as bad a pitcher as he was in St. Louis, nor as good as he was with Washington. His overall fielding-independent ERA was 3.83, which is very similar to the figure he posted in his successful season with Colorado (3.72). That is higher than he had during his most dominant years with Kansas City - over six seasons there, his FIP was just 2.23. But in another point of similarity, it’s also remarkably close to Rodney’s number (3.80) in the campaign prior to his arrival in Arizona. If the results in 2019 are similar to our archer’s, I don’t think there’ll be too much cause for complaint.