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2019 Arizona Diamondbacks reviews: #44, Greg Holland

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In which our closer sinks below sea-level.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Miami Marlins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images
  • Rating: 3.01
  • Age: 33
  • 2019 stats (AZ only): 35.2 IP, 1-2, 17 Sv, 4.54 ERA, 0.1 bWAR
  • 2019 salary: $3,250,000 + incentives
  • 2020 status: open to offers

Introduction

Mike Hazen took the same approach to finding a closer for 2019 as he the previous two seasons, with Fernando Rodney and Brad Boxberger. Namely, find a free-agent reliever who had experience in the role, but not one currently occupying it, who would receive a higher salary as a result. The recipient of a contract this year was Greg Holland, who led the National League in 2017 with 41 saves for the Colorado Rockies. Indeed, over the five seasons from 2013-17, only Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen had more saves than Holland. And that’s despite him missing the entire 2016 season, as the reliever recovered from Tommy John surgery.

2018 had been rough. He had signed a $14 million contract with the Cardinals right at the end of spring training, and took over in early April as their closer. However, over 32 appearances, he had an ERA almost at eight (7.92), and failed to save a single game. He was released by St. Louis at the beginning of August, but was picked up by the Nationals... and was as lights-out for them, as he had been terrible for the Cardinals. Over 24 games there, he had an ERA of just 0.84, allowing two runs over 21.1 innings, striking out 25. That caused the D-backs to offer Holland an incentive-laden deal for 2019, with the potential to more than double his base salary, by earning up to $3.5 million in incentives.

2019 review

It started very well. He made his Arizona debut on March 29, striking out A.J. Pollock and Corey Seager in an 11 pitch. 1-2-3 thirteenth inning in Los Angeles, to close out the D-backs’ first win of the year. After notching his seventh save on May 1, Holland had begun his Arizona career with 10 scoreless innings, holding batters to just two hits (an .063 average), and 13 strikeouts to two walks. Over its first month, this deal looked like a bargain, even if Greg ended up cashing in on most of the bonus clauses for games pitched and finished. Two days later, the scoreless streak ended, Holland allowed a run on a hit and two walks. But it was in Coors Field, and he still got the save, so no big, right?

His next outing, Holland blew his first save, in Tampa, though the D-backs won that in 13 innings. But the lock-down Holland who posted stress-free innings, retiring the side in order as often as not, was gone. His ten April outings averaged just 0.6 batters over the minimum per inning. In May, that number spiked to 1.5, though his ERA for the month was respectable at 3.12, as Greg did a decent job of stranding runners. That Tampa game was his only blown save of the month, though because Arizona went 11-17 for May, there were few save opportunities to be had. He did almost get an L against Atlanta, after allowing a run in the top of the ninth, getting bailed out by a David Peralta two-out homer in the bottom.

The real problem was Holland’s remarkable inability to convert the real save situations: the one-run leads. His last such for Arizona came on May 1 against the Yankees, preserving a 3-2 win. Every one of the ten saves he successfully converted thereafter saw him enter the game with a two- or three-run lead. Give him a one-run lead, and the results were inevitably disastrous:

  • May 8 @ TBR: Enters 2-1 up, 1 IP, 2 H, BB, ER, BS
  • June 20 vs. COL: Enters 4-3 up, 1 IP, H, 2 BB, ER, BS
  • July 2 @ LAD: Enters 4-3 up, 0.2 IP, 4 BB, 2 ER, BS, L
  • July 3 @ LAD: Enters 4-3 up, 0.1 IP, 2 H, ER, BS
  • July 26 @ MIA: Enters 2-1 up, 0.1 IP, 2 H, BB, 2 ER, BS, L

The consecutive games in Los Angeles were probably where all confidence in Holland was lost by most Diamondbacks’ fans. On July 2, Greg got two outs and was 0-2 on the hitter, one strike from a 1-2-3 inning, when he completely lost it. The pitcher consecutively walked Chris Taylor, Russell Martin, Alex Verdugo and Matt Beatty (above), throwing just three strikes in a 19-pitch spell. The last forced in the game-tying run, and T.J. McFarland then finished it off with another walk, in one of the most embarrassing losses in Diamondbacks history. For at least the walk-off balk was just one moment of idiocy. Watching this was like have your fingernails slowly pulled out with pliers.

Holland was then called up the next night, and was at least efficient, taking only four pitches to blow that save, on a double and RBI single. From this point on, it seemed purely a matter of time, and a question of how long manager Torey Lovullo would stick with his man. Despite saying he wouldn’t run from Holland, and that he believed the reliever was good at turning the page, the answer was less than three weeks. On July 24, Holland was pulled from a save situation after walking the only two batters he faced, Yoan Lopez getting his first career save instead. Two nights later came the final game listed above, against the Marlins, and Holland was officially done as closer.

A shift to lower-leverage work saw Holland allow five ER in 2.1 IP, before the team pulled the plug entirely. He was DFA’d on August 7, the team opting to stop the incentivized bleeding. Greg ended up earning $650K of the potential $3.5 million in bonuses, and went unclaimed, being released on August 11. Holland ended up with the Nationals for the second consecutive year, and pitched eleven innings in Double-A ball with a 0.82 ERA. Despite that, and their well-documented bullpen struggles, at least Washington didn’t make him part of their playoff roster (alongside another former Arizona closer in Rodney). I don’t think I could have coped seeing Holland close out World Series Game 7...

2020 preview

Obviously, Holland is not going to be part of the Diamondbacks’ plans in 2020, unless something absolutely stunning happens and we re-sign him once more. But he will still likely have an impact on the team. As we wrote, while the final pages in the Holland saga for Arizona were being compiled, Hazen’s approach to finding closers in the bargain bin has now seen more failures (Holland and Brad Boxberger) than successes (Rodney). With Archie Bradley having proven his mettle after replacing Holland as closer, it seems most likely at this point that the team will change direction, and go with him as an internal option for the position in 2020.

That isn’t to say that the team won’t pursue a similar kind of pitcher as bullpen help. Fitting the criteria (experience as a closer, but not in 2019) include a number of free-agent names: Sam Dyson (38 saves for Texas in 2016), Brandon Kintzler (29 saves in 2017), Tyler Clippard (19 saves in 2015) and Jeremy Jeffress (15 saves in 2018). Heck, even former D-backs Rodney or - and who’d mind seeing this one? - Daniel Hudson might be of interest. We’ll see what unfolds for the bullpen as the winter proceeds.