Free agent signings are crucial to the success of every team. No team can acquire strong players at every position through an internal rebuild alone. The Rockies especially have struggled to produce pitchers that could be successful at Coors Field. For them, finding pitchers through free agency that could fortify their staff is of the utmost importance. On the flip side, finding pitchers with the desire to pitch half their games in Coors Field is next to impossible. In order to find an impact pitcher for their bullpen, the Rockies often have to take a gamble on a guy not many teams want. This offseason, that gamble was Greg Holland.
Holland was a dominant closer for the Royals for three seasons before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015. His postseason performance in 2014 was one of the main reasons the Royals were able to advance to within one game of winning the World Series. He pitched 11 innings while allowing just a single run and recording seven saves. That postseason run, however, was a major part of why his UCL eventually tore. The timeline is foggy, but there were indications that he was feeling pain even during that run through the playoffs.
He missed half of the 2015 season along with the entirety of 2016 before becoming a free agent. That doesn’t bode well for making a lot of money, let alone even finding a team to give him a chance as a big leaguer. In today’s game Tommy John surgery isn’t a nail in one’s coffin, but there’s never a guarantee that the pitcher will return as the player he was before. It was the perfect opportunity for the Rockies to pounce, but it easily could have ended in complete disaster.
No team had seen Holland pitch for over 14 months, but Colorado decided to give him a chance. They handed him a one-year deal worth $7 million, along with a $10 million option year in 2018.
That gamble has paid off handsomely, as Holland has stepped into the role of the Rockies’ closer with aplomb. He’s had a 1.62 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He’s had 28 saves, with just a single blown save. Even more important than those simple results metrics is the fact that his stuff has returned to form.
Holland’s renewed success is all about his ability to miss bats. He’s struck out 33.3 percent of batters faced, with a 16.5 percent swinging strike rate (which has helped him make up for the 12.4 percent walk rate). His fastball, despite being a straight fourseamer with average velocity, generates an unreal 24.3 percent whiff/swing rate. He throws his slider nearly as often as the fastball, and it produces a filthy 54.5 percent whiff/swing rate. Holland doesn’t throw his curve or splitter nearly as often, but they have both been incredible as well. The curve has generated a 60 percent whiff/swing, and while he’s only thrown the splitter four times this season, but every single time a batter has swung it’s been whiffed at.
Any concern about Holland’s stuff backing up because of the surgery has faded away. He’s established himself as the dominant closer of a team in playoff position. Even though the Rockies have fallen off their torrid first-half pace as of late, he’s a huge reason why they’re still ready to ride into the postseason. His contributions have helped push the Rockies to 3.1 wins above replacement from their bullpen alone. The bullpen has also produced a 24.2 percent strikeout rate, which is in the top half of the league.
The Rockies knew coming into the 2017 season that they had a few areas to improve upon. The bullpen was certainly one of those areas. However, they never really had a shot at Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, or even Mark Melancon. They were dependent on taking a gamble on a post-Tommy John surgery pitcher in Greg Holland. That gamble has paid off, giving them a dominant closer, and putting them in a great position, as they exit the All-Star Break with one of the best records in baseball and the postseason in sight.