If you ever wondered who the best reliever in major league baseball was entering the 2015 season, there’s a great chance that right-hander Greg Holland’s name would pop up quite frequently.
From 2011-2014, he registered 113 saves for the Kansas City Royals while maintaining an unbelievable 1.86 ERA and 358 strikeouts — the most among American League relievers. In 2015, however, all things went south for the righty. Holland did record 32 saves that year, but saw his fastball velocity decline from 96.33 mph in 2014 to 94.29 two years ago, according to Brooks Baseball.
Royals’ manager Ned Yost then announced that his closer tore his UCL late in the 2014 season, pitched the whole 2014 postseason (where he pitched to the tune of a 0.82 ERA) and the entire 2015 campaign with that tear in his elbow.
By September 18, he was shut down after surrendering seven runs in the 12 appearances preceding that date and missed the entirety of the 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, he looks like the shutdown closer he was before the surgery with his new team, the Colorado Rockies.
Colorado has won three of its first four games to start the 2017 season and in all three contests, Holland slammed the door shut with three saves. He has faced nine total batters and hasn’t given up a single hit while striking out four. It’s a small sample size, for sure, but there are a few nuggets that spark some encouragement in the righty.
First, the velocity is coming back. His fastball reached 95.41 mph against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 6, which is nearly one tick off his average velocity back in 2014, when he posted a .170 batting average against.
Secondly, that ruthless slider is back.
Throughout Holland’s last full season, his slider registered a whiff rate of 47.62 percent on the slider with a line drive rate of 18.60. Now, through just three games, the line drive rate off the slider sits at zero while posting a whiff rate of 68.75 -- ten points greater than his whiff rate in 2014.
Let’s digress a tad, though. Holland still surely has some proving to do at the hitter-friendly Coors Field coming off a season in which he operated on a torn ulnar collateral ligament. We shouldn’t get worked up over three games, yet he is the Rockies’ closer at the moment and the 31-year-old will get every chance to prove he can put the nail in the coffin for a winning team at an elite level yet again.