On the heels of news that Joakim Soria will need Tommy John surgery, the Royals’ bullpen is a state of flux. Luckily, unlike most bullpens around the majors, the Royals have excellent options to fill the role. Jonathan Broxton may be the frontrunner for the job, given his history as a stud with the Dodgers. But the closer of the future is already in the Royals’ bullpen, and even if he doesn’t become the closer of the present, Greg Holland is already making hitters take notice.
Take, for example, these three hitters:
Sure, it was the Mariners. Still, Holland combines a blazing fastball (95 MPH average velocity) with that vicious slider with excellent results. In 78.2 major league innings, Holland has struck out 97 batters against just 27 walks. Last season, it was 74 strikeouts to 19 walks. He induced more ground balls than fly balls. Only Jonathan Papelbon earned more swings and misses than Holland’s 16.6% ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, tERA — all under 2.70, all except xFIP under 2.30. Hell, he even picked up five wins.
It would be understandable if the Royals went to Jonathan Broxton over Holland in the closer’s role to start the season. Ostensibly, the Royals see Broxton as a reclamation project they can use to build trade value over the course of the season, and there’s not a better place for a reliever to do that than as the closer. And let’s not forget, when Broxton’s on, he’s every bit as good as what Holland showed last year. From 2007-2009 Broxton recorded 301 strikeouts to just 81 walks in 227 innings, posting an ERA- of 68 as he earned the closership in Los Angeles.
Still, Broxton is on a one-year deal, and his time in Kansas City is nothing more than a transition phase — to a playoff team if he succeeds or to retirement (forced or otherwise) if injury problems and ineffectiveness continue to bite. Greg Holland’s time in the Kansas City bullpen spotlight is coming, and current circumstances suggest it will be sooner rather than later.