This is a question I have received a lot since we were made aware of Ryan Madson’s impending Tommy John surgery: who would I rather pick, Greg Holland or Sean Marshall? Some of my readers and twitter followers took my advice and picked up Holland when Joakim Soria went down, but saw that Marshall was available and wanted to know who I would rather have. Here is my take on both pitchers.
Holland’s skillset and the likelihood of him being named closer has been well documented here on FanGraphs by both me and Jack Moore. Holland has received three save opportunities and came through with all of them this spring, which is at least somewhat telling of what Kansas City has in the plans for this season. He will most likely close, and he will also most likely be very effective with this opportunity. With a K/BB ratio of 3.89 last season and dominance against both lefties and righties, I have little doubt that Holland has what it takes to be a closer. His track record is slightly disconcerting however, as he only really has performed at this level in his lone Major League season. He was very effective in the minors, but not 1.80 ERA or 2.21 FIP good. He will probably walk more batters this season than he did last year, which is a slight cause for concern going forward. As I stated earlier, Holland definitely has the stuff to close and be very effective, but I don’t expect him to quite be Craig Kimbrel or John Axford right out of the gate.
Marshall has now posted back to back dominant seasons, recording a 2.28 FIP and 1.86 FIP and being worth five wins over the past two seasons. His K/BB ratio of 4.65 last year was simply incredible. He will probably allow more home runs in the future, as his 2.0% HR/FB rate is hardly repeatable. He does generate a ton of ground balls though, posting back-to-back seasons with a ground ball rate over 50%, and does very well against right-handed hitters as well. His handedness is not the reason for his success, he is simply a very good pitcher. With his great strikeout ability and command along with ground ball tendencies, Marshall is a near ideal pitcher to have in the late innings.
Both pitchers have another pitcher breathing down their necks or competing with them for the ninth inning job, which indicates that they do not quite have a choke hold lock on the closer position. Aroldis Chapman is obviously more of a long term threat to Marshall than Jonathan Broxton is to Holland. Marshall did sign a three year extension, which has him locked up through 2015, so if he performs well this year there is a good chance that he remains the closer through his stay in Cincinnati. The way I would play this, even with Marshall’s contract extension, is to go after Marshall in one year leagues and Holland in keeper or dynasty formats. Broxton is on just a one year deal, so even if he does become the closer this season, Holland will get a chance at some point and he is skilled enough to perform well when that opportunity comes. Again, Marshall in the short term and Holland in the long term, that’s how I would play it.