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Examining why Holland remains unsigned

Dip in velocity, long-term uncertainty could be hindering market for '17 NL saves leader
MLB.com @DKramer_

In a free-agent market that has been slow to develop all the way to Spring Training, the one area that saw plenty of action was among relief pitchers. Yet arguably the most distinguished arm of this year's class remains available.

Greg Holland, the reigning National League saves leader and NL Comeback Player of the Year Award winner, is still seeking a home. Following a 2016 offseason in which three closers -- Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman -- each surpassed previous records for the richest contracts ever at the position, it might not have been out of the realm to imagine Holland joining that group. 

In a free-agent market that has been slow to develop all the way to Spring Training, the one area that saw plenty of action was among relief pitchers. Yet arguably the most distinguished arm of this year's class remains available.

Greg Holland, the reigning National League saves leader and NL Comeback Player of the Year Award winner, is still seeking a home. Following a 2016 offseason in which three closers -- Mark Melancon, Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman -- each surpassed previous records for the richest contracts ever at the position, it might not have been out of the realm to imagine Holland joining that group. 

Hot Stove Tracker

In addition to his individual accolades, Holland helped transform the Rockies' bullpen from statistically the worst unit in 2016 to one of the club's catalysts last year in its first postseason appearance since '09. At face value, there's a lot to like about Holland, who last season re-established a slider that proved to be among the Majors' most potent offerings.

Lowest BA allowed vs. sliders, 2017
Min. 100 at-bats ending on sliders
1. Andrew Miller: .094
2. Brad Hand: .104
3. Max Scherzer: .124
4. Ken Giles: .134
5. Roberto Osuna: .135
6-T. Greg Holland: .137

Most strikeouts on sliders, RP, 2017
1. Brad Hand: 78
2. Andrew Miller: 67
3-T. Ken Giles: 62
3-T. Dellin Betances: 62
5. Edubray Ramos: 61
6. Greg Holland: 58

However, there are a few reasons why clubs might be having pause to sign Holland.

Drop in velocity

Holland has never regained his flame-throwing velocity from his days in Kansas City, where he averaged 96.4 mph on his four-seamer during All-Star campaigns in 2013-14. He averaged 93.4 mph on the pitch last year, and batters hit it at a .286 average, the second-highest mark for any of his five full seasons.

Sure, for a pitcher whose fastball velocity decreased dramatically, there's more reliance on generating chases on secondary pitches that move out of the zone, which is why the slider became so lethal, and perhaps why Holland increased its usage from 42.8 percent to a career-high 49.8 from his last full season in 2014 to '17.

But when he lost command of the pitch, it had reverberating effects on his total body of work. 

Tweet from @DKramer_: When Greg Holland lands his slider, it's among MLB's most deceptive offerings (R). But when he loses it, as he did for spells in '17, it can be a total tater (L). pic.twitter.com/qOvTPhRNFq

Holland threw his slider for non-borderline balls (classified outside the edges) 31.8 percent of the time, but as the season wore on, he was generating less swing-and-miss. That dip may have manifested into more walks -- from mid-June through August, when Holland posted a 7.04 ERA in 25 outings, his strikeout-to-walk rate dwindled from 22.7 to 11.3 percent, which ranked 176th among qualified relievers for that period.

That may have translated into a lower collective strikeout rate; Holland's was a respectable 29.8 percent, and way down from the 39 percent he posted from 2013-14, which ranked second among relievers in that period to Chapman.

Video: Holland earns NL Comeback Player of Year Award

Long-term uncertainty

Holland is entering his age-32 season and is a little more than two years removed from Tommy John surgery. He showed fatigue during one of the worst stretches of his career last August, when over an eight-game funk he posted a 19.89 ERA with three blown saves. For clarity, Holland did suffer a minor cut on his pitching hand in a kitchen accident that preceded his poor run, though he did not miss any time.

Holland is hardly the first closer to weather a slump of such length, but in weighing Holland's entire season against his closer contemporaries, his peaks and valleys yielded results that ranked him in the middle of the pack among advanced analytics. Using Expected Weighted On-base Average (xwOBA) -- an advanced Statcast™ metric, which examines how a pitcher should fare based on real-life walks/strikeouts as well as expected outcomes from exit velocity and launch angle -- Holland's mark of .268 tied with pitchers such as Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson, Alan Busenitz and Carl Edwards Jr. (MLB average for xwOBA was .311).

Video: SF@COL: Statcast™ on Holland's snag on 105.8 mph ball

Lowest xwOBA among RP, 2017
Min. 500 pitches thrown
1. Kenley Jansen: .191
2. Pat Neshek: .211
3. Sean Doolittle: .218
4-T. Craig Kimbrel: .230
4-T. David Robertson: .230
4-T. Tommy Hunter: .230

T-48. Greg Holland: .268

Holland rebounded to deliver a very productive final month, posting a 1.86 ERA in 10 outings, which was more in line with his early leg of the season, when he converted on his first 23 saves. But the premium on saves isn't what it once was -- Holland was one of just 11 closers last year with at least 30 saves, down from 21 in '15. As bullpens have become more versatile, the closer role has become more interchangeable.

Crowded relief market

An ever-increasing premium on relievers and the breadth and affordability of personnel available has made this market robust for bullpen arms. Neshek, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Matt Albers, Addison Reed, Jake McGee, Anthony Swarzak, Luke Gregerson, Hector Rondon and others have all found homes.

Holland comes with Draft-pick compensation, having turned down a $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Rockies, which makes any contract Holland signs exceeding $50 million, which he's likely seeking, costlier for an acquiring club. The Cubs and Cardinals, and most recently, the Angels, have all been linked to Holland this winter, though sparingly. None of those three are revenue-sharing clubs, either, meaning it would cost each of them a higher Draft pick and international bonus pool money.

Coming off Tommy John surgery, Holland's market wasn't as robust last winter, though he gambled on himself when signing with the Rockies on a one-year, incentives-laden deal that ballooned from $7 million to $13 million with performance bonuses. He took another chance when turning down the $15 million player option for '18 that kicked in due to incentives, as well as Colorado's qualifying offer -- which were indications that he is seeking a hefty payday in dollars and years. But given the way his market has developed, such a deal could remain hard to find.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @DKramer_.

Greg Holland