It was, perhaps, a rough first weekend to the season — specifically, two disappointing outings in Philadelphia — that spurred right-hander Greg Holland to what might be the best season by a reliever in Royals’ history.
Holland simplified his approach after those games…and proved virtually unhittable for the remainder of the season. The result: He was announced Monday as the club’s pitcher of the year for a second straight season.
About those two games in Philly:
Holland blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning in a 4-3 loss on April 6 to the Phillies and failed again the next day to close out a ninth-inning lead before Kelvin Herrera got the final out in a 9-8 victory.
“I was upset because I felt I was costing us games,” Holland said, “but I stayed confident on the mound. I talked to (pitching coach) Dave Eiland, and I said, ‘Dave…I think I’m going out there and trying to be someone I’m not.
“I need to go out there like it’s a one-run game every time out. Be unpredictable. Don’t be afraid to fall behind. It got to the point where I felt I was trying to throw strike one so much that I was aiming the ball a lot.
“I’m not very successful when I’m doing that. I had to realize what my strengths were the year before and go out there and replicate those things as much as I could. I just kind of got back to being myself.”
Pretty good self-analysis.
Holland gave up only five earned runs over 65 innings in 65 outings after those two games in Philly. He also struck out 100 (and finished with 103 in 67 innings) while saving 46 games in 48 attempts (he was 47 for 50 overall).
That’s as close to automatic as any closer is likely to get.
“I manage the whole game,” manager Ned Yost said, “to get the ball to Holly with a lead in the ninth inning. If we get the ball to him, we feel the game is over.”
Holland’s 47 saves set a club record and ranked second in the American League to the 50 by Baltimore’s Jim Johnson, who also blew nine saves. Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Montgomery shared the previous club mark at 45.
“The main thing to me,” Holland said, “is it means we won a lot of games…I’m really pleased with how I went about my business. It’s really rewarding to help your teammates out on the field.
“To be rewarded with a pitcher-of-the-year award says a lot.”
Holland’s 103 strikeouts led all AL relievers and matched a club record set in 1971 by Jim York (who pitched 93 1/3 innings), and his 1.21 ERA was the best in club history by a reliever (Montgomery had a 1.37 mark in 1989).
Prefer newer metrics?
Holland led the AL in win probability added at 4.7, which was the third-best mark by a reliever in Royals’ history. Quisenberry had a 7.0 in 1980 (a record for all club pitchers); Montgomery registered a 5.5 in 1993.
“That’s what he does,” catcher Salvy Perez said after one of Holland’s 11 three-strikeout innings. “Holland is Holland. Great fastball. Great slider. You can’t hit him. No chance.”
The Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America previously chose pitcher James Shields as recipient of the Joe Burke Special Achievement award.
The Les Milgram Player of the Year will be announced Tuesday.
The Rice award is named in memory of a longtime Kansas City sportscaster who died from a heart attack in 1978 following a road trip to Pittsburgh to cover the Chiefs.
Holland is just the fifth pitcher to receive the Rice award in successive seasons: Quisenberry won three in a row from 1982-84; Kevin Appier won in 1992-93; Tim Belcher in 1996-97; and Jeff Suppan in 2000-01.
In all, there are 11 multiple winners among the 26 all-time recipients for an award that dates to 1971. Quisenberry (who won it four times) and Joakim Soria (2008 and 2010) are the only other relievers to win it more than once.
Holland anchored a bullpen this season that set a franchise record, and led the American League, with a 2.55 ERA. The Royals’ previous best mark was a 2.80 ERA in the strike-shortened 1981 season.
Holland was picked as the club’s pitcher of the month in May, June and July and was the MLB Delivery Man of the Month in July and September.
And he was selected to the All-Star Game for the first time in his career. Holland was a late addition, which prompted a quick change in travel plans after the Royals closed their pre-break schedule on July 14 in Cleveland.
“I’ve got a lot of golf shirts,” he deadpanned as he looked into his suitcase that afternoon in the clubhouse at Progressive Field. “I don’t know if that will pass. We’ll see what happens.”
What happened was Holland, while teamed with Perez, recorded one out in the seventh inning in helping preserve the AL’s 3-0 victory over the National League at Citi Field in New York.
So this award — officially, the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year award — closes out a remarkable year for Holland, who turns 28 later this month and is now in line for a big salary hike in his first year of arbitration eligibility.
So far, Holland said, he’s had no talks with the Royals on a new contract, let alone an extended-year deal.
“That’s something I’m not really concerned about,” he said. “I just like to relax in the offseason and get myself prepared for spring training. That time will come.
“Right now, my main focus is staying healthy and getting myself prepared for next season.”