I'll be honest with you guys; I was not particularly excited about writing this article. My impression of Jonathan Holder was that of a wholly unreliable reliever who belonged well outside of Joe Girardi's circle of trust. Much of that impression was shaped due to the fact that Holder played a large part in some of the low points of the Yankees' 2017 season.
Three outings stood out in my mind. In the Yankees' September 28 loss to the Rays, which effectively ended their division chances, Holder faced three hitters and failed to get any of them out, allowing two runs on two hits and putting the game out of reach. Holder was also ineffective during the Yankees' mid-June west coast trip of death, playing a part in their losses to the A's on June 16 and the Angels on June 20. These lackluster relief appearances solidified my perception of Holder as an untrustworthy pitcher.
However, looking now at Holder's FanGraphs player page, I'm wondering if my view of Holder was skewed by a few bad outings. While his numbers aren't those of a top-tier reliever, they suggest that Holder performed like a above-average middle relief arm. In 37 games and 39.1 innings pitched, Holder ran an 88 ERA- and a 79 FIP-. His K/9 and BB/9 rates, while nowhere near the level of excellence he displayed in the high minors, were also respectable, standing at 9.15 and 1.83. According to his overall numbers, it would appear that Holder was actually good this year, and certainly better than I gave him credit for.
Two stats stick out like sore thumbs, though. One is his unusually high BABIP of .348. Holder struggled with balls in play, allowing a .281 batting average against and 45 hits in 39.1 innings. Was this a case of Holder falling out of favor with the luck dragons, or was it due to hitters barreling up on his pitches? The evidence points to the former, as a search in Baseball Savant's Statcast leaderboards reveals that Holder is middle-of-the-road in both average exit velocity and barrels per batted ball event. The body of evidence is still too small to draw any definite conclusions, but based on what's happened so far it's difficult to say that Holder is prone to hard contact. I'd bet on his BABIP normalizing, which is a good sign for his future performance.
The other ominous stat is his platoon splits. Against righties, Holder was effective, holding them to a .260/.290./.415 line and a .303 wOBA. Against lefties, however, Holder allowed a line of .351/.439/.528 and a wOBA of .410. Coincidentally, Giancarlo Stanton had a wOBA of .410 this year. Imagine if every lefty you faced turned into a mirror version of Stanton. Poor Jonathan Holder. Again, as with his BABIP, small sample size caveats apply here, but this is still scary stuff nonetheless. One hopes the continuing development of his cutter to complement his fastball-curve combo will help him to neutralize his platoon splits.
Overall, however, Holder's 2017 numbers convinced me that he's worth keeping around as a middle relief option with the potential for more. With the five-headed monster of Chapman-Betances-Green-Robertson-Kahnle in the bullpen, the Yankees don't necessarily need to count on Holder to be lights out. However, with relievers being as fickle as they are and the constant threat of injury, it's nice to have capable depth options just in case. If he can step his game up and emulate his success in the minors, Holder would be a boon to the Yankees. I have now successfully completed an article about reliever Jonathan Holder without making a single pun.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference and Baseball Savant.