Coors Field may be an odd choice to revive your pitching career after Tommy John surgery, but that's the choice Greg Holland has made, with reports saying he's agreed to a one-year deal with the Colorado Rockies with a vesting option for a second year. Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports tweeted that the deal guarantees Holland $7 million and he can earn up to $14 million if he serves as the Rockies' closer.
Before undergoing surgery late in the 2015 season with the Kansas City Royals -- he was on the sidelines as the Royals roared to the World Series title -- Holland was one of the most dominant relievers in the game. From 2011 to 2014, he posted a 1.86 ERA, struck out 358 batters in 256 1/3 innings, and allowed just 11 home runs and a .189 average. Over those four seasons, only Craig Kimbrel had a lower ERA among pitchers with at least 200 innings and only Kimbrel, Tyler Clippard and Kenley Jansen allowed a lower batting average. At his peak, Holland relied on a 96 mph fastball and wipeout slider.
He's not guaranteed the closing job, as Adam Ottavino returned last July from his own Tommy John surgery and looked great, with a 2.67 ERA and 35 K's in 27 innings. Given Holland's initial uncertainty and Ottavino's previous success in the tough pitching environment of Coors Field -- he has a career 3.29 ERA there -- Ottavino has to be considered the favorite to be the closer coming out of spring training and has pitched well enough before and after his surgery to keep the job.
So why sign Holland? The Rockies believe they're contenders after a 75-87 finish in 2016. Upgrading the bullpen is certainly a key, as the Rockies finished last in the majors with a 5.13 bullpen ERA. The hazards of pitching in Coors come into play here, but the Rockies' bullpen ERA on the road was still a less-than-stellar 4.46, 23rd in the majors. Besides Holland, the Rockies also signed lefty reliever Mike Dunn from the Marlins, but otherwise they'll be relying on the same crew from 2016, guys like Jake McGee, Jason Motte, Chad Qualls, Miguel Castro, Carlos Estevez and Jordan Lyles.
Believing you're contenders is one thing, but is a playoff push realistic? The starting rotation ranked a solid 14th in FanGraphs WAR, with breakout seasons from Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson. Keeping starters healthy at Coors is always an issue, but the rotation ranked fifth in the National League in road ERA, behind four playoff teams and ahead of the Dodgers.
The biggest problem I have with the Rockies is I don't think the position players are as good as the Rockies or many pundits believe. If Nolan Arenado is a top-five player in the game, and Carlos Gonzalez is great, and Charlie Blackmon is great, and DJ LeMahieu is great after winning the batting title, and Trevor Story was great for half a season, then why did the Rockies go just 42-39 at home and 33-48 on the road? It wasn't all because of the bullpen. And since we know the rotation was actually pretty good, then we have to point to the position players being overrated.
I think they'll be better in a couple regards: David Dahl in left field for a full season could be a three-win upgrade over the awful Gerardo Parra, and a full season from Story will help, even if regresses a bit from his .567 slugging percentage. But Ian Desmond isn't necessarily all that much better than Mark Reynolds, aside from how he adjusts defensively to first base.
Bottom line: Arenado had a .362 OBP; Gonzalez, .350; Story, .341. Those numbers are fine in a neutral park, but playing half your games in Coors Field means those figures are more average-ish in nature. Meanwhile, Desmond hasn't been a high OBP guy and struggled in the second half with the Rangers (.283 OBP). So, even though the Rockies led the NL with 845 runs, they need to score more runs if they want to see the postseason for the first time since 2009. There's a reason why FanGraphs projects the Rockies to rank just 24th in the majors in position player WAR.
A better bullpen will help, a healthy rotation is a must, but the lineup needs to improve as well.