As we begin the new year, several intriguing bullpen options remain on the MLB free agent market. Here, we’ll take a look at two such relievers, Greg Holland and Neftali Feliz.
After big-time relievers Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen signed, the bullpen market was expected to heat up. As expected, many relievers have gone on to sign with teams, including Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa to the Marlins, and Mike Dunn to the Rockies. Teams in need of bullpen help are not without options, however. Two pitchers with closing experience are still available in Greg Holland and Neftali Feliz, and today we’ll evaluate which one is a better option. We’ll look at three factors: cost, track record, and durability.
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MLB Trade Rumors pegged Holland to sign for two years, $18 million and Feliz to sign for three years, $18 million. At this point in the offseason, they may have to settle for fewer years or money, but they still have plenty of suitors. Teams like the Nationals who missed out on the big closers can have either of these pitchers at a significantly lower value than other FA relievers. These guys won’t be dirt cheap, but the price tag shouldn’t scare away potential suitors.
This is where the two pitchers begin to show differences. As mentioned before, both Feliz and Holland have experience closing. Feliz has been a little inconsistent, with ERAs ranging from 1.74 in 2009 to 6.38 in 2015. He struck out an above-average 10.2 batters per nine innings, but he also walked 3.5, right in line with his career average. He doesn’t have great control, and he had a home run problem in 2016 with Pittsburgh. An unusually low BABIP and left on base percentage aided his ERA this season, making him a regression candidate as well. However, this season was ultimately a big bounceback for him and he has past success, so teams are understandably interested in the 28-year-old.
Greg Holland’s track record is much better. He has posted a career ERA of 2.42 and an even better FIP mark of 2.23. From 2012 to 2014, he was one of the most dominant closers in the game. He slipped a bit in 2015, posting an ERA of 3.83 in 48 appearances. Holland has a similar career BB/9 rate to Feliz, 3.52, but his K/9 rate of 12.11 is one of the best in the game. He hasn’t pitched since 2015, which leads us to the next factor.
This factor is largely why these relievers are still on the market, and it makes Feliz almost as valuable as Holland even though his track record is much more inconsistent. Prior to 2015, Holland consistently put up 60+ innings per year, staying pretty healthy. However, the big knock on him right now is the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2015. He has held several showcases for teams, but his effectiveness is certainly in question after such a major surgery and so much time away from the game. Feliz also had Tommy John back in 2012, and he missed the end of the season this year with an injury to his throwing arm. Neither player is anywhere near a lock to have a healthy 2017 and beyond.
If I were a major league team looking for bullpen help, I would target Greg Holland first. His price tag is slightly higher, and he comes with significantly higher risk, but the reward could be high. Holland’s dominance with the Royals is certainly encouraging to potential suitors going forward. But if a team misses out on Holland or wants a lower-risk reliever, Feliz is certainly not a bad option.