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Collapse vs. Dodgers brings D-backs’ Greg Holland’s struggles to a head

Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) is pulled from the game by manager Torey Lovullo, left, after Holland loaded the bases with a walk during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday, July 2, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The Diamondbacks lost a baseball game in about the most improbable way a team possibly could Tuesday night.

With only one more strike left to secure a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, Greg Holland stood on the mound. On the 0-2 count, he threw a ball.

He then proceeded to throw 15 more.

After loading the bases, then walking in the tying run, Holland was pulled.

T.J. McFarland replaced him, and just like Holland, walked in a run.

That won the game for the Dodgers 5-4.

“It was a long night last night,” D-backs GM Mike Hazen said on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf. “It’s a long morning this morning getting to the game tonight. It’s frustrating. Everyone is frustrated watching the game.”

The loss was even more debilitating given the way Arizona played for most of it.

“You play what I felt like was one of our best baseball games all season; I thought Torey [Lovullo] managed the game perfectly. Pushed all the right buttons on the bullpen. And it just didn’t work out,” Hazen said.

From the first batter he walked, it was clear Holland had no control. Pitches continually ended up below the strike zone, with batters not biting whatsoever on his slider, which has been quite good this year. Fangraphs has given the pitch a value of 4.3 this season, his best pitch by two whole points.

The slider has improved since last year, as it only touched 3.9. Pitch value is an accumulative stat, so Holland has already turned in better production on the pitch this season than he did all of last.

Obviously, the slider isn’t as good this season as it has been in the past. Holland’s slider has produced values over ten four times in his career. The pitch isn’t nearly as good as it was when he was at his peak, but as a 33-year-old, that can be expected.

What’s more alarming is that the improvement Holland’s slider has shown this season might be beginning to wear off, as evident in Tuesday’s game and in the past month as well.

Holland’s numbers overall have dropped. After a good start to the season, which is still keeping his ERA at a solid 2.93, Holland’s ERA plummeted in June to 4.32.

Sure, Holland only pitched 8.1 innings, but that was spread out over nine games. He gave up four runs in those nine outings, allowed three home runs and posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of two.

The problem is rooted in that slider. Hitters are simply not falling for it anymore.

Holland is throwing it a lot. It’s his second-most used pitch, as he’s using it 43.84% of the time compared to his fourseam fastball 45.66% of the time, per Brooks Baseball. On the season, Holland is generating whiffs (swings and misses) with slider 23.96% of the time, per Brooks Baseball. That’s the highest whiff percentage out of any of his pitches. Essentially, if Holland is getting a batter to miss, it’s with the slider.

But hitters aren’t doing that anymore.

Filter those percentages starting on June 1, and you’ll see a massive drop. Holland is using the slider just as frequently; he’s thrown it two less times than he has is fastball since the beginning of June. But the whiff percentages drops to 13.64%.

And when you apply those numbers to Tuesday’s outing, you can see why Holland struggled so badly. The issues with the pitch might have come to a head.

Here is the breakdown of Holland’s first walked batter, Chris Taylor. Four straight sliders, four straight balls and four straight pitches with no swings. Taylor stayed patient and let Holland lose control.

Next was Russell Martin, who actually bit a slider on the first pitch he saw from Holland. But after that brief recovery, Holland lost it again.

Then came Alex Verdugo, who took three straight pitches, including two sliders, in the dirt. The bases were loaded, and Holland had worked himself into a situation he couldn’t, and didn’t, get himself out of.

Holland having issues with his second most-used pitch is a big problem. He and Yoan Lopez have been the only two reliable relievers in the D-backs bullpen. If Holland continues to struggle, it could force some decisions and re-shuffling to occur in a month that’s already going to be full of them.

Doug & Wolf

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