Thursday night, Greg Holland saved the Royals game.
This would not usually be big news, because Greg Holland saves a LOT of Royals games. But this was big news because Holland's save was his 46th, which set a new franchise record previously held by Dan Quisenberry and Jeff Montgomery.
And it's hardly been an empty 46 saves. Holland's strikeout rate is tremendous, his ERA microscopic. If you want to talk about truly great relief pitchers this season, there's Holland and Kimbrel and Nathan and maybe Benoit and then a whole bunch of other guys not really worth mentioning. Trust me: I watch the Royals fairly often, and I'm perfectly capable of how brilliant Holland has been.
But this is crazy:
Greg Holland set the Royals' saves record tonight. He's had the best relief season in franchise history. Those two things are coincidental.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) September 27, 2013
No, it's not the best relief season in franchise history. It's not close to the best relief season in franchise history.
Holland's got a 1.23 ERA in 66 innings. That's fantastic.
In 1983, Dan Quisenberry posted a 1.94 ERA in 139 innings.
In 1989, Jeff Montgomery posted a 1.37 ERA in 92 innings.
That's just two notable seasons. If you care about Baseball-Reference.com's Wins Above Replacement (Wins+), there have been eleven relief seasons better than Holland's: four of Quisenberry's, three of Montgomery's, two of Joakim Soria's, and one apiece from Steve Farr and Mark Littell.
How is that possible? Well, it's partly due to context. Soria's seasons score higher because he pitched in seasons that were slightly more hitter-friendly. But it's most due to INNINGS. Thirty years ago, the Royals' ace reliever pitched twice as many innings as their ace reliever is going to pitch this season. Actually, more than twice as many. And considering how well Quisenberry pitched in 1983, it's essentially impossible for any modern reliever to touch him, qualitatively.
You might well argue that no Royal reliever has been more dominant than Holland. But that's a different thing. You might even argue that Wins+ undervalues Holland's performance. But you'll have a real tough time getting him into the top five on the list. Let alone to the top spot.
I bring this up not because I enjoy arguing with Rany (although I suppose I always have). I bring this up because it's worth mentioning, yet again, that today's relievers run into a natural limit of value, and that limit it relatively low. And I bring this up because the Royals really, really, really should trade Greg Holland. For one thing, he'll never be more valuable. For another, the Royals have needs. They really, really, really have needs. The desperately need an outfielder who can hit. They need a second baseman. They might need a third baseman. And they'll probably need a starting pitcher.
Unfortunately, they probably need a new general manager, too. Because the one they've got now doesn't seem to understand the relative worth of modern relief pitchers.
For much more about the Holland and the Boys in Blue, please visit SB Nation's Royals Review.