It's a familiar story for Red Sox fans. Brock Holt starts the year like a man possessed, and finishes it like a ghost. For some reason, in 2014, he was never the same after the All-Star break. He finished the first half with a 5-for-6 explosion against Houston to raise his OPS to an impressive .834, then proceeded to hit .219/.278/.271 the rest of the way, finishing the season with a decent-but-mundane line of .281/.331/.381 and all the momentum of a turtle climbing uphill.
So when Holt started the 2015 season with a bang, hitting .292/.379/.412 in the first half and earning himself a trip to the All-Star Game, it was cause for celebration! But muted celebration. The kind that comes from knowing all too well how quickly it can come undone. And as the second half started, sure enough, Brock Holt faded.
I say faded, but that's not entirely accurate. It's more that he vanished. He only saw five at bats in Boston's first three games back from the break, and they all resulted in outs. He finally managed to get back on base on July 21st, but by the end of the month, Holt had already seen that OPS of his drop 31 points. It took fewer than 50 plate appearances.
The week that followed made his second half start seem strong. With a 3-for-25 stretch to start August, it became difficult to see this as just a slump. It was history repeating itself. Brock Holt had gone from Ben Zobrist lite to, well, Brock Holt. The minor league utility man who had acted as a secondary piece in the Joel Hanrahan trade.
Finally, though, this past week has seen some glimmer of promise from Brock Holt. Holt has managed multiple hits in five of his last six games, good enough to undo most of the damage of August, if not the end of July.
The second half still looks ugly for Holt at .271/.311/.344, and he doesn't even have luck to blame, as he's managed a .321 BABIP in that time. He's walked less, hit for less power, and there's the simple matter that even a .321 mark is well below the .377 BABIP he enjoyed in the first half--a number that should generally suggest there is some regression to come. Just not quite as much as we've seen from Holt, especially when you consider that he's actually been striking out less these past couple weeks.
There's also the fact that his success has come largely in an abberation of a series that saw the Red Sox score 45 runs in three games. How much can you really draw from games like those?
But if there are reasons to keep your optimism guarded, that's a lot more than can be said for the first few weeks of the second half. Holt's performance these last six games has hit all the right notes. Those walk problems? Five drawn compared to the one he drew from July 18 to August 8. The hits? Not cheap, with three doubles and a triple mixed in compared to just two other extra-base hits since the All-Star Break.
Amusingly enough, though, Holt's best stretch in the second half of 2014 came right around this time, too. From August 13 to August 18, he hit .360/.467/.440 in six games against the Reds, Astros, and Angels. Those performances weren't quite as impressive as those of this past week, but at the time it likely looked much the same. "Finally, first-half Holt is back!" Only to be followed by 17 games hitting .181/.221/.236 before his season came to an end as premature as it was merciful.
It shouldn't mean much. Players shouldn't work this way. They are human beings, not clockwork mechanisms. The second half might be more difficult for a player with, say, below average physical endurance/durability, but it's ridiculous to suggest that Brock Holt struggles in the second half "except for in one week in the middle of August." In fact, if we just look at Holt's season, and the past month, and this last week contained within, the simple conclusion is that Brock Holt is a good player who hit a slump like all good players do and is finally coming out of it.
But the simple answer doesn't entirely hold its own in the face of...well, whatever you want to call his greater pattern. Superstition if you don't give it much weight, history if you do.
But even skeptics can be convinced, whether that means those skeptical of a player who fades so dramatically as Brock Holt might, or those who are skeptical of the player himself. And the next few weeks should go a long way towards entrenching one side and swaying the other. As such, Holt finds himself now where he found himself one month ago: facing one of the most important stretches of his career. A successful run, and he's Ben Zobrist lite again. An unsuccessful run, and he's probably locked in as little more than a bench player whose versatility is his only real calling card.
Both players will stick in the majors, but one is a subtle star, the other an afterthought. For the Red Sox, at least, the difference is significant, but not when it comes to planning. Even at his best, Holt occupies a strange "10th man" role where he is less than a starter in terms of the space he fills on the roster, but every bit one in terms of his impact on the team as a whole. The natural replacement should he continue to fade is, well, the other, less impressive Brock Holt. It's a convenient situation that gives the Red Sox a ton of upside without any of the risk that comes from relying on an uncertain starter.
But if Holt's performance from here on out is low-impact when it comes to team-building, it's huge when it comes to team quality. These last forty games are big, and these next three, five, or even ten could set the tone for the rest. Brock Holt seems to be on the verge of rising once again. Hopefully the next week bears that out.