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2017 Red Sox Review: Brock Holt

Looking back at a tough year for the super utility man

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Boston Red Sox
The highlight of Holt’s season?
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Brock Holt.

The Positives

This past season was not a successful one for Brock Holt, who has become a fan favorite in Boston over the past few years. A lot went wrong in his season, both on the field and keeping him off of it, and I will readily admit that I may have to stretch some things to find some positives. Still, looking over the course of his season, he looked a hell of a lot more like himself at the end of the year. In the month of September, he hit .256/.375/.333 for a 95 wRC+. There were certainly some problems even in his best month of the year, not to mention we’re only talking about a sample size of 48 plate appearances. Still, it looked more like the normal version of Holt than we saw all year, and it’s always good to go out on a somewhat positive note, at least.

In addition to the month of September, Holt also showed off better patience than normal in 2017. Well, a good portion of that came in September, but still! His overall rate on the season was 11.6 percent, well above any other season in his career. Again, we’re dealing with some very real sample size issues with all of his numbers, but he was laying off pitches out of the zone more than any other point in his career. That is never a bad thing.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

If we really want to stretch it, we can find one more positive. It doesn’t really have to do with this season, but rather him moving forward. Holt was dealing with some pretty major head injuries this year, and we all know that this can be serious business. After he suffered multiple setbacks, it wasn’t really clear if he’d be able to recover in 2017. The results weren’t great, but that he as able to get back on the field — and eventually put together a solid September — was really nice to see.

The Negatives

There were almost an infinite number of negatives for Holt in the 2017 season, chief of which were the health concerns. What started as vertigo and seemingly a relatively minor issue turned out to keep him off the field for the majority of the season. It got scary at points, too, as every time he tried to come back in minor-league rehab assignments things only got worse and he’d be shut back down. As many assumed, these issues were related to his concussion history and served as a reminder of how serious head injuries can be. These also have a tendency to have lasting effects, so all of this was just a major bummer for Holt and those of us who have come to adore him over the last few years.

Honestly, the rest of the negatives are just....everything. While Holt did walk more in 2017, he also struck out over 20 percent of the time in his career. He’s never been a power hitter and never will be, so if he’s going to be successful he needs to make contact. That wasn’t the case over this past season. Meanwhile, his power took a step back from its already modest position as he finished the year with a sub-.100 Isolated Power. Finally, there was the lack of success of batted balls, with his .259 batting average on balls in play being 61 points below his career mark. We’ll have more on, like, literally one second. Maybe a few more if you are a slow reader (no judgements).

The Big Question

Was Brock Holt’s drop in BABIP last season a fluke?

Obviously, just based on the 2017 BABIP, the answer is no. As I just said above, he had a career-low BABIP in 2017. He just couldn’t make any solid contact this year, hitting everything into the ground and nothing on a line. In this “flyball revolution” around the league, most hitters want to hit more flyballs. Holt is not one of them, as he has little raw power to speak of. If he is going to succeed, he needs to hit a ton of line drives and hope they fall for singles with some doubles mixed in. He only hit line drives 17 percent of the time (compared to about 24 percent in each of the previous two years) in 2017, and that just won’t work for him.

With all of that being said, I’m not entirely sure it’s fair to say that Holt is no longer a high-BABIP player. He has always shown the ability to hit line drives before this year and has enough speed to leg out more than an average number of infield hits. Basically, I’m just not sure what we can take away from this year. Maybe this is the real Holt, or maybe it’s just a wash of a season and we can throw it away. It’s probably something in between, I suppose.

Looking Ahead to 2018

Holt is still in arbitration this offseason and is arguably the most fascinating of the arbitration-eligible players on the Red Sox this year. When he’s at his best, he is still an incredibly valuable player who can play all over the diamond with respectable defense at most positions along with a league-average bat. You don’t want him playing every day if you can help it, but he’s a game changer on the bench and allows so much more creativity with roster-building. It’s just not clear whether he’ll ever be at his best again. I am expecting the Red Sox to bring him back for 2018, but they’ll need to have a contingency in place.