I’ve been meaning to write about Brock Holt for a couple of weeks now, but I will acknowledge that doing so at this moment does seem a little unfair. While the Red Sox utility man has been pretty bad for a little while, we are coming off a game in which he lost the game on a bad error. Things have reached an all-time low for the one-time All-Star, and it’s probably time to start thinking about where the team should go from here. Holt is absolutely a fan favorite — and one of my favorites, for sure — but his performance on the field hasn’t been one that merits much playing time or really even a roster spot. The Red Sox have to be asking themselves what they are going to do with him this year, and assuming they are going to keep him around what they are going to do with him for 2018.
It has been, in just about every sense of the word, a lost year for one half of the FlowBros. Holt missed a huge chunk of the middle of the season with some pretty serious head injuries, and we all know how serious those can be. It was tough to even watch his rehab from afar, as it seemed like whenever he was close to getting back to the big leagues he had a setback and had to be shut down for a couple more weeks. He did, of course, finally make it back, and things have not been good for him. Holt has only gotten 94 plate appearances this season, but in them he is hitting .205/.287/.229 for a 38 wRC+. That means he’s been 62 percent worse than the league-average hitter.
Obviously, we’re dealing with a small sample size here. If a player just had a stretch of 94 plate appearances like this during the season we’d certainly be frustrated watching it unfold but we wouldn’t necessarily believe that’s who the player is for the time being. That being said, there are some big concerns with Holt at the plate. For one thing, he’d been trending downwards with the stick for a couple of seasons now. This is obviously a much steeper drop than most had been expecting, but seeing him hit poorly isn’t entirely unexpected.
In 2017, just about everything about Holt’s offense has been bad. His plate discipline has taken a step back, as the contact-oriented hitter is striking out more than the league-average hitter for the first time in his career. Although he’s pairing that up with an increase in walks, the former is much more than the latter. The biggest issue for Holt this year is that he’s falling behind in counts early on far too much. It’s putting him in holes that he can’t dig himself out of.
More glaring than the plate discipline, though, is the batted ball data. Holt hasn’t been hitting anything with authority all year long. It shows in both his .024 Isolated Power as well as his would-be career-low .274 batting average on balls in play. It’s easy to call that bad luck, but that’s not how I would describe hit. Holt isn’t really giving himself a chance to do much damage. He’s hitting ground balls on over 60 percent of his batted balls, and when that’s combined with an approach that sends it the other way more often than any other section of the field, you are not going to hit for much power. That’s been evident with Holt. According to Fangraphs’ batted ball data, Holt is also hitting the ball hard only 16 percent of the time while he’s hitting it softly 21 percent of the time. That is not a ratio that inspires much confidence.
Even while acknowledging that all of this could very well be some small-sample issues combined with rust from his injury, the Red Sox are in the midst of a postseason chase and don’t quite have time to figure out what the deal is. If they have replacements for Holt, they should look into that. In an ideal world, Dustin Pedroia is healthy and Eduardo Nuñez can be the super utility man to move all around the diamond. Like Holt, Nuñez isn’t great with the glove at any spot but he inspires a little more confidence at the plate. Until then, the only other options are Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin. Both players showed tremendous flashes in the majors earlier in the year and they are both defensive upgrades over Holt, but overall I’m not sure they add much more with the bat than what Holt has provided.
In the end, with September around the corner it’s hard to see them getting rid of Holt and that’s almost certainly the right call. They just need to find a way to either hide him or get him going over the next week or so before rosters expand and they can turn to the Lins and Marreros of the world. The harder part is what to do for next year. There’s probably some hope that his struggles are largely due to that head injury and with a full season he can come back and provide what he used to off the bench. Unless he makes some serious strides over the next few weeks, though, I’m not really sure how you can go into 2018 with Holt are your best player on the bench. That’s a future concern, though. For now, we think about 2017 and how to get the versatile utility man ready to go for the all-important stretch run.