What a difference a couple of weeks make, huh? Baseball, as we know, tends to be a streaky-as-hell game for everyone but the stars, and all of us have a tendency to pay too much attention to the early-season results as if they are major indicators of what will happen the rest of the way. Case-in-point: Brock Holt. After the first couple weeks of the year, one of the biggest narratives around this team was that Holt did not deserve a spot on this roster and certainly did not deserve to start very much while Xander Bogaerts was on the shelf. I was certainly a part of that too, writing that Tzu-Wei Lin deserved a shot to make an impact.
At that point in time, Holt had been struggling mightily at the plate and Lin had at least shown some flashes while, more importantly, possessing an undeniably better glove. Even at that point we knew that Holt had more upside with the bat, but given his concussion issues and what we saw early on this season, it was as unclear as ever as to whether or not he could make good on that impact. Well, if the last ten days is any indication, there is still some upside left in the ol’ bat.
The biggest sign we are still early in the season is that this recent ten-day stretch for Holt has been enough to make his full-season numbers truly eye-popping. On the year, the infielder is hitting .327/.389/.490, good for a 141 wRC+ that puts him 41 percent better than a league-average hitter. This is wild considering that on April 13 (the day he cut his hair!) he was hitting .063/.286/.063. Since that day, and since the haircut? He’s been doing a little better with a .455/.455/.697 line. Obviously, we are dealing with some tiny samples here, but if we dig a little bit deeper there are reasons to be encouraged by what Holt is doing right now.
We’ve been watching Holt long enough at this point to know what kind of player he is, even at his best. He’s never going to build his success off power or even just consistently great contact. Instead, he needs to put the ball in play, make a ton of contact and get on base by whatever means necessary. That’s exactly what’s he’s doing so far this year, and he’s doing it better than he ever has before.
Even as a contact-oriented player earlier in his career, Holt’s strikeout rates have always been more good than great. This year, he’s elevated himself to “great” status, striking out at a Mookie-like rate of 9.3 percent. Digging a little bit deeper, we can start to understand why. Holt, like most other hitters in this lineup, is upping his aggression on pitches in the strike zone. He’s swinging at 61.5 percent of pitches in the strike zone (per Fangraphs), the second-highest rate of his career and a rate five percentage points above his career mark. On the flip side, he’s swinging at less than 20 percent of pitches out of the zone for the first time in his career. As a result, he is unsurprisingly making the most contact of his career, whiffing just over two percent of the time.
While the plate discipline is what stands out and is probably the best indication for future success given his overall profile, Holt’s quality of contact has been nothing to sneeze at thus far either. His .163 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG) isn’t anything too eye-opening in today’s game, but it is far above anything he’s done even in his best years. He’s also posting an impressive .349 batting average on balls in play, which seems wildly unsustainable but is right in line with his peak years in 2014 and 2015.
When we dig a little bit deeper, we’ll notice that Holt is buying into the launch angle revolution...as much as he can. Honestly, he fits the profile of someone who shouldn’t be going all out to get the ball in the air, as he doesn’t have the kind of raw power to really take advantage of that approach. If he gets fat pitches to hit he should obviously try to do damage, but most of the time he’s probably at his best looking for line drives to spray all over the field. Right now, he’s hitting the ball on the ground exactly 50 percent of the time. That doesn’t look great on the surface, but it’s actually his lowest mark of his career.
When he’s not hitting the ball on the ground, he’s hitting it on a line just as he should be. His line drive rate is currently at 25 percent, his highest rate since his breakout 2014 season. In the interest of full disclosure, line drive rate can be misleading as the difference between liners and fly balls is very subjective, but him having a high rate here lines up with what I’ve seen by the ol’ eye test. In addition to the line drives, Holt is using both sides of the field very well, using his pull side and the opposite field at equivalent 39 percent rates. Line drives spraying all over the field is hard to defend and makes that .349 BABIP more sustainable than it would seem at first glance.
With it still being April and Holt not even being a full-time player for the entire season to this point, we are obviously looking at numbers that are heavily skewed by one hot streak. The Red Sox utility man is (almost certainly) not going to keep up this pace. The power will come down some, the BABIP probably will as well and pitchers will likely make some sort of adjustment to avoid such consistent contact. That being said, Holt has gotten hot just as the Red Sox needed someone to, and he’s showing the kind of offensive presence we saw from him just a few years ago. It’s still a profile that fits better on a bench, but the questions of whether or not he should even be on the roster have quickly dissipated. When he’s hitting like he’s capable of, as we’re seeing right now, he’s just as quietly valuable as any other role player on the team.