Brock Holt

Brock Holt: Building Block or Trade Chip?

Think back to the winter of 2012-2013. The Red Sox had just traded the ever-disappointing Mark Melancon and a few minor prospects for Joel Hanrahan. Many saw it as a relatively clear upgrade in the bullpen, as Hanrahan had been one of the best relief arms in the game for a few years prior. Boston also got a throw-in in the form of minor-league utility man Brock Holt. To be fair, people acknowledged he could have some sort of up-and-down role with the team. However, for the most part, he was an afterthought in this deal.

Fast-forward to today, and he’s one of the most beloved members of the roster and is coming off his first career All-Star Game appearance. After his 2014 campaign appeared to be a flash in the pan, he came back with a vengeance this season and proved he can truly play in this league. While he’s clearly built himself up to being a valuable player, his minor-league track record suggests he could fall back to Earth at some point. Because of this, there are some who believe he could be best utilized as a trade chip this winter, when the team must make some crucial moves to rebuild almost their entire pitching staff among other holes. Would that really be a smart move, though?

Over the last two seasons, Holt has been a league-average hitter, slashing .281/.341/.383 with TAv’s of .261 and .268, respectively. However, while that’s been the end result, it doesn’t really describe him as a player. He’s extremely streaky at the plate, at times looking like a legitimate top-of-the-order hitter who can survive in even the best lineups. At other times, he looks like he belongs in Triple-A. So, while it all comes out to a league-average result, he’s usually anything but.

While he’s obviously not a .400-BABIP player, Holt appears to be the kind of hitter who can be on the high-end of the BABIP spectrum on a relatively consistent basis.

When someone like Holt has this kind of streaky profile, luck is always thrown out there as the reason. During the times he is at his best, his BABIP is through the roof, and then it inevitable comes crashing down when he starts to struggle. I’m not at all convinced that’s just luck, though. While he’s obviously not a .400-BABIP player, he appears to be the kind of hitter who can be on the high-end of the BABIP spectrum on a relatively consistent basis.

There are two controllable things that lead to above-average BABIPs: line drives and speed. Although batted ball data is far from exact, both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs agree that Holt is well above-average in this department, and the eye test backs that notion up. He is also tremendous on the base paths, even if he doesn’t steal a lot of bases. Baseball Prospectus’ base running stat — BRR — has ranked him as a well above average base runner in each of the last two years. The same can be said for Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs. In fact, Baseball-Reference has Holt as a top-10 baserunner over the last two years, and FanGraphs has him in the top-25. All of this is to say that Holt’s high BABIPs can not be looked at as purely luck-based. He has the skill set to maintain a BABIP well above the norm for most players.

However, that doesn’t mean the Red Sox shouldn’t look to trade him. Even if his performance isn’t just built on luck, that doesn’t mean he needs to be kept. The unfortunate thing is that Holt has an atypical kind of value. He contributes in so many different ways — more than anyone I can ever remember — that it’s hard to pinpoint just how much he should be worth. He can play literally anywhere on the diamond that’s not part of the battery. He may not be great at every position, but having someone who can be plugged in and not worried about wherever he is needed is insanely valuable. The issue is that there aren’t great comparisons to draw here, so teams could have wildly differing views of his worth.

On top of this, Holt is especially valuable for the Red Sox, who have a mix of old and young talent and need daily replacements in their lineup. Guys like Hanley Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia and Pablo Sandoval will need their days off going forward to mitigate wear-and-tear. The Jackie Bradleys and Rusney Castillos of the world will need days off when things are going poorly at the plate and they need to recollect themselves. Only needing to take up one bench spot with their replacement is an invaluable tool, and one Bryan Grosnick attempted to quantify earlier this season

Ideally, the Red Sox would be able to replace that kind of versatility in the minors, and they’ve certainly tried. They’ve been playing Sean Coyle all over the field in the upper-minors, but there’s no reason to believe he can do this as well as Holt. The same can be said of Deven Marrero. Not only does it take a special kind of athleticism, it takes a special kind of motor. It’s not easy to learn all of these positions on the fly — especially at Fenway Park where every outfield position has unique challenges. It’s an intangible that is impossible to judge from the outside, but it’s something those in the organization need to judge.

So, with all that being said — the fact that Holt has been a good hitter overall who can realistically be placed atop the lineup, the fact that his high BABIP is, in fact, somewhat sustainable, and the fact that he carries a unique value that is hard to judge from the outside — I don’t think the Red Sox should actively look to move him this winter. Of course, if someone comes along and is willing to give up a top-flight starting pitcher for him, you absolutely make that move. But realistically, that’s not happening. Instead, the Red Sox should build their lineup with Holt as the tenth man, slated for 110-125 games. He’s never going to be the focal point of a team, and his All-Star berth was likely just a one-time thing, but he possesses crazy value, especially for a team like the Red Sox.

Plus, there are no stats that tell us how important that head of hair is for everyone else in the locker room.

Photo by Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports Images

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