Brock Holt’s play has been one of the few bright spots for the Red Sox this season. On a club full of more renowned stars, Holt was Boston’s lone representative in the All-Star Game, with his consistent excellence spawning nightly praise despite the otherwise gloomy jabbering of Red Sox Twitter.
For a while, Holt was one of the few reasons to watch the team on a daily basis.
A year ago, Holt began the season in a similar manner, surprising many with his strong performance at the plate and ability to play just about every position on the field.
Yet despite an impressive first half, Holt scuffled in the final months of the 2014 campaign. From July 1 onward, the utility man hit just .253/.305/.333 before a concussion ended his season in early September. At the time, many questioned whether Holt’s first-half success was merely just another example of a player getting hot over a small sample. His second-half slump appeared to be a better reflection of his true talent at the major league level.
All of that was forgotten, of course, when Holt played even better to begin 2015. Over the season’s first three months, the 27-year-old batted .288/.379/.429 while filling in for Boston wherever he was needed in the field. Given his play, Holt was a guarantee to be penciled into the club’s lineup every night.
Following the All-Star Break, however, Holt’s performance at the plate has dipped in a manner similar to his 2014 struggles. In the second half, he has hit just .286/.325/.375 over 121 plate appearances and also battled his share of nagging injuries.
What stands out about Holt when he’s batting well is how many line drives he hits. According to FanGraphs, his 25.1% line-drive rate ranks 13th in all of baseball among qualified hitters in 2015. A year ago, he posted an even higher line-drive rate of 26.4%.
Yet while Holt hasn’t slumped to quite the same extent he did a year ago, this is the second straight campaign his numbers have declined in the second half. For a player who lacks much in the way of power (his career ISO sits at .097), Holt’s production is particularly dependent on how many balls in play avoid a fielder’s glove.
As a result, Holt seems to be a hitter who is particularly susceptible to the ever-changing whims of BABIP. Through the first three months of this season, when Holt was busy building his All-Star credentials, he posted a .370 BABIP over 236 plate appearances. Yet since the start of July, Holt’s BABIP has dipped down to .325, which is still above average but far closer to league norms.
In 2014, Holt compiled an unsustainable .395 BABIP during the first half, only to see his results on balls in play plummet to .283 after the All-Star Break. Given all the line drives he hits, Holt is a player who can sustain high BABIPs (and therefore, high levels of performance) over multiple months at a time.
But even for Holt, it’s hard to sustain that for a full season, a reality that has grown apparent in back-to-back years. With little power and neither a walk nor strikeout rate that particularly stands out, Holt’s output at the plate is highly dependent on posting a BABIP well above league norms.
By filling in for injured players at a number of different spots, Holt has proven invaluable for the Red Sox. Yet this has also prevented him from carving out a consistent role on the team.
And despite his inspired play in 2015, Holt’s future role with the Red Sox remains a big question mark. His bat is subject to large fluctuations in performance, and his ability to play every position has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. By filling in for injured players at a number of different spots, Holt has proven invaluable for the Red Sox. Yet this has also prevented him from carving out a consistent role on the team, enabling Boston to move him around where necessary but preventing Holt from earning a starting spot at one specific position.
The question now is whether Holt will ever get that chance in Boston. The infield is set in place for next season, with Dustin Pedroia always the first choice at second base when healthy. The outfield picture, meanwhile, is crowded enough without attempting to fit Holt into a starting spot somewhere.
Instead, it’s grown increasingly clear that Holt will continue to serve as a jack-of-all-trades with the Red Sox. Of course, with Dave Dombrowski now in charge, what the makeup of Boston’s roster will be in 2016 is anyone’s guess. Maybe a trade will free up a spot for Holt in the starting lineup, or maybe Dombrowski will find a deal that sends the 27-year-old elsewhere this winter.
No matter the outcome, Holt’s future remains uncertain even in a year that’s seen him excel at the major league level. For a player who is celebrated for his versatility, the ultimate irony is that Holt may never quite find a consistent position in Boston.
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