Welcome to BP Boston’s new Roster Recap series! Over the next four months, we’ll be breaking down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
Let’s start off with a quick primer on how to be a fan favorite in baseball. First, you have to be notable. Try playing multiple positions – about seven should work. Then field those positions and hit well enough from each of them that you earn yourself a perpetual starting job so you’re always in the lineup and seen by everyone, everyday. Lastly, try cultivating a righteous flow so it flares out from under your helmet. That’s like icing on the endearment cake.
Enter Brock Holt.
The man with the best Twitter handle on the team got himself the title of All-Star this year and it was well-deserved, as Holt tore it up in the first three months of the season. The last three months? Well, let’s just say history loves repeating itself, because nobody learns anything ever.
What went right in 2015?
Almost everything before July 14th went spectacularly for Holt. Injuries, ineffectiveness and a willingness by John Farrell to trot him out everyday earned Holt a starting spot, and that spot could be at any given position on any given day. In response, Holt exploded for the best three months he’s ever had, with a .292/.379/.412 slash during those 90 days that got him a ticket to Cincy for the All-Star Game.
The offensive progression looked legitimate. Holt was hitting for more power than he ever had before, he was hitting a line drive a ridiculous 27% of the time and he was walking nearly double his career rate. Combine that with his consistency no matter where he was positioned, and you’ve got a breakout player. Second base? Kept on hitting. Left field? Yup, proceeded to rake. Third base? Still did the damn thing.
Holt’s performance during April, May, and June seemed to cement his status as the next super-utility guy, as fans dreamed that he would walk in the fabled footsteps of Ben Zobrist. His value can’t be explained through WAR or any single metric, but having a backup to virtually every position on the field is a lot more valuable to teams and managers than most think, and Holt gave Farrell a Swiss Army knife to deploy in any way, shape, or form possible.
Holt went from a reliever swap throw-in to jack-of-all-trades to All-Star in less than three years. You know everything broke right when all your titles have hyphens in them.
What went wrong in 2015?
It’s almost a cop-out to say this, but what went wrong for Holt is mostly a matter of perspective. Do you blame the player, who looked nothing like the All-Star version of himself in the second half? Or do you blame the manager(s), who, for a second straight season, rode Holt to such a degree that a Kentucky Derby jockey would grimace in pain?
Regardless of who or what you point the finger at, Holt still regressed so greatly that Josh Rutledge – Josh Rutledge – took over for him at the keystone. Any trace of that improved plate discipline vanished, and the newfound power along with it. Grounders became commonplace, as Holt would churn one out a staggering 60% of the time, and his line drives dropped dramatically as a result.
At this point, you couldn’t play him in the outfield every day, because the Betts-Bradley-Castillo OF combo (with the occasional Hanley Ramirez cameo) deservedly dominated the playing time. Holt’s .265/.311/.341 second-half slash was only slightly better than Pablo Sandoval’s, Xander Bogaerts was locked in at short and Travis Shaw slotted himself into the first base job by hitting roughly five billion home runs in Fenway.
To add injury to insult, Holt seemingly dealt with a new malady every week, be it a hyperextended knee, a left oblique strain, or recurring back spasms. It was a literal breakdown, both physically and statistically, and it stood in stark contrast to what Holt had done the three months prior.
Outlook for 2016
For the second year in a row, Holt reached new career highs in games played and plate appearances. For the second year in a row, Holt stumbled down the stretch. As long as he’s not an everyday guy, Holt will probably progress once again, possibly near that All-Star level of his. His role as the 10th man is set in stone, but rolling him out there everyday early on could very well lead to another burnout later in the season. His usage needs to be limited, and while three or four starts a week is fine, he cannot have a starting job.
It’s tough to say that Holt needs to play fewer games, but less is more here, and having a positional band-aid in the second half of the season is something that could turn out to be invaluable. In the end, however much he plays will ultimately be determined by John Farrell, and he’ll be the one that’ll choose to either risk another crash-and-burn in August, or save Holt for when it really matters.
Photo by Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports Images