Coming back from Tommy John Surgery is not a guaranteed certainty in the game of baseball.
But McDowell County native and Colorado Rockies reliever Greg Holland put together the type of season-long performance in 2017 that made his return pretty seamless.
Holland’s re-emergence as one of the game’s elite closers was acknowledged Tuesday, as the 31-year-old was named the winner of “The Sporting News” National League Comeback Player of the Year Award.
The award is voted on by many of Holland’s peers, and the final tally wasn’t close as he took National League honors with 33 of the 88 votes cast. Lance Lynn of the St. Louis Cardinals was in second with 20 votes.
Holland acknowledged the road to recovery from major elbow surgery took a lot of work and support from everyone in his life. He said that’s what makes the honor given to him on Tuesday all the more rewarding.
“It’s an award that says a lot about how I was raised and how grateful I am to be so blessed to have such a strong support system behind me,” said Holland, a 2004 McDowell High graduate. “I have a lot of friends, family, teammates and staff that helped get me back on the field and kept pushing and believing in me.
“I feel very humbled and blessed, and I thank God for making it happen.”
After establishing himself as one of the game’s best closers as a member of the Kansas City Royals, Holland missed the entire 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
But he returned in a big way, signing with Colorado in January, a few weeks prior to the start of Spring Training. The results for the seven-year major leaguer were incredible, as he tied a Rockies club record with 41 saves, sharing the National League lead with Los Angeles closer Kinsley Jansen. He averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings. He also was selected to and appeared in the MLB All-Star Game for the third time in his career. He finished the year 3-6 with a 3.61 ERA and 41 saves in 45 opportunities.
The Rockies signed Holland to a one-year contract back in January, and the righty easily met the performance thresholds in the contract to earn a player option for 2018. Holland is expected to turn down that option. The Rockies are expected to make a qualifying offer afterwards which can be turned down, allowing Holland to become a free agent if he so chooses.
In his career, Holland has 186 saves in 206 chances and a career earned run average of 2.60. He has 500 career strikeouts.
Washington first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (12 votes), Pittsburgh outfielder Andrew McCutchen (9) and Milwaukee first baseman Eric Thames (5) rounded out the top five in the voting. Holland’s Colorado teammate, first baseman Mark Reynolds finished in sixth on the ballot with four votes.
A former Kansas City teammate of Holland, Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas, won the American League version of the award. Holland is also a finalist for NL Comeback Player in the Players Choice Awards, which are a function of the MLB Players Association. Thames and Zimmerman are the other finalists.