Brewers Sign Brock Holt, Human Swiss Army Knife

That’s according to Ken Rosenthal, anyway, and the last time Ken got one of these signings wrong was never. We don’t have contract information yet, but you guessed two years and $8 million at the beginning of the offseason, and that sounds roughly correct to me. It’s possible that this late signing date is a clue that either the years or the dollars will be somewhat less than our expectation for them, but in the absence of any hard information, I’d bet there was enough interest in Brock Holt’s services that he hit what he was aiming for.

In Milwaukee, Holt will join a host of players competing for the role of Craig Counsell’s Favorite Son in spring training: Ryon Healy (who played first and third in 2019), Jedd Gyorko (first, second, and third), Eric Sogard (second, third, short, left, and right), and Luis Urías (second, third, and short) have already joined the Brew Crew this offseason. Holt, who did everything but pitch, catch, and play center field for the Red Sox last season, has been a more consistent hitter — especially over the last two seasons — than any of those four men, and so he probably has an inside track for a roster spot come April.

Given Milwaukee’s revamped outfield configuration — Christian Yelich in left (where he spent most of his time in Miami), some combination of Lorenzo Cain and Avisaíl Garcia in center, and Garcia and Ryan Braun in right — Holt will likely pick up much of his playing time in the infield, I’m guessing primarily on the left side. Sogard (third base) and Urías (shortstop) are both stronger starters if their bats hold up, but the odds of that happening for both men seem reasonably low. I wouldn’t be shocked if the 350 or so plate appearances we’re projecting for Holt this year end up being low. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Holt gets most of his defensive chances at second base, depending on how Keston Hiura’s sophomore campaign proceeds.

On the offensive side, Holt has put together two nice seasons in a row (109 and 103 wRC+ marks, respectively) after a 2017 campaign marred by injury. He’s kept his walk rate above 9.5% for each of the last three years and his strikeout rate below 20% for each of the last two. That consistency obscures the fact that the Holt of 2018-19 appears to have traded in some contact rate inside the zone for an increase in hard-hit balls (his average exit velocity was up to 88 mph in 2018-19 from 86 pre-2018).

That increase in exit velocity has come alongside a significant decrease in Holt’s sprint speed, which you may recall as being very good (it was) but isn’t any more. As recently as 2016, Holt’s 28-mph sprint speed put him in the top 100 or so players in the major leagues in that category. Last year, his 26-mph figure put him 417th. I don’t see much reason for his speed to jump back up in 2020, his age-32 season, so it’s probably best to price in some further decline in his baserunning value as you align your expectations for his upcoming campaign.

While Holt’s baserunning value has been negative in each of the last three seasons (at least according to our measurement), he’s nonetheless generated positive overall value in each of the last two on the strength of his bat. I don’t see any reason why that trend wouldn’t continue in 2020, especially as Holt’s move to an unusually fluid Milwaukee team means he’ll have even more regular opportunities to play to his offensive strengths, which (especially in recent years) run in favor of lots of at-bats against right-handed pitchers (his career splits show a more modest advantage, but I think recent numbers are more predictive given his swing changes).

One last note: Holt has a well-established reputation as an excellent clubhouse presence. Milwaukee had one of the oldest teams in the league last year (their pitchers and hitters both averaged nearly 29 years of age when weighted for appearances), so I’m not sure the marginal value of that presence is as critical as it might be elsewhere, but it certainly won’t hurt. The Brewers have won 86, 96, and 89 games over the last three seasons, but they have yet to make it out of the NLCS. Adding a player with two rings under his belt (not literally, you perverts) won’t hurt as they try to get over that final hump and bring a piece of metal to Milwaukee.

Rian Watt is a contributor to FanGraphs based in Seattle. His work has appeared at Vice, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, FiveThirtyEight, and some other places too. By day, he works with communities around the world to end homelessness.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
4 years ago

Brock is a lifesaver. Helped the Red Sox win the Series, saved my grandfather in Vietnam, and pulled my dog out from quicksand in a tornado!

RJ Bishop
4 years ago
Reply to  hombremomento

But what is he projected to do next? 😉

4 years ago
Reply to  RJ Bishop