Holt should be praised for his performance, but not because of cycle
Red Sox utilityman Brock Holt made headlines Tuesday afternoon by becoming one of 14 players this season to accumulate 10 total bases in a single game. That’s an impressive hitting performance, but the reason it prompted headlines is because of how Holt got there. He led off the bottom of the first with a double (and later scored), singled with two outs in the bottom of the fifth (and was subsequently caught stealing), homered to lead off the seventh—those first three hits all came against Braves starter Julio Teheran. To cap off his day, Holt crushed an RBI triple to Fenway Park’s centerfield triangle with two outs in the eighth off rookie reliever Sugar Ray Marimon (who is Teheran’s second cousin and whose birth name is actually Sugar Ray Marimon).
I’ve buried the lede here on purpose: Holt hit for the cycle, becoming the first major leaguer to do so since Michael Cuddyer on Aug. 17 last year and the first Red Sox player to do it since John Valentin in 1996. That’s impressive in its own way, but other than as an oddity, the cycle is no more special than any other double-digit total bases performance. It’s only rare because it’s a random collection of four accomplishments. We could play this game all night, but the last Red Sox player to single, triple, walk and hit a sac fly in the same game was Billy Hatcher in '93. The last Red Sox player to hit a triple, steal a base, draw a walk and reach on an error in a single game was Jim Rice in '84. Meanwhile, no Red Sox player in the last 60 years has hit a triple, stolen a base, drawn a walk and hit a sacrifice fly in the same game.
Holt’s performance was much more impressive than any of those, but just because he filled every hit column didn’t make it more impressive than any of this year’s three-homer games (by Bryce Harper, Joey Votto—who also walked in that game—and Adrian Gonzalez, the last of whom added a single for a season-high 13 total bases). Those games prompted their own headlines, but what about Denard Span going 5-for-6 with three triples and a homer on April 28, or Miguel Cabrera and Josh Donaldson each going 4-for-4 with two homers, a double, and a walk? All three of those performances resulted in 11 total bases, more than Holt accumulated Tuesday afternoon.
Seven other players have compiled 10 total bases in a game this year, including the Orioles' Chris Parmelee later Tuesday night, homering twice along the way. Included among those are Yasmani Grandal, who added two walks to that total on May 7 (4-for-4, 2 HR, 2 BB). Not one of the other 13 players to collect 10 total bases in a game this season was caught stealing to erase one of his times on base, as Holt was. Jose Bautista went 3-for-4 with two homers, a walk and a stolen base on June 7, accumulating nine total bases, but he was arguably more productive than Holt on the night with the extra two bases acquired (though Bautista hit into a double play in his one unsuccessful plate appearance).
None of this is meant to denigrate Holt’s performance, but rather the cycle designation, which unfairly draws attention disproportionate to that of more productive but less gimmicky batting lines. On Tuesday afternoon, Holt did indeed have the best hitting performance of any Red Sox player this season (besting Dustin Pedroia’s Opening Day: 3-for-5, 2 HR, 9 TB) and the best hitting performance of his brief major-league career (previous contenders: 4-for-4 with four doubles, a walk and a stolen base last June, and 5-for-6 with a solo homer last July, both resulting in eight total bases). Holt had one of this season's top-15 hitting nights in baseball on Tuesday, but that seems like enough reason to celebrate it. That he happened to fill four hit columns along the way is a footnote.
As for Holt, with that performance he has moved into second place on the Boston roster in Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement, behind only Pedroia, which is a damning commentary on Boston’s season. A former ninth-round pick out of Rice University, Holt was acquired with Joel Hanrahan in the December 2012 trade that sent Mark Melancon to Pittsburgh and surprised everyone by emerging as a valuable utilityman in his age-26 season last year, hitting .327/.371/.463 in the first half before going ice cold in the season’s final two months. With the Red Sox scoring just 3.8 runs per game (24th in baseball) on the season prior to Tuesday afternoon’s outburst, manager John Farrell has been finding a place for Holt in the lineup on a daily basis.
Prior to filling in for Pedroia at second base and leadoff on Tuesday, Holt had hit second in 11 of Boston’s last dozen games, rotating through rightfield, leftfield, third and first base. He has now started 13 of Boston’s last 14 games at five different positions, his only off-day coming after starting both games of a June 3 doubleheader (at third base and rightfield), and even before his big day on Tuesday, he was hitting .310 with a .431 on-base percentage in those games (though with just three extra-base hits, all doubles). It’s a great credit to Holt, a non-prospect firmly in the scrappy-little-white-guy mold, that he has made himself a valuable major leaguer, but it says a lot about the current state of the Red Sox that he has become such an important part of their lineup.