So, after comfortably writing about Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison the last two nights, 4:35 am on a Friday morning seems like a good time to get my weird, delirious juices flowing so I can transcribe my thoughts on the Rangers most off-the-wall player, Derek Holland. It’s only fair. As we were once dealing in the constants of Texas’ top two starters, now we’ve entered that convoluted stage where we discuss volatility, inconsistency, and the Rangers’ second-most talented starting pitcher.
Believe it or not, there was actually a time not too long ago when Derek Holland stood side-by-side with Neftali Feliz in the discussion of who is the Rangers’ top pitching prospect? Crazy, right? There was something ethereal about the lefty’s smoothly repeatable motion, mid-90′s heat, and devastating now you see me now don’t curveball that had scouts oohing and awing, spawning thoughts that Texas really had something special brewing in its Minor League system.
Now that we’ve witnessed what he’s got over the last handful of years, we’re left with more questions than answers. This is after all Derek Holland we’re talking about. Behind the curly hair and slowly-developing mustache, or his stupid Harry Caray gimmick, he’s actually not a very young pitcher anymore — which is how a lot of fans still view him. He’s soon to enter into his age-27 season, spending various portions of the last 4 big league years providing significant innings for the Rangers, most notably his historic 2011 World Series performance where he pitched 8+ scoreless frames of 2 hit ball.
But that’s what we’re perpetually asking ourselves: are we getting 2011 Derek Holland (16-5/3.95 ERA/3.8 fWAR) or the Holland of 2012 (12-7/4.67 ERA/1.7 fWAR)?
In 2011, in which he threw just two innings shy of 200, his K rate (7.36/9 IP) and BB rate (3.05/9 IP) were not as impressive (even if only slightly) as his 2012 rates of 7.44 K’s/9 and 2.67 BB’s/9. This data suggests the stuff is still there, he just wasn’t netting the same, effective results. What really caved his roof in last year were his LOB% (67.9), GB% (43.1) and home run to fly ball rate (15.2%), all significantly worse than his breakthrough 2011.
To be fair to Holland, last year he did spend about a month on the disabled list because of that strange stomach virus he acquired on a road trip in Seattle. Could that have had any effect on his numbers taking such a noticeable nosedive? I’d like to think so.
From a purely “raw stuff” perspective, in the rotation, only Yu Darvish has a more equipped arsenal of pitches. Compared to Matt Harrison, Holland has a better 4-seam fastball, a better primary off speed pitch (curveball), and showed improvement with his slider in 2012. His xFIP in 2011 was 3.76, and last year was 4.14, so we’re also talking about a guy who has been a tad unlucky in the ERA department.
Since they’re both left-handed, comparing Holland to Matt Harrison is obvious. While Harrison has outperformed his metrics over the last two years, conversely Holland has underperformed. While there could be an inexplicable method to Harrison’s dominance and Holland’s tendency to underachieve, the clever money is on Holland being the better pitcher in the longterm. I imagine I’m in the minority in this belief, but so be it.
For what it’s worth, in 2013 Fangraphs has Holland pitching 189.0 innings, going 13-9 with an ERA of 4.06 (2.2 fWAR). Bill James of Baseball Reference has him at 187.0 innings, accumulating a W-L record of 10-10 with an ERA of 3.99.
If you’re asking me, which I don’t know why you would, I’m anticipating another breakout from Derek Holland in 2013 — his 2nd in three years — perhaps even in the range of 4.0 fWAR, which in Arlington roughly translates to an ERA of 3.4-3.6. I’m a big believer in Holland, if for only that he has the ability to strike out a ton of hitters without allowing a grotesque amount of walks. The key for him in 2013 will be to limit how many home runs he gives up, keeping his fastball at the edges while burying his curveball down and in to righties, down and away to lefties. Seems easy enough, no?
This is the perfect world expectation for Derek Holland, what we’ve wishfully been thinking he would become. The opposite reality, which is just as likely (if not more), is that he’s simply not who we thought he was — that he’s just an average pitcher on a team-friendly contract. That’s cool, too, but it won’t stop me from hoping.