Derek Holland Flops As Rangers Fall In Oakland

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With Monday afternoon’s 4-2 loss in Oakland, the Rangers (79-58) and A’s are now tied for 1st place in the American League West.

Derek Holland unquestionably had his worst start of the 2013 season, allowing 4 runs on 5 hits in only 4.2 innings on the bump, and, to make matters worse, walked 5 hitters to only 1 strikeout. Conflated with last week’s performance in Seattle — where Derek walked 4 hitters in 6.0 innings — a disturbing trend is emerging with Texas’s 2nd-best starting pitcher.

Per xFIP, FanGraphs’ metric predicting what a pitcher’s ERA should be — adjusted for league and ballpark — Holland’s last two outings rank as his worst (yesterday vs. Oakland) and 3rd-worst (last Tuesday in Seattle) of the 2013 season. Which is really to say he has had a fine season devoid of many clunkers up to very recently.

Numerous times over the course of the year I’ve defended the merits of Derek Holland’s candidacy as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher; his last two starts withstanding, that has not changed. It’s a testament to how blandly consistent Derek has been this year that, as of right now, he is 4th in the American League in fWAR among starting pitchers, a stat predominantly contingent on the aforementioned xFIP.

However, if we’re judging Holland on the larger sample, we must also be willing to accept the fact that, over his last 5 starts, he hasn’t been nearly as good as his first 23.

Since August 10th against the Astros, Derek Holland has allowed 11 earned runs on 23 hits in 29.2 IP — good for an ERA of 3.34 — which isn’t poor by any means. It’s when we look deeper where we find problems. Control has been one of Derek’s biggest assets in 2013, but in his last 5 starts he’s walked 17 hitters, which is way way way too many to be offset by the 23 batters he’s set down on strikes.

I harken back to why ERA is such a poor statistical measurement, because even though Derek has battled valiantly to keep the Ranger offense in the game over his last handful of starts, the truth lies in his 5.08 xFIP during that time frame. The “eye test” dictates that something has been off of late, but the devil is in the details, and the details suggest he’s been more than just marginally fortunate in the last month.

Moving forward, this is a cause of grave concern for the Rangers, as Matt Garza has done virtually nothing to manifest himself as anything more than a mid-rotation starter, and pitchers like Martin Perez and [insert 5th starter here] cannot be expected to tag-team with Yu Darvish on the caravan to take this club to the postseason. Essentially, if Derek Holland can’t morph himself back into the Derek Holland of April-through-July, the Rangers are screwed.

That said, this year’s circumstances are completely different than last year’s. Last year the Rangers had a 5-game lead with 9 left to play; this year they are still pretty fresh off eliminating a 6-game deficit in August. To call 2013 a “collapse” would be an erroneous description, and if you are ready to give up on the season while the squad is 21 games over .500 and tied for 1st place with 25 left to play, then perhaps you should reconsider why you root for the team you root for.

I’m not not ready to give up, because I still believe in this team, much like I still believe in Derek Holland working out some of the issues he has experienced of late.

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