Coming off a pretty fantastic 2013 season, many were bullish on the mustachioed baby-faced Ranger for 2014. But after a freak accident with his pooch left him with microfracture surgery on his knee, Derek Holland was pretty much a lost cause in both real and fantasy baseball. By the time he returned, the Rangers were in the cellar and there wasn’t much reason for Holland to go out there and be quite as fine as he was in years past. Rather, he was merely getting his work in — in preparation for 2015.
That’s not to say his work was shabby. Indeed, over 37 innings pitched, Holland rarely walked a batter and gave up exactly zero home runs — two events that have been a bit of a knock on him in the past. He managed to produce a 1.46 ERA (2.19 FIP) and posted a tidy little 1.05 WHIP to boot. His 3.5% walk rate was less than half of his career walk rate, although in his brief few outings Holland failed to reproduce his career 20% strikeout rate, registering a K rate of just 17%. And overall, his velocity was off by about a full MPH. But again, with the Rangers in the tank there was probably little motivation to cut it loose, so perhaps owners should just be happy that he returned at all.
It’s easy to forget that Holland actually posted almost a five-win season in 2013, besting the likes of guys named Jon Lester and David Price, and my guess is he’s going to be going later and/or cheaper in drafts than his actual value might suggest. So the question of course is, what should we expect from Holland going forward?
Holland just turned 28, and given the fact that he looked as healthy as ever at the tail end of 2014, there really shouldn’t be any health concerns related to the knee. Of course, you don’t throw with your knee, and we know the health record of pitchers is fickle at best simply because throwing a baseball turns out to be really awful for your health. Regardless, Holland is a relatively young man with a fairly decent track record of success — and if you’re willing to consider a small sample size, even though he wasn’t striking out the world in 2014, he had some pretty interesting results:
Holland was generating a lot of swings on balls outside the strike zone and not a whole lot of contact on them. Overall, his 10.1% swinging strike rate was the highest of his career despite losing quite a bit of zip on his fastball (which is really more of a sinker). Not the first pitch strike rate as well, and you have to wonder if Holland might carry some of this philosophy over into 2015. One of the major things that stand in the way of Holland taking the next step is his control issues, and if he could dial back that walk rate from his career 7.5% down to say, 4.5% or 5%, that might go a long way towards a more sustainable “good” Holland versus the guy that has yo-yo’d with good months/bad months for the better part of his career.
Something else to keep an eye on would be repertoire. From Brooks:
If you check his player page, you’ll see that BIS and PitchF/X don’t at all agree on his repertoire, but if we head over to Brooks Baseball, there’s kind of an interesting departure in his stuff in 2014 versus 2013. He saw an uptick in his curve — and I believe that is attributed to his affinity for his knuckle curve. The pitch left behind has largely been his change. Looking at his 2013 season, perhaps Holland and the Rangers staff wanted him to work on the effectiveness of his curve — because it was far and away his worst pitch. In 2013, opposing batters hit .343 off Holland’s curve, slugging .829 with an ISO of .486. In 2014, the results were much better, although since he threw it just 72 times, it’s probably not worth deliberating the meaning behind it, if any. Still, one wonders if the change might return, because in 2013, it was his second best pitch to his slider, holding opponents to a .235 batting average and .321 SLG% and it was an important pitch for him versus right handed batters, using it almost 20% of the time when he was behind in the count.
Holland will be one of those guys to monitor in Spring Training, for better or for worse, to see how his velocity and control look and what kind of repertoire he breaks out. Should he take a step forward in the control department and find renewed confidence in his change, I could see him as a real nice sleeper pick. Don’t get too wrapped up in whether the Rangers will be any good — wins are a fickle thing. But Holland could be a guy good for a mid-3’s ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and maybe even 190 strikeouts. That’s wildly optimistic, but it’s also not something he hasn’t done before, so don’t discount the possibility.
Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.