Derek Holland Is Feeling It

Holland
You look at the 2013 Texas Rangers, off to a 34-20 record, tying a franchise best, and you think about all that has gone into that: An Awful Off-Season, four key pitchers on the disabled list, injuries to Ian Kinsler and AJ Pierzynski, slow April starts by Adrian Beltre and David Murphy, and a bullpen that only has three reliable arms in it, and it becomes a little hazy how the Rangers have a 34-20 record. There are, of course, several areas that have brought incremental improvement over 2012, but perhaps there is no bigger difference maker in 2013 than Derek Holland. 
I’ve written before about my belief in Holland a year and a half ago here and before this season here, but now he is actually executing what I had hoped to see from him then.

Through 11 starts, Holland is putting up career-best numbers across the board: in strikeout rate, walk rate, home run rate, batting average/on-base/slugging percentage against, ERA, FIP, and is on pace for his highest WAR ever. Feel free to re-read all of those again – they’re all at career best levels.

To date, any Holland supporter will point to his 15-start run to end the 2011 season as the high-water mark of Holland’s career, a sign of what Holland could be. In those 15 starts, he posted a 2.77 ERA with 8.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9. In Holland’s 11 starts this year, he has a 2.81 ERA, 8.8 K/9, and 2.2 BB/9. He’s besting his previous best.

By and large, Holland has done all of this unheralded in 2013, which may not be a bad thing. He’s toned down his off-field personality to increase his focus on the field, which has kept his name out of non-baseball headlines. Additionally, teammate Yu Darvish has established himself as the Ace of the staff, and is garnering all of the deserved attention that goes with that.

Surprisingly, Holland has arguably reaped better results than Darvish. Both have made 11 starts now, with Darvish pitching 74 1/3 innings, and Holland only getting two fewer batters out with 73 2/3 innings. Darvish has struck out more batters, but Holland has allowed fewer runs, walked fewer, done a better job of limiting home runs, and has one more quality start than Darvish.

This success from Holland hasn’t just been fluky. There are legitimate changes that he has made to his game in order to deliver these improved results.

Holland is flat out throwing more strikes this year. In 2012, Holland threw 63.9% strikes. In 2013, he has bumped that number up to 66% strikes. Based on the number of pitches Holland threw in 2012, that would extrapolate to 58 extra strikes this year. According to the Baseball Prospectus value used for catcher framing of a ball being converted to a strike, that extrapolates to about eight runs saved for the year, or 0.8 WAR.

Holland is also avoiding the blow-up starts so far. In 2011, Holland allowed five earned runs or greater in 25% of his starts. In 2012, that number increased to 30% of his starts. He has allowed more than four earned runs just once in 11 starts, or 9%. For the most part, those blow-up starts by Holland were the result of blow-up innings, which Holland has battled to avoid. For his career, with men on base, Holland has allowed a .799 OPS. In 2013, he’s cut that number all the way down to a .629 OPS. Holland appears to have matured significantly on the mental side of the game (perhaps his biggest hurdle in previous years), and the numbers show it.

Finally, and this is my favorite, Holland has a feel for his change-up this year. In 2012, Holland only threw his change-up 6% of the time. In 2013, he is throwing it 14% of the time. Coming up through the Rangers organization, Holland’s change-up was seen as a future plus-pitch, but it almost entirely disappeared last season. Now, it’s back, and he is wielding it against right-handed hitters especially with a vengeance, throwing it 17% of the time. Re-introducing the change-up to righties has allowed Holland to essentially stop throwing them the curveball, which right-handed batters teed off on in 2012 to the tune of a .559 SLG. The overall result has dropped right-handers OPS against Holland from .781 for his career to .640 in 2013.

The Rangers are 9-2 in Derek Holland starts this year. Were it not for the way he has stepped up this year, the Rangers probably don’t have the best record in the American League, holding on to a league-best three-game lead in the division.

He’s not all the way there yet, after all it is still just 11 starts, but confidence in where Derek Holland is on and off the field has never been higher, deservedly so. 

Peter Ellwood is a Senior Staff Writer for Shutdown Inning. You can email him at Peter.Ellwood@shutdowninning.com or reach him on Twitter @FutureGM
Peter Ellwood

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