Primed in the Dutch Oven
I sit here in the wee hours of the morning staring at a bright screen in a dark room too frustrated to think about baseball. In life and in baseball writing I am forever the relentless optimist, but tonight I’m finding it harder than ever to find that upbeat spirit. As I sat in a study cubicle in the Texas Tech library, I listened to the the soothing tones of Eric Nadel during Monday’s game. Because I was writing a research proposal, I was only 75% listening to the Rangers broadcast. Derek Holland was on the hill and I had a big article ready to go the next day about my faith and hope in the Dutch’s ability to have a phenomenal 2015 season. I saw on twitter that Anthony Bass was warming in the bullpen on twitter and then it hit me. That gut-wrenching feeling of hope for a season being violently snatched away.
Holland: “Had to keep from doing something stupid” after given diagnosis
— Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) April 10, 2015
We all did too. I wanted nothing more than to hurl objects across the room while cursing the baseball gods, but I was in a library and that wouldn’t be proper. As I scrolled through a Twitter timeline that looked like a Rangers Facebook page, I wondered if I should scrape everything I’d written the last 2 weeks about Derek. Intelligent fans lost their minds during that game. They cursed JD for injuries that couldn’t possibly be his fault. They fell back into the cult of Nolan proclaiming “this wouldn’t have happened if Kinsler were here.”
I saw people claiming they’d rather Holland have had Tommy John surgery because this shoulder problem will ruin his career. It was an absolute mess. After leaving the battlefield that was Rangers Twitter, I decided not to scrape the article. I still believe that Derek Holland has changed for the long haul. I still believe Holland will come back from this and be incredibly dominant. Why? Because I have hope: something that’s been crushed out of most Rangers fans. If you don’t have hope for a brighter Rangers tomorrow, I couldn’t possibly conceive how the hell you can still watch the Rangers any longer. Do I believe the 2015 season is basically down the toilet? Probably. But will I let that stop me from living through every Rangers game I can get my eyes or ears on? Absolutely not, because I love baseball, even when it doesn’t like me. This is probably the only optimistic article being written about the Rangers today and I’m ok with that. Without further ado, here’s your daily dose of relatively blind optimism.
Since his return from injury last year, there has been something different about this southpaw. Derek Holland has been one of my favorite Rangers to watch since I joined the cult of baseball in 2010. It could’ve been because he was a funny dude or because my grandmother thought he looked like my brother on the mound.
My grandmother thinks my brother looks like Derek Holland. I think there's some resemblance. 2009 Derek 2015 Bradley. pic.twitter.com/EqaGThcdr7
— Brice Paterik (@80GradeWhitt) March 25, 2015
I think the real reason was because I saw those classic flashes of Derek brilliance. I wanted to watch every Holland start because each time out there was a chance for greatness. Derek’s calling card thus far has been his inconsistency. Whether it’s been year to year or start to start, Derek Holland hasn’t been able to keep his dominant streaks going. There were brief streaks of dominance in his career that gave hope of continuity, but none were too long. 2011 was the best example of this. Derek had 4 shutouts to lead the AL that year in 198 innings. He also had a 3.95 ERA. When Derek was good in 2011, he was amazing. When he wasn’t good, things got rough. That year in the “World Series that I can’t remember the end to”, Holland pitched my favorite baseball game of all time.
It’s game 4 of the World Series and the Rangers are down 2-1 in the series after losing a beatdown at home by nine runs. Holland takes the mound in Arlington and pitches a masterpiece. 8.1 innings of shutout baseball in route to a 4-0 win to tie up the series. The fact that he didn’t start game 7 over Matt Harrison is something that frustrates me to this day. 2013 looked like the year he’d turn it around, posting a 2.54 ERA in his first 7 starts. That streak came to an end along with my hopes that Derek would find consistency.
Enter 2014 and the dog Wrigley that done goofed. Microfracture surgery was necessary and many believed he would never be the same pitcher. I believe they were correct. After that surgery Derek got down to business, rehabbing hard to come back, even better than when he left. Mission accomplished, Derek. In five starts last year he threw seven innings in four of them and never let up more than two earned runs. He finished the year with a 1.46 ERA in 37 innings. I know that’s a small sample size and I should beware, but it’s the longest streak of excellence in Holland’s career. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his K/9 was down to 6.1 from a career average of 7.5. Holland focused more on inducing weak contact and it showed in his five GIDP induced last season. Watching Holland last year, he looked like that same guy that showed up in the 2011 World Series. He went right after right-handed hitters by pounding them with inside heat. That recipe for success isn’t unlike young southpaw Martin Perez.
Dutch’s hard work didn’t end after the rehab. In the off-season Derek requested to work out with Elvis Andrus and crew, Bane masks and all. Holland was the only pitcher in that intensive work out crew, so make what you will of that tidbit. The results of this regiment are evident in Elvis as well as Rougned Odor. Physically Dutch looks as strong as ever and from what I’ve read so far, Derek says he feels physically great.
These are all great, but there’s another big reason for the Dutch’s game jumping to the next level. Briggs Berry. Derek spent a lot of time with the teenage fan last season. In his season debut Holland wore Berry’s name on his cleats and wrote his name in the dirt on the mound. He pitched 7 innings of 1 run ball in dominant fashion. After the game Derek said he had dedicated it to the young fan with a serious medical condition. The young man passed away early in September. Four months later Derek created the 60 Feet 6 Foundation to finance the fight against pediatric leukemia. I know the impact charity work can have on a person because I’ve seen it in my own life.
Holland doesn’t just do it for the kids either. Just a few months ago, SDI’s fearless leader, Billy Casey, had a close friend pass away from cancer. He was a grown man in his 30s. About a month or so before he passed away, Holland called his friend via Facetime and had a nice long conversation with him. Billy talked to Derek briefly after his friend passed away to thank him for taking the time to speak with his friend. Derek’s response?
“It means a lot to me.”
I’d love to throw a textbook full of advanced metrics at your face about why I think Derek Holland is a different pitcher than he was before 2014, but I won’t because that would be rude. It’s more about a gut feeling and eye tests rather than metrics for me in this scenario. Please don’t just blindly trust my gut, trust the gut and eye test of a friend of Derek’s: Jeff “Skin” Wade. I asked Skin if Derek appeared different since he came back last September and he said “there’s zero doubt.”
Many of you reading this today will curse my lack of statistics and call me names but that’s ok. Everyone copes in different ways. I felt that this needed to be written by someone and I doubted there would be anyone else willing to bear the arduous title of “optimistic sports writer” today. So stay with this season. It may be rough or Jeff Banister may turn something brilliantly motivational out of this.
You can’t predict baseball and when you do, baseball thoroughly enjoys making you look stupid for it. The Dutch is still here through 2018 to make me look smart one of these years and maybe propel the Rangers to the postseason. I don’t know and that’s ok. Just know that hope springs eternal despite Randy Galloway. Don’t let anyone ruin baseball for you. Ever.