The Importance of Derek Holland

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We all set goals and expectations every day of our lives, dozens if not hundreds of times over. The subject matter of our goals and expectations has a wide range from “Brush your teeth” to “Spend at least an hour of quality time with the family today”, but the neurons of our brains are constantly creating and storing these expectations, which then become the baseline for our satisfaction or displeasure with reality. 
We do this with baseball too, except that we are even more intentional about it. Preseason predictions run rampant during Spring Training, and those range in complexity from “gut feels” to intense mathematical and statistical analysis to create our baseline for team and individual performance. It is often this baseline against which awards such as Manger of the Year are determined. It’s not always the manager with the most wins who wins Manager of the Year, but it’s the manager that got the most wins above what his team was expected to win.

For the Rangers this season, the pitching staff has been a strength of the club in spite of adversity. Texas has the 5th-best team ERA in the American League, and that includes relying on Justin Grimm, Nick Tepesch, Ross Wolf, and Josh Lindblom to make over a third of the starts this year in place of the injured Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, and Neftali Feliz.

Yu Darvish is a big reason for the strength of the Texas pitching. He has been awesome, posting the 5th-best ERA in the AL while striking out everybody. He’s actually been almost exactly as awesome as a lot of people expected him to be at the start of the year. That is not to diminish anything that he has done, because it is still spectacular. Before the year, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system pegged Darvish for a 5.1 WARP, and the current projection expects him to finish with 4.3 WARP. That’s an outstanding year, but it hasn’t created a surplus in wins for the Rangers over the expected level at the beginning of the year.

Enter Derek Holland. Preseason PECOTA projections for Holland pegged him as a two-WARP pitcher. Prior to yesterday’s stellar eight-inning shutout performance with four hits, two walks, and ten strikeouts, Holland had already tabulated 2.8 WARP, and was expected to finish the season with 3.4 WARP. You can expect both of those numbers to go up a tick or two based on yesterday’s results.

No pitcher on the Rangers staff has outperformed their projections as much as Holland. Here is the breakdown:

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Beyond just the numbers, Holland has shattered the narrative that surrounded him after last season. He has matured dramatically in one year’s time to be a monster on the field, instead of being labeled as a distraction off of it.

Holland is third in the American League in innings pitched, and tenth in ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is up to 3.3, up from 2.8 in 2012, and 2.4 in 2011. He has gone from being one of the top five most home run prone pitchers in 2012 to being one of the top ten in preventing the long ball this season.

Perhaps Holland’s biggest area of maturity is his performance with runners in scoring position. In 2012, Holland allowed a .333/.365/.667 slash with men in scoring position. This year he has brought that all the way down to .215/.274/.338 – a 420-point decrease in OPS. The bad rap on Holland for several years was his inability to finish innings and get out of trouble. This year, that has been one of his biggest strengths. That is one significant reason why Holland has only had one start this year in which he has given up six earned runs. He had six such starts last season.

Surprisingly, although Darvish has the better numbers overall this season, Holland has been the Rangers most consistent starter. Darvish is an Ace, but there were stretches this season when he did not provide the club with the bullpen-saving outings it needed by pitching deep into the game. Holland has done that. Thirteen of his twenty-three starts have lasted a full seven innings or greater, which is three more than Darvish.

Derek Holland won’t win the Cy Young award this year, though he should collect a few top-10 votes. And he isn’t an Ace and may still never be. But this season, he has been a solid #2, more solid than most teams get from their #2, right when the Rangers needed him the most.

Holland has demonstrated that his maturity is growing both on and off the field this season. Perhaps it was fitting that he got the win in the game that made Ron Washington the winningest manager in Rangers history, as there has been no player on the Rangers club with whom Washington’s paternal influence has been more visible and intentional than with Holland. However we are able to estimate what credit is due to each of them, they deserve it.

With Darvish, Holland, and Garza, the Rangers have the kind of starting rotation that can look very scary to opposing teams in a playoff series, and Holland is the key ingredient to that cocktail. He has the biggest beta of the three, and so far, he’s been the biggest difference maker on the Rangers this year.

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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