What’s Wrong With Derek Holland

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The Texas Rangers have, to put it mildly, struggled in the month of September. The team just ended a seven game losing streak with a victory tonight in Tampa, their third in the first 15 games of the final month. While the offense has scuffled, in particular when Yu Darvish totes the rubber, part of the reason the team has had difficulty winning games is because the starting pitching has been less than stellar. I am about to refer to an incredibly tiny sample, but the Rangers pitchers have yielded a 4.98 ERA (4th worst in MLB) and allowed a slash line of .297/.356/.477 in the first half of the final month of the season.
Starting pitcher Derek Holland has been superb the majority of 2013 posting a solid 3.40 ERA, 3.54 FIP, and 21.4% strikeout percentage, while accumulating the 14th highest fWAR among pitchers in baseball at 4.2. Holland has arguably been the Rangers most valuable pitcher on the team as he is the only member of the Rangers opening day rotation to have not missed time due to injury in ’13. Without Holland, the Rangers would more than likely be in a very dark and perilous place.

Despite the fact Holland has been exceptional in ’13, he has been one of the main reasons Texas has played so poorly in September. In three starts, Holland has been abysmal, pitching only 13.1 innings while generating an 8.78 ERA, 8.67 FIP, and has only struck out 10.1% of the batters he has faced. While the sample is very small, Holland’s sudden downfall has been very perplexing, and has lead many of the Holland haters to say, “I told you so! That guys works too much on his impersonations dad gummit!” Well, maybe not quite in those words, but if one has ever read Rangers Facebook, one would assume the comments would be similar.

Since Holland’s Arnold Schwarzenegger impression has been much less affable than his recent pitching performances, I decided to do a little detective work and try to find what might be currently plaguing the Rangers southpaw.

I am one who absolutely despises selective endpoints, but the following example might be fairly relevant. On August 21st, Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro hit this rocket which deflected off of Holland and went into center field.

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Holland has not quite been the same since being hit by the liner off of Castro’s bat, and many have pointed to this incident as the cause for Holland’s sudden issues. There has been chatter that Holland has been pitching scared recently because of the possible effects of being hit.

If one will pay close attention to Holland in these gifs from his most recent starts shortly after Mark Trumbo and Yoenis Cespedes destroyed these pitches, one will notice what appears to be a slight defensive mechanism by Holland preparing to be hit by the baseball.

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The somewhat ridiculous theory I have read is Holland is pitching with anxiety, and is afraid of being murdered by the baseball. I was immediately dubious of this Grassy Knoll possibility and found these two examples rather quickly to disprove such silliness.
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The first ball was hit by Casey Blake of the Los Angeles Dodgers in one of Derek Holland’s first starts from June of 2009. It is hard to tell, but Derek made what was a less pronounced defensive mechanism. The second pitch was hit once again by the indomitable force known as Yoenis Cespedes, but from last September. Holland performs another defensive mechanism, but I do not quite blame him as Cespedes frightens me as well.

Based on this evidence, Holland has used his hands to shield himself as a natural reaction long before being hit by Jason Castro. So, to those of you who feel Holland’s struggles stem from the fear of being hit again, I have proven your theory to be both silly and moronic. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

I then decided to take the logical, non-narrative route and investigate Holland’s pitching mechanics according to pitch f/x before and after the incident to find out if anything such as his movement, release point, or velocity has changed. Here are The Dutch Oven’s pitch f/x numbers before Castro plunked him.

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Holland had stated he wanted to throw his change up more in ’13 during spring training, but he  only used el cambio 9.33% until Castro hit him. Holland relied heavily on his slider, and rightfully so as he induced a 25.91% whiff rate on the pitch until August 22nd. Here you can see how effective Holland’s slider has been during ’13 as he undoubtedly forces Lyle Overbay to weep all the way to the dugout during his 2-0 complete game masterpiece in June.
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Again, this data is not much of a sample, but Holland has decreased using his change up and most whiff inducing pitch before August 22nd, and increased using his sinker and curve. As one can see, Holland’s horizontal movement, vertical movement, and release points are all slightly different. In his most recent edition of Raising Aces, pitching guru Doug Thorburn wrote, “The ability for a pitcher to repeat his release point is at the heart of pitch command. In general, those pitchers with the best command are able to repeat both the vertical and horizontal position at which the baseball leaves the hand, while those players with the most volatile release points will suffer the statistical consequences.”

Holland’s release points are located slightly different on the chart since the immediate start following the Houston game. However, the release point appears to still be pretty consistent, but he is still being shelled. His mechanical tweak could be because of injury or fatigue, but he has recently located many pitches poorly as the gifs above have shown. Holland has increased the use of his sinker, but right handed hitters are hitting .550 and slugging 1.100 against the pitch since August 23rd. Holland has only allowed two total hits off of his slider and change up, but has been throwing them less. Having a feel for a change up is especially crucial against opposite handed hitters to use to throw off their timing and induce whiffs.

The issue with Derek Holland appears to be something mechanical tweaks can fix, but the majority of his failure could simply be from a random distribution of events and regression. Even Vida Blue had a bad start or two in his tremendous 1971 season. However, the Rangers need Derek Holland to pitch much better his final few starts to help the team secure a wild card game appearance, and that begins tonight at 6:10 in Tampa. If Holland continues to pitch in this putrid manner, there is a good chance there will be no baseball after 162 in Arlington.

Dustin Dietz is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Dustin.Dietz@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @DustinDietz18
Dustin Dietz
Dustin graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, and a minor in history. He will often write about pitching mechanics and analytical baseball stuff. You will more than likely disagree with the majority of what he writes or says. In his spare time, Dustin time travels and plays at a replacement level in slow pitch softball leagues.

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