Holland & Yu

**ORIGINAL POSTED DATE 8/03/12**

Both are 25 years old.  Both are signed for the next 5+ years.  Both occupy critical slots in the starting rotation.  And both are struggling mightily right now.  But will both eventually bounce back and pitch to the level of the talent they’ve previously demonstrated?  It’s certainly possible, but one of these two seems much more likely to return to and sustain an elevated level of performance than the other. 
Yu Darvish is technically a rookie, but he’s already pitched for years on the biggest stages in Japan and internationally.  Granted, his adjustment to Major League Baseball has certainly been more difficult than was originally anticipated.  His very first inning as a Ranger was borderline disastrous, surrendering three walks, four hits, a wild pitch and four earned runs to a light-hitting Mariners squad.  But he managed to regain his composure, hung on into the 6th inning, and ended up getting the win.

Yu went on to win his next three decisions, with the Rangers even winning his one no decision during that span.  He finished April 4-0 with a 2.18 ERA.  It looked as if he literally took just one inning to make the adjustment from Japanese to American baseball.  But as we now know, that was not the case.

Though he’s had several dazzling starts scattered throughout the season since April, Yu’s overall numbers during that time have been relatively unimpressive – especially for a pitcher with his talent and background.  Since that opening month, Yu is 7-7 with a 5.17 ERA.  What’s been his Achilles’ heel has been control, or lack thereof.  Yu has walked 70 batters so far this season.  Only two pitchers in all of MLB have issued more walks this year than Yu.

There are other aspects of his game that could definitely use improvement, especially his seeming total disinterest in holding runners on base (opposing runners have stolen 15 on Yu in 16 attempts, and he has 0 pickoffs).  But for the most part, if he can eliminate the walks, Yu can and should be a very solid starting pitcher and valuable weapon in this rotation for years to come.  There’s no reason to think he can’t figure out these control issues and get back on track.

Derek Holland is not a rookie.  Nor is he a second-year, or even third-year player.  This is Holland’s fourth season as a major league pitcher.  Throughout his first two-and-a-half seasons, Holland was maddeningly inconsistent, showing extremely sporadic flashes of brilliance scattered across a significantly larger number of mediocre-to-terrible starts.

Prior to last year’s All-Star break, Holland sat 18-21 with a 5.22 ERA for his career, with the cherry on top of that turd sundae being what was arguably one of the single worst outings any pitcher has ever had in any postseason game.  He entered Game 2 of the 2010 World Series in the bottom of the 8th inning with the Rangers trailing the Giants 2-0.  There were two outs and a runner at first when Holland came in and proceeded to throw 11 consecutive balls, eventually walking three straight Giants – all three of whom scored in what would end up being a seven-run inning that sealed what proved to be an insurmountable 2-0 series lead for San Francisco.

But then a light bulb seemed to finally go off for Holland at last year’s All-Star break.  Actually, it may have been his final start before the All-Star break, which was a four-hit complete-game shutout of the Oakland A’s, in which he struck out seven and walked only two.  Including that game, he went 10-1 the rest of the 2011 season with a 2.75 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 87:28.

And as if that second half performance weren’t enough to seemingly prove Holland had conquered his Game 2 ghosts, he appeared to do so once and for all with an absolutely masterful performance in Game 4 of the 2011 World Series, a 4-0 win over St. Louis in which he limited the Cardinals to just two hits and two walks over 8.2 innings.  That game, along with Holland’s overall 2011 postseason performance (2-0 with a 3.38 ERA), resulted in a big contract extension in the offseason.

Entering 2012, Holland’s stock was at an all-time high.  Many thought he would soon ascend to become the Rangers’ unquestioned ace.  But Holland failed to capitalize on the momentum he had built over the second half of 2011.  So far this season, he is 7-6 with a 4.96 ERA.  All of the things that had been so frustrating about Holland during his first 2.5 years with the club have resurfaced.  First and foremost among these things is his apparent lack of mental toughness and in-game focus.

Holland takes a lot of criticism for his goofy personality, largely due to his tendency toward doing silly things like ill-timed Harry Carey impressions (most notably live from the dugout during a playoff game the Rangers were losing).  But what’s even more troubling than his playful nature is how he seems unable to adjust to in-game adversity.  Where Yu has shown many times (such as his very first start) the ability to shake off a rough inning and bounce back to finish strong (his most recent outing against the Angels being a notable exception), Holland repeatedly crumbles at the first sign of trouble.

So, while Holland and Yu have similar talent, youth, and contract status – with both performing well below expectations so far this season – Yu really does seem to be much more likely to right the ship and get things turned around.  And when he does, he very well may end up being this team’s number one or two starter for years to come.  As for Holland, it’s frankly hard to envision him ever ascending to anything better than an inconsistent and undependable fourth or fifth starter.

Unless he’s able to recapture that second half magic from 2011 at some point again in the future, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Rangers will eventually lose their patience with Holland and he might just find himself out of the rotation or eventually even sent packing altogether.  It’s not too late for him to turn things around, but based on what we’ve seen over the years, it just doesn’t really seem too likely. 

Bob Bland is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Bob.Bland@ShutDownInning.com or on Twitter @SDIBob.
Bob Bland

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