ALCS Statistical Scouting: Scherzer vs. Holland

Judging from the reception to my game preview from last Friday, it seems there are other people out there like me: they like knowing a pitcher’s repertoire and attack plan before watching a game. Since it seemed to be a hit the last time around, I’ll try and provide quick little game previews for each new pitching matchup this postseason.

….That is, I’ll keep it up until everyone gets sick of hearing from me.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at today’s early game: Max Scherzer and Derek Holland.

Max Scherzer

Okay, this surprised me: Scherzer is the definition of a three-trick pony. He only works a four-seam fastball, slider, and changeup. That’s it. Three is the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. No more, no less.

This fact surprised me because Scherzer has long been a young pitcher that many considered to have a high ceiling; his strikeout and walk numbers are impressive (8.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9), and his 3.70 xFIP and 3.48 SIERA make him look like a budding ace. And yet, with only three pitches — two of which that typically feature wide platoon splits — I can’t help but feel that Scherzer’s ceiling is limited. Starting pitchers can succeed with three pitches, but if you want to become a top of the rotation starter, those pitches had better all be plus-plus.

But anyway, I digress. As you’d expect, Scherzer throws his four-seam fastball around 60% of the time against both hands, and then varies his other go-to pitch based on the handedness of the batter. Since sliders are best against same-handed hitters and changeups are best against opposite-handed ones, Scherzer throws his slider 30% of the time to righties and his changeup 30% of the time to lefties. He gets very fastball heavy if he falls behind in the count, but if the count is even or he’s ahead, he’ll throw his breaking balls around 40-50% of the time.

One thing to keep in mind with Scherzer: he’s been much more effective over his career against right-handed hitters (3.38 FIP) than left-handed ones (4.29 FIP). I’m assuming this is because his changeup is still effective against right-handers, giving him three solid pitches against them, while his slider does not work well against lefties. Can you imagine how good Scherzer would be with even just a mediocre curveball?

Derek Holland

As the Rays had the privilege of facing Holland in the ALDS, I wrote up this brief snippet on Holland over at DRaysBay:

Holland has four pitches: a four-seam fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. His fastball averages 94 MPH and has excellent movement (think Matt Moore), and he uses it around 70% of the time against both hands. Against left-handed hitters, he primarily works fastball-slider, mixing in his curveball and change only on occasion; against right-handed hitters, he instead uses his changeup and curveball as his primarily offspeed weapons. In general, his slider and changeup are the two pitch that generate the most swings and misses for him.

I’d like to add that Holland’s slider is particularly devastating to right-handed hitters (38% whiff rate), so even though he doesn’t use it often against them, it’s still an effective weapon when he breaks it out. In many ways, Holland is a well-rounded pitcher with an impressive repertoire; I’m surprised he doesn’t have a higher swinging strike rate (7.9% this season).

If you look at his final season stats, you’re going to form the wrong impression of Holland; he’s better than his final season line suggests. Holland has long had a high ceiling, but he’d never put things together until the second half of this season. He started off the year posting a 6.7 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9, but over his final 14 starts, he posted a 3.06 ERA while increasing his strikeout rate (8.2 per nine) and dropping his walk rate (2.7 per nine).

I’m expecting big things from Holland next season, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he goes out and has an outstanding game against the weakened Tigers lineup. Then again, I jinxed Jaime Garcia by saying something similar yesterday, so what do I know?

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

7 Responses to “ALCS Statistical Scouting: Scherzer vs. Holland”

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  1. Aggie E says:

    Nice write-up, really appreciate info on Scherzer…

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  2. Dave says:

    Good stuff…hope you continue to write these for upcoming matchups.

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  3. xeifrank says:

    Here is the box score output for this game from my simulator. The game was simulated 100K times with the lineups being used for today’s DET/TEX game. Along with the box score is a table listing the 25 most likely final score outcomes. From this the thing that sticks out is that the Tigers have a pretty bad top of the lineup (Jackson/Santiago) and that the Rangers probably shouldn’t have Andrus batting 2nd and Young batting 4th.

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  4. darrylzero says:

    Forgive the potentially naive question, but how normal is it for a lefty’s slider to be so effective against RHB? From the discussion of Scherzer, it sounds like the changeup-for-opposite-handed-batters and slider-for-same-handed-batters is the norm, which tracks with my memory of what I’ve read and heard elsewhere.

    So, what’s going on with Holland’s slider? Should we expect regression? Is his success with it against RHB an indication of a great slider? Are different pitchers’ sliders just different enough in the kinds of breaks that they get that it just depends?

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  5. JG says:

    You pretty much answered why people think Scherzer has a very high ceiling: he’s basically an average curveball or cutter away from being an all-star.

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  6. The Dude says:

    These articles are great – many thanks.

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  7. tomhaywood says:

    RE: Derek Holland. Big discrepancy between your whiff % for sliders by righties at 38% and texas leaguers at 19%. Granted there is some room for manouevre regarding pitch classification, but other numbers seem the same? Any idea.

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