Ron Washington isn’t going to panic. After a rainout pushed Game 6 to Thursday — and a potential Game 7 to Friday — Washington announced he will not alter his pitching rotation. While it was clear Washington wasn’t going to move Colby Lewis from his slot, Washington could have elected to start Derek Holland over Matt Harrison if the Series goes to seven games. Despite Holland’s masterful start in Game 4, Washington is sticking to his guns and keeping his rotation stable. Will the decision come back to haunt him?
So, who is the better pitcher? Looking at the 2011 numbers, Harrison actually finished with a higher WAR than Holland. While Holland performed well this season, Harrison had somewhat of a breakout season. An increase in his strikeout rate and the ability to limit home runs were the main reasons behind Harrison’s improvement this season. While their advanced pitching stats are close — Harrison’s FIP was 3.52, while Holland’s was 3.94 — Holland barely edged out Harrison in xFIP this season. Looking at strictly the 2011 numbers, it looks like Harrison has a slight edge over Holland.
A look at their post-season stats appears to widen the gap. We’re dealing with extremely small sample sizes here, of course, so weigh these stats to your own liking. Despite the fact that Holland’s last start rated as one of the best post-season starts over the past twenty years, Harrison has been better than Holland this post-season. Holland’s struggles can be attributed to his poor ALCS — in which the Detroit Tigers tagged Holland for seven runs in just 7.1 innings pitched. In his other three appearances this post-season, Holland has only given up one earned run over 14.2 innings pitched.
Harrison hasn’t shown the potential for dominance this post-season, but he had shown some consistency before unraveling in Game 3. While his increased strikeout rate has been nice, Harrison is giving up way too many walks this post-season. Even with those struggles, Harrison edges out Holland in both FIP and xFIP this post-season. Again, we’re looking at extremely small samples here. Still, it seems likely that Ron Washington would consider post-season performance when making this decision.
The other question to consider is whether Washington’s decision should changed based on which pitcher the St. Louis Cardinals start in a potential Game 7. If the Cardinals elect to throw Chris Carpenter, will Washington try and go with his higher upside starter? If the Cardinals elect to throw Kyle Lohse, will Washington be more comfortable knowing Holland can enter the game if Harrison struggles early? Washington seems pretty set in his decision at this time, but it will be interesting to see if he second-guesses himself based on the actions of Tony LaRussa.
So, which pitcher is the right choice? Based on strictly his post-season numbers, Holland appears to give Texas a higher chance for a dominant start, but also a higher chance at a disaster start. Harrison has been pretty average this post-season, and it’s tough to imagine him going out and tossing an 8.1 inning shutout in Game 7.
That’s not to say it won’t happen. The fact is, both pitchers have proven themselves to be pretty talented this season. Holland is probably more well regarded among both scouts and stat-heads, but Harrison emerged as a nice middle-of-the-rotation starter this season. Since both players have similar value, and Washington can always pull Harrison at the first sign of trouble to go with Holland, it’s tough to really criticize Washington’s decision at this time.