The Impressive Derek Holland

Tonight, Derek Holland takes the mound for the Rangers. On the surface, he might look like a disappointing young pitcher who has found the transition to the majors to be a bumpy road. After all, he’s 7-12 with a 6.17 ERA. Those are the kinds of numbers that would usually lead to a ticket back to Triple-A next season.

Instead, we should be expecting Holland to take a big step forward next year. While he’s had some problems with the long ball, he’s controlled the strike zone in a way that should be very encouraging for Ranger fans. His BB/9 (3.12) and K/9 (7.16) are both terrific numbers for a rookie starter with minimal high level minor league experience.

For comparison, Holland is the 20th rookie pitcher in baseball history to throw at least 120 innings and post a BB/9 below 3.5 and a K/9 above 7.0. Of the 20 pitchers, only three others besides Holland have posted a below average ERA during that rookie season – John Danks in 2007, James Shields in 2006, and Roger Clemens in 1984.

In his second year, Danks saw his ERA drop from 5.50 to 3.32. Shields went from 4.84 to 3.85. Clemens went from 4.32 to 3.29. All of them knocked a run per game off their ERA totals the following year.

Danks is a particularly useful comparison, given how similar their profiles are. Holland’s issues with the home run are basically equal to Danks’, as they both gave up 1.8 homers per nine innings, in part due to a high HR/FB rate. Danks HR/9 fell to 0.69 the following year, which was the driving force in his second year improvement. Holland shouldn’t be expected to see an equal drop in home run rate, but it’s a good bet that he’ll be better at keeping balls in the park next year. And that’s going to make a big difference in his results.

For all the talk about some of the game’s most impressive young hurlers, Holland sholdn’t get lost in the discussion. Forget the amount of runs he’s given up – he’s shown enough to be considered a candidate for a huge step forward next year.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

12 Responses to “The Impressive Derek Holland”

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  1. After having lost my head-to-head fantasy league by one game this season, I will always think of Derek Holland as my 2009 season-killer.

    I picked him up for one week.

    If you look at his log, I think you can tell which week it was.

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  2. Joe R says:

    Everyone knows the only Derek in MLB is Derek Jeter, this article is a lie.

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  3. Adam D says:

    We Ranger fans have seen both sides of him this year. From that incredible 1-hit performance against the Angels (and his .372 WPA for the game) to the 10 runs in 3 innings performance (and his -.368 WPA for the game).

    In any case, this is the first time any Ranger fan has had the opportunity to be excited about young arms in the system, and where there might be actual competition for starting spots next year. Millwood’s option vested, so he’ll at least be around. Holland, Feliz, and Hunter have showed flashes of brilliance this year. Scott Feldman has one of the single best pitches in the majors (this year, at least… let’s see if he can keep it up another year). And maybe Ben Sheets can be in the mix next year as well…

    Genuine excitement down in Dallas…

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  4. Big Oil says:

    This makes me all the more excited for Brett Anderson’s season next year — at 7.66/2.32 per 9, you can’t help but be impressed. 170 IP worries me some. He’s never been over 103ish in a season as far as I can tell.

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    • Paul Thomas says:

      He did throw about 20 innings last year between the Olympics and the AAA playoffs, so the inning jump is less than it looks like.

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  5. wobatus says:

    Spot on, Dave. Shhh.

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  6. R9b says:

    Holland, it seems, will start 2010 in the rotation for sure, but will Neftali Feliz?

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  7. CJ says:

    Quote: Of the 20 pitchers, only three others besides Holland have posted a below average ERA during that rookie season – John Danks in 2007, James Shields in 2006, and Roger Clemens in 1984.

    What about Roy Oswalt’s rookie year?
    2001 141 IP ERA+ 169 K/9 8.0 BB/9 1.5

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    • CJ says:

      OK, Sorry, I misinterpreted the sentence above. I was thinking “below average ERA” as a lower value for ERA, as opposed to “worse than average.” Never mind my post.

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  8. John C says:

    FWIW, and i dont know if anyone reads these comments anymore, but Tommy Hanson is teetering on being pitcher #21 on this list.

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  9. There are some fascinating points in time on this article however I don’t know if I see all of them middle to heart. There is some validity however I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want extra! Added to FeedBurner as nicely

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