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.

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