The kid with the creepy mustache turned in his finest season in 2013. Although it wasn’t backed up by the win column, Derek Holland was one of the finest starters in the American League, besting the likes of David Price, Doug Fister, Jon Lester, and Hisashi Iwakuma by way of wins above replacement. Perhaps because he only managed to eek out 10 wins, his 3.42 ERA (3.44 FIP) and 189 strikeouts seemed to be often overlooked in fantasy circles. In formats which don’t value wins, however, Holland was ace-like.
While he might appear to be barely old enough to drive, Holland is actually 27 entering the 2014 season, and his 2013 campaign seems to have all the hallmarks of the proverbial “learning how to pitch” versus “throw”.
Historically, Holland’s slider has been one of his more effective pitches. In 2012, Holland seemed to be more committed to a balanced repertoire when ahead in the count, using his sinker, slider, curve, and change quite liberally. His best whiff rate was on the slider, at almost 19% and he generated a 37% whiff per swing rate. But in 2013, he increased his slider usage overall, and it was predominantly when ahead in the count, where he used it almost half the time when ahead or having two strikes on opposing batters.
The result was a jump in whiff rates on the slider to over 25% and his whiff per swing rate grew to nearly 48%. He all but abandoned his curve, and he really only used his change against right handed batters to try and keep them honest. With Holland, in 2013, you pretty much could guess what was coming — sinker, sinker, sinker until you were behind in the count, and then you’d get a healthy dose of his slider.
But despite limiting his repertoire, Holland survived on having a pretty clear plan — staying out of the zone when the count allowed him to, and generating weak contact:
More visually displayed, here’s an overlay of how Holland approached left handed batters and right handed batters from 2012 versus 2013 (from BrooksBaseball.net):
Pretty much the same recipe. Stay out of the middle of the zone, go low and away on left handed batters, go down and in on right handed batters. And this more simple approach worked. Better yet, for fantasy owners, there’s no reason to question why it can’t continue to work going forward.
If you’re in a re-draft league, I’d target Holland. He’s not among the sexier names that will come off the board in earlier rounds, but he can provide similar, if not better, results. He certainly won’t be going as late as he did last year, where his ADP sat in the 200’s, but he should still fly under the radar on draft day, allowing you to sneak a very solid #2 for the price of a back-end starter.