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Will Derek Holland Finally Get a Chance to Shine?

Derek Holland fell off of prospect lists in 2009 by pitching 138+ innings, but he’s still unproven and holds the excitement of unfulfilled potential. So far, the excuse has been the crowded house that has been the Rangers rotation, but this year, the Cliff-Lee-less front five could use a boost, especially from an exciting lefty with a power fastball and upside to boot. Could this be the year he finally busts out?

First, the rotation looks crowded again, but once you get past the top three, there are many question marks. Scott Feldman hasn’t put up a league-average FIP since his 41 1/3 relief innings in 2006, and Eric Hurley has 24 2/3 innings of poor major league work and much less potential on his resume. Brandon Webb is new in town, but given his injury situation, it’s not a stretch to say that a combination of Webb and Feldman might get the Rangers one more starter in total.

Which, of course, leaves a spot for Holland. Last year he was already above league average (4.02 FIP), so he’ll be a real-life boon to their rotation. His 8.48 K/9 is already impressive, and should he repeat the statistics he showed last year, he will be interesting in deeper leagues. How much can he do beyond?

Coming up through the minor league system, there was talk of Holland having a plus-plus fastball, but so far his linear weights on the pitch have been poor and his velocity has been closer to 92 than the mid-90s he showed. One thing that Holland could conceivably improve is his groundball rate. These things might even be related. Look at his heat maps for the fastball.

It looks like Holland tends to pitch up in the zone, which can lead to more fly balls. Fly balls in Texas are no good. It looks like this trend has held steady for Holland so far, which could mean that there’s something about his fastball that works better up in the zone, or that he’s entrenched. If not, he could add more groundballs with lower fastballs pretty easily.

Two other things bode well for Holland. So far, his walk rate in the majors (3.27) and last year (3.77) have only been okay. Not terrible, but okay. In the minor leagues, Holland routinely put up sub-three walk rates. If he can bring that walk rate back down, he could approach a three-to-one K/BB ratio, which is excellent.

The other piece of good news is that his changeup made progress last year, at least when judged by linear weights. It went from a strong negative to a scratch pitch. Given that he has a good fastball and slider, developing that changeup is tantamount to his success. He’s still throwing it 10% of the time, and if it’s a scratch-or-better pitch, then he’s got a strong mix – and he’s a lefty. That’s a combination that could lead to some fantasy success, so consider Holland late in your drafts when you are looking for upside for your bench in mixed leagues.