Derek Holland Is Derek Holland Again

One season ago, Derek Holland was one of the worst pitchers in baseball. There were 134 pitchers in the majors who threw at least 100 innings. Holland wound up with the fifth-worst ERA-. He wound up with the single worst FIP-, and the single-worst xFIP-. He allowed the second-highest wOBA, and he allowed the very highest expected wOBA, based on Statcast. It was a new low for Holland in what had earlier been a promising career. After peaking with the Rangers when the Rangers were good, Holland fought knee trouble and shoulder trouble. After that miserable 2017 with the White Sox, Holland joined the Giants on a minor-league contract.

Last year’s Giants were bad. One of the things that happens when a team is bad is that the team also doesn’t draw very much attention. Criticism is heaped upon the good players who disappoint, and optimists might hunt for bright spots among youth. But bad teams are by and large forgotten or ignored as a summer wears on. As a consequence of that, you might not have noticed Derek Holland’s 2018. I know I didn’t, for a while. It was a terrible year for the Giants. It was a successful year for Holland.

I bring this up now because Holland has re-signed with the Giants for $7 million. There are some incentives here, based on playing time, and there’s a club option for 2020 worth $6.5 million. The Giants again probably won’t be good, and so Holland probably won’t make the difference between missing and making the next World Series. But that doesn’t mean he can’t tell his own fun story.

If not for various injuries, Holland might not have even pitched in the majors. He started the Giants’ third game, and then he started 29 more. And the damnedest thing happened — Derek Holland pitched like he used to. He pitched like 2017 had never happened. No, he didn’t have the same peak velocity as before, but as the results were concerned, that was irrelevant. There was a time where you seemingly couldn’t get away from Derek Holland. Broadcasts loved talking about his quirky personality, and they focused on Holland because he was good. He faded away as the results got worse, but this table should tell you plenty:

Derek Holland
Year(s) IP ERA- FIP- xFIP- K-BB% Strike% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Contact%
2011-2013 586.1 92 96 95 13% 64% 29% 62% 81%
2018 171.1 92 101 100 14% 64% 31% 63% 78%

Holland just got pretty much all the way back, after having been worth 0.0 wins above replacement between 2015 – 2017. Holland rebounded in his age-31 season. And even the season itself had its own bounceback. I want you to look at this picture of Holland preparing to throw on June 15:

Now here’s Holland preparing to throw in his next game, on June 20:

You see it? Holland moved all the way over on the rubber. He moved from the third-base side to the first-base side, and the adjustment held, according to this image from Brooks Baseball:

When a pitcher moves on the mound, he usually talks about changing the angles. Sometimes it might not accomplish anything. Might be entirely psychological. In Holland’s case, we can’t conclude that moving on the mound was like stomping on a statistical turbo button. But here’s a table of what happened before the move, and of what happened after it:

Derek Holland, 2018
Split IP ERA- FIP- xFIP- K-BB% Strike% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Contact% xwOBA
Through 6/15 72.1 115 120 116 11% 62% 27% 66% 81% 0.341
After 6/15 99.0 75 87 88 16% 66% 34% 60% 76% 0.293

Better everywhere. Holland appeared in better command, and he seemed to be more deceptive. It might’ve just been a second-half hot streak, but even just taking the overall season numbers, they’d fit comfortably within Holland’s earlier prime. Now that he’s 32, his arm doesn’t work the same way it did when he was 22, yet the most recent evidence suggests Holland can keep on doing this job. He’ll try to do it on a $7-million guarantee, whereas Lance Lynn got more than four times higher than that.

As Holland’s own record shows, it might again crumble in a hurry. But the Giants are trying to be as competitive as possible before having to think about switching to a rebuild. Derek Holland can buy them some time. That’s all the Giants can ask for.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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channelclemente
3 years ago

Holland gave it all he had, what more can you ask from a player.

merizobeach
3 years ago

“what more can you ask from a player.”

Well, Pence gave it all he had, too, but at some point you also must hope that a player has something to give. That said, I think this is a good deal for both parties.

Kevbot034
3 years ago

I mean, honestly a ton lol. Was effort why Chris Davis failed? Idk, but I am sure he didn’t WANT to be one of the worst players of all time.