Derek Holland Analysis
I wrote this post last Wednesday night, and Derek L. Holland has since made another appearance, tossing three innings of one-run ball. His velocity was a bit down, but his pitch usage and movements were similar. He gave up two walks and threw a lot more balls as well. Here's what I wrote Wednesday in what seemed to me auspicious introduction to a promising career.
Rookie Derek L. Holland made his Major League debut on Wednesday night against the Blue Jays, pitching two and a third scoreless innings.
Holland, 22, was drafted out of junior college in the 25th round of the 2006 Rule 4 draft. From there, Holland’s stock as a prospect rocketed upwards coinciding with the increase in his velocity. In his stint in A-ball in 2007, Holland threw 67 innings with a 3.22 ERA and 3.95 K/BB ratio. In 2008, across three leagues—the highest being AA Frisco—Holland made even more strides, lowering his walk and home run rates in 150.2 innings, which culminated in a 2.27 ERA and 157 strikeouts—third in the Minor Leagues. The performance garnered him Rangers Minor Leaguer of the year.
“What worked so well for me was being able to communicate with my catchers and staying ahead of the hitters,” Holland told mlb.com. “It was huge, and that was what helped me to keep having the hitters guessing. I feel as the year went along, I got stronger and my pitches became a little better.”
Coming into the year, Holland was a prospect on everyone’s radar, as he was ranked 40th by Kevin Goldstein, 31st by Baseball America, and 21st by Keith Law.
Here’s what Goldstein had to say about the flame-throwing left hander:
“The Good: Holland's velocity only got better during the year, as he began the year in the low 90s but was sitting at 94-96 mph while touching 99 by season's end. His arm speed rivals that of any southpaw in the minors, and the pitch also features excellent late life. His top secondary pitch is a plus changeup with depth, fade, and good arm-side deception.
The Bad: Holland is still struggling to come up with a consistent breaking ball. He throws a slider which either flashes plus or is below average depending on the day, and he can flatten the pitch out by overthrowing it. The leap he made last year was so unexpected that he still has some skeptics.”
“He was 88-91 mph the following spring, then was 90-93 in the summer of '07 in Spokane. By the middle of 2008, he was already in Double-A, sitting 93-95 and touching 98, with natural bore and cut to the pitch and uncanny command. His changeup is already an above-average pitch, and he held right-handed hitters to a .215/.268/.305 line across three levels this year. His slider is still a work in progress, but it's improving, and he has enough command and deception to get left-handed hitters out in the minors. He doesn't have the raw upside of (Neftali) Feliz, but he's not far behind him in potential and is ahead of him in command and feel for pitching, and is the most likely of Texas' horde (pun intended) of pitching prospects to contribute to the big club in 2009.”
With that in mind, I broke down Holland’s first appearance in the show.
Holland entered in the 6th inning of a 6-3 game with the bases loaded and two outs. He had the platoon advantage against Adam Lind and promptly challenged Lind with two consecutive 96-MPH heaters. Ahead 1-2, Holland threw Lind a slider that broke off the plate outside that Lind just barely spoiled. Holland worked outside with another 95 MPH fastball and Lind fought it off for an infield hit. Holland again worked ahead of the count on Scott Rolen with fastballs before throwing a 1-2 slider that Rolen popped up.
Holland breezed through the seventh. He retired Kevin Millar on the first pitch of the inning, and then got into a ten-pitch duel with Rod Barajas. Holland fell behind with two high-and-wide fastballs. Yet he continued to work up in the zone, and Barajas was unable to catch up any of his next four fastballs, fouling three off and swinging through another. When the count worked full, there was no doubt Holland would stay with the hard stuff, and after a couple more foul balls, Holland eventually induced a fly out on a letter high fastball.
Holland picked up two strikeouts in the eighth. His best pitch of the night might have been a 1-2 ankle-high slider to Aaron Hill which was swung over for strike three. But he tried a 1-2 slider on the very next batter, and this time Alex Rios stayed on it for a single. Holland worked inside to Vernon Wells, and Wells was caught looking at a 92 MPH fastball right over the heart of the plate, a pitch Holland got away with.
He had lost his velocity by the 9th inning. In the seventh, Holland’s fastball averaged 96-97, but it fell to 93-94 in the ninth. He also missed his target on each of the first three pitches against his final batter. On 2-0, the catcher set up outside and the pitch sailed over the inside part of the plate, hammered for a single by Adam Lind. Lind was the only lefty Holland faced, and he got base hits on both encounters.
Holland certainly was able to work ahead of hitters, as he indicated was one of the keys to his success. He got into only one three-ball count and six two-strike counts.
Courtesy of Brooks baseball, here’s what his location chart looked like.
Holland worked up. His shoulder might have been flying open a bit, because something caused him to consistently miss high and wide to his arm side.
Holland showed that plus velocity Goldstein referred to. In addition to his 94 MPH fastball, he generated solid movement on the pitch. However, he didn’t throw any pitch listed as a changeup, which Goldstein and Law called his best offspeed pitch. I could see why Goldstein referred to his slider as inconsistent. He was able to keep it down in the strikezone, which is always a positive, and coming in at 84-85 MPH, his slider has a nice speed differential with his hard stuff, but the break on the pitch was suspect. Though harder than most sliders, Holland’s had below average vertical and horizontal movement. Law noted Holland’s possible reverse platoon split, and the fact that Holland’s slider doesn’t break away from lefties certainly contributes to this.
Holland’s going to want to work on getting some more tilt on his slider. He also might want to start working down in the zone with his fastball, though his nerves might have made him overthrow a bit Wednesday night. His biggest asset is simply being a southpaw who can dial up 97 and throw strikes. He can survive with just that pitch if he comes out of the bullpen. I think Holland, and Neftali Feliz, will be tremendous assets to the Rangers decrepit pitching situation in the future. But considering how wide open that A.L. West division is, we could see the fruits of the Ranger’s superlative farm system pay dividends this year.