Many of us have long known there was a high ceiling for Derek Holland. The Texas Rangers organization certainly knew it, as Holland has been afforded many opportunities to prove just that, highlighted by the ups of performances like Game 4 of the 2011 World Series, but marred by performances like... well, pretty much every time Holland has taken the mound against the New York Yankees. With a career ERA of 8.85 against the Yankees heading into Thursday, it seemed that baseball's "evil empire" had Holland's number, multiplied by some unknown digit.
While the current Yankees lineup isn't what it normally is, it was nonetheless impressive that Holland was able to toss a complete game shutout while only allowing 2 hits. Any pitching performance of that magnitude requires a solid performance from the pitcher, and Holland is now making us ask the question: While Yu Darvish attempts to figure out how to work out of his mid-season pitching slump, could it be that Derek Holland is, right now, the most consistent pitcher for the 2013 Texas Rangers?
With Thursday's performance, Holland has now run his streak of consecutive scoreless innings to 14 going back to his last start in St. Louis, who were, at the time, the top team in all of baseball. Even more impressively, Holland only required 92 pitches to record the complete game shutout, never pitching more than 16 pitches in an inning.
Holland was able to, with the exception of the 4th inning, navigate almost flawlessly through the Yankee lineup, throw for a high percentage of strikes, and as seen in the far right column, the aggregate effect of his pitches in each inning left New York less and less likely to produce anything of significance.
So, if Holland has always had the tools, what's different this season? For one, his delivery has seemed much more consistent from game to game. It's tough to shut out Major League lineups, but more often than not this season, he has given the Rangers a chance to win the games in which he has pitched. His 6 earned runs against the Angels in the first month of the season stands alone as the one dark spot. In a lot of ways, Holland is finally developing a sense of how to navigate through lineups multiple times. On the season, he's posting career bests in home runs per 9 innings (0.56), walks per 9 innings (2.32), and somewhat surprisingly, strikeouts per 9 innings is virtually on par with his career best from 2010 (8.35).
In 2012, Holland allowed 32 home runs, issued 52 walks, and tossed 145 strikeouts. So far in 2013 at virtually the halfway point of the season, he has only given up 6 home runs, 25 walks, and has accumulated 90 strikeouts. That's not quite Yu Darvish territory on the strikeouts, but it's effective nonetheless. What makes it all the most mind-boggling to me is that his BABIP on the season is .332, well above his career average. While in itself not a mark of bad luck, it indicates that Holland may actually be more effective thus far than even the results have shown, and that's great news for the Texas Rangers.
With injuries that have piled up since before the season even started, it's almost scary to think that, with reinforcements on the way, this 2013 Texas Rangers ballclub may not even be playing up to full potential yet. Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch were never meant to be starting, and while they've leveled off somewhat from their fantastic start, they've mostly been able to hold their spots down in the rotation. Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz, and Joakim Soria are all rehabbing in hopes of helping the team in 2013, but for my money, Derek Holland has been a lifesaver for a team that has desperately needed someone to step up in light of so many injuries.
On a day when the bullpen needed light duty from a recent stretch of work, Derek Holland gave the team that and more, not even maxing himself out before recording the final out of the game. For a pitcher that once had a nightmarish performance against the New York Yankees in the 2010 ALCS, Thursday's start might seem like a revelation to many, but for those that have watched Derek Holland so far in 2013, it seemed like something we'd all been waiting for him to do. No, he won't always be this effective, but overall consistency is a promise he's been able to deliver on this season, and something I feel comfortable saying we'll see a lot more of as the season progresses. He may not be the staff ace, but his 3.0 WAR (wins above replacement) is the highest on the team so far. While Yu Darvish may end up going on a tear to finish the season, Derek Holland is an important piece to a ballclub that is beginning to show flashes of dominance as the season moves into the dog days of summer.