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Brushing Up On Derek Holland

After getting roughed up last night without really threatening much of anything, Derek Holland provides a reasonable opportunity at mid-series redemption.  Which is not to say he doesn't have a pedigree.  Still just 24, the southpaw has already thrown 250+ innings in the big leagues and rocketed through the Rangers system to make his debut in 2009.  Unsurprisingly, he wasn't exactly ready then and while his future continues to look bright, I wouldn't say he's exactly ready now.  Like many young MLB pitchers, his stuff is major league caliber, but his command wavers and he remains somewhat unsophisticated in his approach.  In a year where the average starter's ERA so far is 3.88, I think that's good enough for a tick below average.

His best pitch is his fastball, which sits in the 92-94 mph range, though he can run it up to 95+ every now and then.  There's nothing really special about the movement, as it's neither a true riser or sinker, but combined with the velocity he's been able to get a good number of ground balls so far.  I can't say I'm sure that's going to continue as big league hitters figure him out, but he's thrown to enough batters to say that his GB% is not some fluke of sample size.

The rest of his offerings aren't as impressive.  He throws a change, curve and slider, but none have elicited the whiffs necessary.  The worst of the trio is the curve, which is strictly an early count strike-stealer.  It doesn't have the bite to buckle knees and it doesn't really move away from lefties enough to bother them a whole lot either.  The slider is next worst, as his feel for the pitch isn't really there yet.  It's inconsistent enough that the pitch f/x algorithm is mistaking some of his worst sliders for his change.  He's actually thrown his best sliders to righties so far this year, which held true in the start I watched.  More evidence that the pitch is a total work-in-progress.

The change-up is the best of the three by a considerable margin, as it grades out to about average.  It's not overwhelming and it's certainly not Danksian in fade or deception, but the velocity and movement are solid.  Combined with his fastball and the ability to mix in the other two pitches early in the count, he's got enough to attack right handers and put them away.  Against lefties, he's really still fastball-only, to the point where he's throwing it 70% of the time overall against them.  Even when he gets way ahead, he's thrown the fastball well over 50% of the time.  That said, it's good enough that he can get grounders and weak fly balls on a regular basis with the platoon advantage.

So his stuff grades out pretty well and he'd have a chance to be above average in 2011 except for what appears to be lackluster command.  From what the stats say over the course of his career and from the start I saw against the Angels, he can't put pitches where he wants to, though his confidence in his stuff shows through.  He doesn't nibble.

Against both lefties and righties, he's very reliant on his fastball and he tries to move it in and out, up and down.  From what I saw, he really struggles spotting the fastball when his catcher wants it up.  He's much closer to the target when the catcher gives a target down in the zone.  He didn't really show a tendency side-to-side, but he missed over the plate with some frequency.  Good enough velocity has kept him from being punished on the long ball so far, but as we move toward summer, I expect those numbers to jump. 

The same is true on his change, which for some reason he also seemed to want to move in and out against RHB.  The biggest problem he's shown is leaving it up and over the plate.  Even when he does miss, he misses up as often as he misses down and he rarely leaves it wide of the plate.  It's just not a pitch he's commanded especially well so far and, again, he made a number of mistakes with it.  The Angels did a very poor job capitalizing, though their two doubles (both by Callaspo) were telling.

In both cases, Holland got up early with the fastball.  In the second AB, he started with a fastball up out of the zone that badly missed the glove.  Callaspo helped him out by swinging through it.  Then Holland came back and actually hit his spot low and away to go up 0-2 on a Callaspo foul.  For pitch 3, he followed up with a miss on yet another fastball, this time way inside.  A good place to miss, but the out was a few inches closer to the plate.  Torrealba finally asked for the change, tapped his glove on the ground to show where he really wanted it.  Instead, Holland split the plate with it, thigh high.  Callaspo roped it into the gap and Kendrick scored the Halos second run of the game from first, having reached on a walk.

This was not an uncommon sequence, but the Angels continually left Holland off the hook by swinging too early and too often.  Once you're down in the count and have to expand your zone, it's much harder to actively look for mistakes.  The result was plenty of roll-overs and weak flies.  Y'know, the kind of thing we've seen all too often out of the Sox.  If instead you take a few pitches, there's a decent chance he'll walk you or make a mistake in your spot.  Rios aside, we've got smart enough RHB for this guy.  Even if the results aren't there, I'd really like to see the right approach consistently applied.