The Start of Derek Holland’s Career

By Peter Ellwood

You may have seen, heard, read about, or are otherwise cognizant of the Texas Rangers 5-3 win over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday night. If so, you know that it wasn’t the best start in Derek Holland’s career. In fact, it wasn’t even close to the best start of Derek Holland’s career. The best start of Derek Holland’s career would probably be one of his five complete game shutouts, or his 8.1 IP 2-hit performance in the 2011 World Series. Wednesday night was not the best start of Holland’s career, but it was a start that fully embodied Holland’s career in one bite-sized morsel.

No one has figured out Derek Holland yet. Opinions on Holland range from future #2 starter to a future bust, with the holders of those opinions varying the volume with which they voice their vociferous thoughts from start to start. Many are resigned to the expected outcome that Holland will be forevermore what he is today: an enigmatic starter that is lights out when he has it, and is a sterling silver serving tray of meatballs when he doesn’t. On top of the on-field expectations, Holland’s personality off the field is even more polarizing. One party may say his goofiness and fun-loving spirit is endearing and provides balance to the usual Derek Jeter-like persona of professional athletes, while others prefer the Jeter model and point to those more unconventional qualities as a sign of mental weakness and a spirit devoid of the competitive instinct necessary to thrive as a MLB star. There is very little middle ground when it comes to forecasting the path Derek Holland’s career will take.

Holland completed 7.2 innings on Wednesday, allowing three runs on five hits, walking one (hitting another), and striking out seven. A 7.2-5-3-3-1-7 line is a solid effort, by anyone’s definition. However, that line was refracted entirely differently to each observer based on the lens that particular beholder uses to perceive Holland.

Those who see Holland as a future #2 saw Holland pitch into the 8th inning on 100 pitches, 68 of which were for strikes. These optimists also appreciated that Holland battled to overcome a walk to the first batter of the game, and managed to escape with just one run allowed in a first inning that began with Red Sox hitters at first and third with no outs. Holland worked efficiently into the late innings and kept his team in the ballgame, exactly what any top-of-the-rotation starter needs to do for his team, to those who see him as such.

To those who see the Hyde in Holland, his bright points of the night were overshadowed by what could have been costly mistakes. On top of walking the lead-off batter, Holland surrendered two home runs on change-ups that did nothing but waft into the hitter’s zone before being deposited over the left field fence. Without an effective change-up, Holland’s fastball becomes more pedestrian, and his curve and slider too hit-and-miss to be depended upon. Through it all, moments like those home runs are lapses in focus that leaves Holland unworthy of trust, to those who see the 25-year old as the thoroughbred who is never properly broken.

The contradiction of the two viewpoints is stark, and rightfully so. Holland is not yet a finished product. His ceiling is still high, but his floor is also low. Despite being 25, and having pitched in the majors for the past four years, Holland is not yet fully matured as a pitcher. His path through the minor leagues was relatively abrupt, not even logging 250 innings prior to his first major league start. By comparison, the Rangers current top pitching prospect, Martin Perez, has registered 499 minor league innings and only just made his first major league start four weeks ago.

The jury is still out on Holland. Some may say it is not, and that he is what he is always going to be. The Rangers believe he will be something more than he is, as he is one of just three Rangers players under contract through the 2016 season, with options that could extend that to 2018. It is indeterminable which faction will prove to be correct; some things are only sensible to perceive through the benefit of hindsight. However, with each start, we can only expect that Holland will move one step further along the metamorphosis process to being a rabbit, or a duck.

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