There was a time when Derek Holland was one of the better pitchers in all of baseball. Back in 2013, he fired an anagramic 213.0 IP of 120 ERA+ ball, an effort that was valued at 4.3 fWAR and 3.2 bWAR. That was part of a four year stretch that saw him pitch to a 112 combined ERA+ across 623.1 IP from 2011-2014, his 3.83 ERA in that time helping to anchor what was then a rather formidable Texas Rangers staff.
The lefty’s fastball was good, but never overbearing at 93-95 mph. His slider was good, his other off-speed pitches were merely average, but he had something going for him that was nearly impossible for any other pitcher in baseball to replicate.
He had a gloriously awful mustache. I mean, just look at that dirt squirrel.
Fabulous. Just fabulous.
2014, though, is now a long time ago. You’ll think that even more when you wake up feeling terrible in 2019 tomorrow.
From 2015-2017, Holland’s career cratered. Between Texas and the Chicago White Sox, he pitched to just a 5.50 ERA across 301 injury plagued innings. His fastball velocity lost 2 full mph, and that (in part) led to his -24.3 wFB in 2017 with Chicago ranking as the third worst in all MLB among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. So, while the idea that ‘your favorite team is interested in Derek Holland’ was a thing for a time, by the end of 2017 that was most certainly no longer one.
2018, though, brought a bit of a renaissance for Holland. Pitching in the friendly confines of AT&T Park with the San Francisco Giants, Holland regained his form in many ways, making 30 starts, tossing 171.1 IP, and posting an impressive 3.57 ERA (alongside an equally serviceable 3.87 FIP). His 2.0 fWAR/2.1 bWAR season sent him into free agency once again as a semi-sought-after quantity, and the now 32 year old appears to be on the radar of the Cincinnati Reds, as MLB Network’s Jon Morosi relayed earlier today.
Free agent Derek Holland told us on @MLBNetworkRadio that the #Reds have been in contact with him this offseason. Holland is from Newark, Ohio, and prefers pitching for NL clubs because he likes staying more involved in games (e.g., pinch running). @MLB @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) December 31, 2018
That concept is hardly a revelation. The Reds perennially operate at the bargain level of free agency, even when they’re rarely connected to the top-tier guys a la Dallas Keuchel. In fact, Holland’s relatively low-end market and the Reds need for cheap, veteran rotation depth led MLB Trade Rumors to predict the two would match-up on a 2-year, $15 million deal back in their predictions post back on November 3rd. Holland was listed as their #39 free agent in this class, alongside such luminaries as Bud Norris and your buddy down the street’s dad who throws a wicked curveball in the batting cages.
Seeing the rumor at this juncture, though, brings about a pair of questions. After already adding Tanner Roark and Alex Wood, is Holland really a necessary upgrade for the middle-to-back of the rotation? Also, is his 2018 season really one to be trusted after his previous struggles?
Some of Hollands peripherals do make you wonder whether he’d be as effective with GABP as his home park instead of pitching in San Francisco most of the time. While his 3.63 road ERA dovetailed well with his 3.51 home ERA in 2018, he did allow 14 road homers in his 89.1 IP away from AT&T (compared to just 5 at home in 82.0 IP), and his 39.8% overall groundball rate is far from elite. And while the .440 OPS he held lefties to in 2018 was tremendous, that featured an awfully low .207 BABIP - both of which are well off his career marks (.630 OPS vs. LHP with a .284 BABIP).
There are enough questions to where his projections for the 2019 season look far from rosy. Steamer, for instance, pegs him for a 4.58 ERA/4.69 FIP in 89.0 IP. Marcels, while more optimistic, still sees him at a 4.44 ERA in 154.0 IP, but that obviously isn’t tailored to the idea of him pitching with Cincinnati as his home.
Speaking of ‘Cincinnati as his home,’ Morosi did make note of Holland’s original home of Newark, Ohio. If my memory is correct, that’s just across the river from New York City, Ohio, meaning he’s got some Ohio roots - and we know just how much the Reds do like bringing back folks who grew up in Reds country.
Signing Holland would neither break the budget nor prevent further additions, but he sure does look more the part of ‘redundant mid-rotation guy with little upside’ than ‘top of the rotation team stat leader haver-er,’ and I think it would still behoove the Reds to focus on adding more of the latter than the former at this juncture. Still, rumors will rumor, and we will continue to rumor-analyze until they all dry up.