ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 30: Kelly Shoppach #10 of the Tampa Bay Rays in the dugout against the Texas Rangers during Game One of the American League Division Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on September 30, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
At first glance, Derek Holland looks like an easier opponent for the Rays than C.J. Wilson, who they batted around last night. Both pitchers are lefties, but Wilson has the superior results (2.94 ERA vs. 3.95 ERA) and peripherals (3.29 SIERA vs. 3.71 SIERA). Wilson struck out slightly more hitters than Holland this season while walking less, and he induced more groundballs than Holland as well. However you look at it, Wilson is the superior pitcher of the two.
But this holistic view is a bit misleading; Holland is a better pitcher than his season stats suggest. Holland is still a young pitcher at 24-years-old, and while he was ranked the #2 prospect in the Rangers' system in 2009, he's struggled over the last few season to find consistent success in the majors. In the first half of this season, he was hit or miss; he threw some dominant performances, but more often than not his starts were disasters. He had a 4.68 ERA and a 2:1 K:BB ratio in the first half...and I was on the verge of dropping him from my fantasy team.
Since the All-Star Break, though, Holland has seemingly pieced everything together and started to realize his potential. He's posted a 3.06 ERA through his final 14 starts, and he's managed to both increase his strikeout rate (6.7 per nine to 8.2) and drop his walk rate (3.4 per nine to 2.7). C.J. Wilson has still outpaced him slightly as the ace of the staff, but only just.
Holland has four pitches: a four-seam fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. His fastball averages 94 MPH and has excellent movement (think Moore), and he uses it around 70% of the time against both hands. Against left-handed hitters, he primarily works fastball-slider, mixing in his curveball and change only on occasion; against right-handed hitters, he instead uses his changeup and curveball as his primarily offspeed weapons. In general, his slider and changeup are the two pitch that generate the most swings and misses for him.
Don't underestimate Holland simply based on his season stats and past history; there's reason to believe he's taken significant steps forward and become a better pitcher as this season has progressed. That said, he's similar in many ways to C.J. Wilson and he's still prone to having a clunker game on occasion, so here's hoping the Rays' bats stay hot.
Pitching Matchup: Derek Holland vs. James Shields
Game Time: 7:00 pm EST
Coverage: TNT, WDAE 620