2009 Derek Holland vs. 2011 Derek Holland

Monday night, the Texas Rangers were said to be close to signing Derek Holland to a five-year contract. Tuesday morning, what was close became official: the Rangers and Holland agreed to five years and $28.5 million, with sixth- and seventh-year club options. Holland signed away at least one year of free agency, and the club options look Rangers-friendly at this point.

One of the motivations for this deal from the Rangers' perspective is how Holland improved in the 2011 season. What I find interesting, though, is how similar Holland was as a starter in 2011 to himself as a starter in 2009. A comparison:

ERA

2009: 6.23
2011: 3.95

Strikeout Rate

2009: 18.2%
2011: 19.2%

Walk Rate

2009: 7.7%
2011: 7.9%

Strike Rate

2009: 63%
2011: 64%

Contact Rate

2009: 83%
2011: 82%

Here are some meaningful differences, though:

Home Runs per Fly Ball

2009: 15%
2011: 11%

Average Fastball (mph)

2009: 92.3
2011: 94.2

In the first one - home runs per fly ball - we see what we usually call regression. In 2009, Derek Holland ran a high ERA because he was allowing a ton of home runs. In 2011, he allowed a normal amount of home runs, given his rate of fly balls. In the second one, we don't see regression. Rather, we see improvement. Derek Holland gained velocity in 2011. It stands to reason this probably made him more effective.

Usually, when a guy allows a high rate of home runs, people call him unlucky. Derek Holland might have been a little unlucky with his home runs in 2009. He also might have been doing something wrong to lead to those home runs, though, so it probably wasn't all luck. Holland has taken a stride forward in the home-run department, of unknown length. He's taken a stride forward in the velocity department, of known length.

Basically, Derek Holland wasn't as bad as his ERA as a starter in 2009. It was readily evident then that he could become something valuable. Over time, he became something valuable, combining improvement with a spot of better luck. Good for Holland, and good for the Rangers.

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