Derek Holland has been what the White Sox Needed, Can it Continue?

The White Sox showed a their thrifty side yet again this offseason, finding a cost-effective starter to fill out their rotation in former Rangers starter Derek Holland. Holland came to the South Side on a one-year, $6 million deal to help carry the load after the Sox traded away their ace and is currently without two of its starters. The inning-eating part the White Sox can’t be too sure about with Holland, who has suffered numerous injuries in his career that have only allowed him to pitch 203 innings combined since 2014. However, if any organization is known for it’s ability to keep pitchers healthy, it’s the White Sox.

Derek Holland has shown success in his start to the season on the South Side. He’s gone six or more innings in five of his last seven starts and and holds a 2.70 ERA. Sounds all well and good, right? Except for the fact that Holland’s peripherals and past performances tell a different story. Unfortunately, this likely not the Derek Holland we are going to see throughout the remaining five months of the season.

Holland may have a sparkling 2.70 ERA in 46.7 innings pitched so far this season, 9th best of all qualified starters in the American League, but his FIP and DRA currently sit at 4.42 and 4.54, respectively — figures which are much more in line with Holland’s career numbers.

Take a look at these two players, two starting pitchers the White Sox picked up who had strikingly similar first month profiles during their time on the South Side:

Holland 7 3 11 2.17 4.13 29
Player X 6 3 8 1.84 4.37 29.1

Player X is 2016 White Sox starter and amazing reclamation project Mat Latos. Eerily similar, huh? Both signed to one year deals, both filling rotation holes, both with long injury histories and both with phenomenal, likely unsustainable first months of the season. Latos went on to pitch to a 6.41 ERA in May of 2016 and gave up 19 earned runs in 26.2 innings. Holland has already matched his first month total of earned runs and home runs allowed during his two starts in May, while only pitching 17.2 innings. Regression seems eminent for Holland, just as it was for Latos.

This isn’t just a bunch of nonsense and there is no need to feel jaded just yet, White Sox fans. In fact, the realist in you should have enjoyed Holland while he lasted because if you looked at his numbers a bit deeper from April as well as in line with his career, you’d see that this was not bound to last.

Holland came from Globe Life Park in Arlington, a notoriously warm, hitter friendly ballpark. Globe Life Park has nearly the same Park Factors as Guaranteed Rate Field (though likely not nearly as warm come mid-July), both parks ranking at 114 and 125 respectively — even making The Rate a slightly friendlier hitters park than Globe Life.

So we know what that means, lots of home runs. Holland is currently posted a career high fly ball rate of 44.6 percent this season at The Rate — and it hasn’t even gotten consistently warm in Chicago yet. What’s interesting about that fact is that Holland is now also posting his second career lowest HR/FB rate at just 9.7 percent (league average is 13.3 percent). Neither of those figures correlate properly, and they’re bound to regress and meet at some point, meaning that as the nights get warmer and the fly balls travel farther, Holland is going to be in for some trouble in the dinger department.

As far as Holland’s other stats goes, he is currently walking batters at a 9.1 percent clip and striking them out 19 percent of the time. Holland’s career walk rate is 7.5 percent, while his career strikeout rate is 18.9. So while his walk rate may be due for some regression, his strikeout rate should continue hover just below 20 percent.

Holland has also seen a dip in his groundball percentage and, considering he’s increased his curveball usage this season, that isn’t extremely promising. Holland has gradually decreased his groundball percentage from 41.9 percent in 2015  to a career low 37.4 percent in 2017 and, again, if he continues to let up fly balls in a now even more hitter friendly ballpark than he’s used to pitching in, that could become an issue for Holland. Keeping the ball on the ground as he’s done in the past (career 42.1 percent GB%) is key for Holland’s success.

Perhaps Holland won’t have as drastic of a downward spiral as Mat Latos did, considering Latos was also combating poor mechanics, but the peripheral numbers show that the success Holland saw in April is not likely sustainable. For the sake of the rotation, let’s hope Holland can hang on until the other half of the White Sox starters return from the disabled list.