Derek Holland out until mid-season, and what it means for the Rangers

Derek Holland injured his knee from an apparent “freak fall,” though he denies it was actually from playing hockey. Either way, the fact remains the same: He’s out until mid-season and, already before the season gets underway, it’s questionable if he will be able to meaningfully contribute during 2014.

In 2013, Holland enjoyed his most successful big league campaign to date, generating +4.8 fWAR — good for 11th in MLB and 7th in the AL among pitchers — over a career-high 213.0 innings on the bump. His strikeout rate (7.99/9 IP) was a career-best, and his walk rate (2.7/9 IP) is on par with his career-best output of 2012 (2.67/9 IP). Basically, this is one big way of saying “Derek Holland’s great 2013 season is defined by how great his 2013 peripherals were.” But, really, the key to his success was based almost exclusively on his ability to limit his fly balls from leaving the yard; the 8.8% homer-to-flyball rate was by far the best mark of his four years as a starter, down from 14.9% in 2009, 11.0% in 2011 and 15.2% in 2012.

If we played the what if? game, it stands to reason we would say something like Since Derek Holland produced +4.8 fWAR over a full season last year then it means he should produce +2.4 fWAR in a half-season. Kind of. But more like kind-of-but-not-really.

If Ranger fans have learned anything over the last two years, it’s that pitching injuries are impossible to forecast. Pitchers are, inherently, fragile and unable to be trusted. Last season, both Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis were expected to return by the All Star Break, and neither made it back at all; Neftali Feliz was supposed to be back by August, but he was relegated to mop-up duty over only a handful of appearances in September.

Right now, Holland is “expected” to return by mid-season, but, really, no one knows how well his left knee is going to heal. Since he’s a left-handed pitcher, and since his left knee is the one he plants and extracts all his power from, a mid-season return seems — at least to me — awfully optimistic. In that sense, it’s nice that it’s only January, because now is a good time to temper expectations. Odds are, if he does return, it will not be until August or September, and if the Rangers are in the hunt for the postseason, Holland will be no better than a #3 or #4 option.

While there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s also no reason to expect he will magically revert back to his 2013 level of production.

As it stands, the Rangers are not particularly desperate for starting pitching. Losing Derek Holland hurts, no doubt, but it’s also an opportunity for Nick Tepesch to build on a promising 2013 season, and for Colby Lewis — who was signed to a minor league contract — to prove he is still worth a damn. It also means Alexi Ogando will probably start the year in the rotation.

So, if that’s the worst, then Texas figures to start the year with some combination of Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, Alexi Ogando and either Nick Tepesch or Colby Lewis in the rotation. Would it look better with Derek Holland? Of course. But this is another classic example of why you can never have too much pitching.

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