Derek Holland and Great Expectations

May 5, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA: Texas Rangers starting pitcher Derek Holland (45) throws a pitch against the Cleveland Indians during the game at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric P. Mull-USPRESSWIRE

Randy Galloway had a column on Sunday on the Rangers not being the '98 Yankees, and among other items in there, Galloway's comments on Derek Holland caught my eye:

Colby Lewis started strong but has drifted off into a ditch. Matt Harrison also started strong but has hit the same ditch. And the biggest disappointment of all, or maybe it's just me, is that Derek Holland has not made the expected jump toward elite.

I still think Holland will. The lefty hasn't been bad, outside of Saturday night when he blew a four-run lead, giving up three home-run ball to the Astros, among the worst in baseball in the power department.

Despite his latest outing being awful, Holland has stud potential, and, yes, maybe I tend to rush the expectations on Derek. Regardless, if the Rangers are going to meet the national hype of last week, Holland has to be headed in the direction of elite, instead of that weak mess of Saturday night.

Granted, the Rangers won the last two AL pennants with one "elite" rotation pitcher -- Cliff Lee. But "historic" and "best team since the '98 Yankees" won't come close to happening unless "elite" shows up.

Saturday night in the comments of the post-game thread, I compared Derek Holland to A.J. Burnett (without the injuries), and asked if folks would be satisfied with that outcome for Holland. Burnett, in his 20s, was a very good but not "elite" pitcher who had great stuff, who sometimes would put it together and be dominant, but who was plagued with inconsistency and never was as great as people thought he could be, and so was viewed as a disappointment by many.

I'm afraid that those people, like Galloway, who expect Holland to be "elite," who expect him to be a Cliff Lee-type #1 starter, are setting themselves up for disappointment. Yes, he improved in the second half of 2011, putting up a 3.39 ERA, but he had a 4.69 ERA in the first half. Yes, he had a dominant Game 4 of the World Series, but he was pitching Game 4 rather than Game 3 because he'd pitched so poorly in the first two playoff rounds that he was replaced in the #3 starter spot by Matt Harrison.

Also, vis-a-vis Galloway's comments above, he clearly doesn't consider C.J. Wilson to be "elite." C.J. Wilson had a 134 and a 149 ERA+ as a Ranger starter in 2010 and 2011. C.J. Wilson was a strong #2/borderline #1 those two seasons, and yet, Galloway thinks Holland will be better than C.J. was as a Ranger. That is, quite simply, unrealistic. Is it possible? Sure. But I'd say it is just as likely that Holland gets hurt or regresses or otherwise flames out as that he becomes the "elite" pitcher Galloway expects him to be.

I think that a realistic expectation for Holland, during the life of his contract with the Rangers, is that he's a solid #3 starter. And if that's what he is, then his contract is a home run for the Rangers, even with the free agent years the Rangers bought out. Per Cot's Contracts, Holland's deal is $3.2 million in 2013, $5.4 million in 2014, $7.4 million in 2015, $10 million in 2016, and club options of $11 million and $11.5 million in 2017 and 2018. There's been some suggestions that the Rangers locking Holland up means that they expect him to take a leap forward, but the reality is that if he's a 3-4 WAR pitcher each year of the deal (which would make him a solid #3 starter), the Rangers are getting a lot of excess value from him.

Being a solid #3 starter isn't a bad thing -- I don't think there's a pitcher in the Rangers' farm system who you could reasonably expect right now will be better than that. Its not a knock on Holland to say that's what you think he'll be going forward. But comments like Galloway's build unrealistic expectations, expectations that aren't supported by reality. And I'm not knocking him...his job isn't to deal in reality. Its to throw out "hot sports opinions" and be controversial and get people talking, not to make measured, objective evaluations of the Rangers and what's going to happen.

That said, there's one other point I'd like to make...Galloway says that the Rangers aren't as good as the '98 Yankees because their pitching isn't as good. After Sunday's game, the Rangers had a team ERA+ of 135 this season, FIP- of 87 (bigger is better with ERA+, smaller is better with FIP-).

The '98 Yankees had a team ERA+ of 116, and a team FIP- of 95.

The Rangers' pitching, so far in 2012, has been better than the 1998 Yankees' pitching.

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