The Pittsburgh Pirates are one of the teams that have talked with Derek Holland, according to Bill Brink of the Post-Gazette.
Pirates among several teams to talk with free-agent LHP Derek Holland. @BiertempfelTrib reported Holland's interest in Pirates.
— Bill Brink (@Bill_Brink2) November 16, 2016
Previously we heard that Holland was open to signing with the Pirates, which would make sense, as it wouldn’t make sense for him to limit his options. This news is more significant, as it shows the interest goes both directions.
Holland doesn’t look like the typical Pirates reclamation project, instead looking like last year’s low-upside version. He had some good seasons in 2011 and 2013, putting up a 3.0 and 4.3 fWAR, respectively. However, he’s a much different pitcher now than he was then, after a series of injuries derailed his career.
Holland’s best year was 2013, when he pitched 213 innings, with a 3.42 ERA and a 3.68 xFIP. He had a 7.99 K/9 and his average fastball was 93.6 MPH. He has since missed time with left knee surgery, and left shoulder issues over the last two years. Last year, his velocity was down to an average of 91.7 MPH, and his strikeout rate was at 5.62 K/9. Both numbers have seen a steady decline since the 2013 season, with the velocity dropping over a full MPH from 2015 to 2016. Holland also has never really been a ground ball pitcher, with a 42.3% rate in his career, and dropping to 38.3% last year. This is all despite the fact that he primarily throws a sinker.
The Pirates have been most successful with guys who get strikeouts, ground balls, have velocity, but also have control problems. They’ve taken some guys derailed by injuries and fixed them, but in those cases, the injuries led to poor mechanics which caused poor control. By fixing the mechanics, they were able to fix the control, which was the one issue. That’s a lot easier than finding two miles per hour of velocity, or adding over two strikeouts per nine innings to a guy with shoulder issues. And most of the reclamation guys played into the defensive shifts and the preference for strong infield defenders with their high ground ball rates, which Holland wouldn’t be able to take advantage of.
Going with a reclamation project isn’t a bad thing, but it would be best if the Pirates went for a higher upside guy. On paper, you could look at that 4.3 fWAR and say that Holland has some upside. But if you dig deeper into his issues and where he’s currently at in his career, you’d see that it would be a stretch to assume he could get back to that former production. Holland isn’t the type of reclamation project the Pirates should be pursuing, unless they’re going for multiple pitchers and he’s not the primary target.