When the San Francisco Giants lost Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner, and Jeff Samardzija to injury for significant portions of 2018, the rotation appeared to be in shambles, but one under-the-radar signing solidified the rotation–Derek Holland.
In a season where the San Francisco Giants have been officially eliminated from the playoffs in mid-September, the veteran lefty has been a bright spot for the team. In fact, you can make an argument that Holland should win the Comeback Player of the Year award.
The Giants signed Holland to a minor league contract in February and assigned him to the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the team’s AA affiliate, a month later. But with the injuries to Samardzija and Bumgarner at the start of the season, Holland made the Opening Day roster.
Holland has been a hard-throwing lefty with the Texas Rangers before he joined the Chicago White Sox as a free agent in 2017. There, he posted a 6.20 ERA in 29 appearances (26 starts) with a 1.71 WHIP.
There was no doubt about it. Holland, who had been OK in his career, had his worst season as a big leaguer last year, getting hit around pretty bad. In addition to the high ERA and WHIP, he gave up 31 home runs and 156 hits in 135 innings pitched. Injuries throughout his career haven’t helped either.
Although some may have given up on the 31-year-old lefty, Holland had other ideas.
“There were a lot of people who said I was done, I don’t have it, telling me how bad I was,” Holland told the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea in August. “I loved reading it. I love when people try to tell me I can’t do something because I’m going to try to do anything to show I can.”
But in 2018, Holland has turned it around and is having arguably his best season as a big-leaguer. In 2018, Holland is 7-8 with a 3.57 ERA and a career-best 1.26 WHIP. The last time he had an ERA under 4 (minimum 107 innings) was 2013.
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This season, Holland has only given up 144 hits in 163.2 innings and has given up a career-low 18 home runs (minimum 135 innings). And quite remarkably, he leads the team in innings pitched.
In addition, opponents are hitting .237 against him. He’s struck out 165 batters.
Holland has made great strides this season. Working with pitching coach Curt Young, he’s tightened up his shaky control from the start of the season and is commanding his pitches much better.
Next month, Holland will turn 32 years old. Given his age, the Giants should be able to re-sign him next year relatively cheap.
And there’s mutual interest between Holland and the Giants.
Here are a couple of excerpts from MLB.com’s Chris Haft about the possibility of the Giants retaining Holland.
"Nobody within the Giants’ hierarchy has said much publicly about Holland’s immediate future. But the “fit” between player and team certainly exists in this case, making it likely that Holland will indeed return to the Giants in 2019.Other factors point to San Francisco signing the 31-year-old Holland. He genuinely enjoys being a Giant, for one thing. Also, though he’ll enter free agency, he played for $1.75 million this year and thus should be relatively affordable."
With Cueto out for all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, Holland would be a great fit for the rotation next year. Holland would slot in with Bumgarner, Andrew Suarez, Chris Stratton, and Dereck Rodriguez. And Samardzija could be in the mix too if he gets healthy.
The current starting five has made up one of the best starting pitching staffs in baseball since June.
So, that’s reason for optimism.