Tough weekend. Tough series. Tough month. Contrary to the pre-season prognostications of several noted forecasting systems, maintaining a .550 winning percentage through the regular season's first five months and then coasting along at a .500-caliber clip the rest of the way has not proven nearly enough to keep pace with the front-running Angels, much less hold the division lead.
Any latent hope of salvaging two games out of three against Anaheim this past weekend were effectively dashed by Derek Holland's latest command-deficient start, in which the 22-year-old left-hander was clubbed to the tune of six earned runs in just 5.2 innings -- denoting the fifth consecutive start in which he has yielded at least five earned runs and inflating his seasonal ERA to the unsightly figure of 6.17.
[Incidentally, since Holland snapped off four high-quality starts in five attempts between July 30th and August 20th, his ERA has resided in the double digits. Some 1,000-plus miles to the northeast, Roy Halladay has been busy being ... well, Roy Halladay. There are plenty of good reasons why general manager Jon Daniels didn't pull the trigger on any trade configuration singularly focused on bringing Halladay to Texas, but after the well from which Holland drew his hypnotic powers ran dry, one of the arguments for the deal being made became far more evident: Halladay is simply the better all-around pitcher.
In an alternate reality, does Texas secure a post-season spot after swinging a blockbuster deal for Halladay's services? Given that the real devil lurks menacingly in the lineup, probably not ... but Halladay would have given the Rangers that two- to three-win boost that seemed so much more important seven weeks ago than it does today, so never let it be said again that not completing that deal enhanced the Rangers' post-season chances in the here and now. It really didn't.]
Now, since there's really something to be said for accentuating the positive right now, allow me to point out that Holland, in spite of his recently inadequate command and frustrating hittability, posted five strikeouts to just one walk on Sunday afternoon. "So what," you mockingly snort, "he got blasted!" As true as that may be, starting pitchers who can consistently miss bats and avoid the bane of every pitching coach's existence (walks) are extremely valuable commodities and, given a large enough sample, typically rise above their less-talented peers in terms of run prevention.
How does Holland's above-average strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 96-to-43 stack up historically? Using Baseball Reference's acclaimed Play Index, I proceeded to isolate the only 58 starting pitchers in the last 129 years who (a) logged at least 100 innings in their first major league season and (b) struck out at least seven batters per nine innings during that same season, then ranked these starting pitchers by their strikeouts-to-walks ratios:
[Click here to check out the entire 58-player list. Also, please take note of the attractive new table format. It took longer to fine-tune it than you might think.]
Rather prestigious company, no? Hanson is held in exceedingly high regard, Lincecum is a freak of nature and Cueto is a nice little pitcher in his own right, albeit to a lesser degree (his recent encounters with shoulder inflammation and general fatigue notwithstanding); Tiant, ever the reliable above-average hurler, nabbed two ERA titles and four All-Star appearances during a highly productive 19-year major league career.
Neither Smith (who was already 30 years old by the time of his rookie accomplishment) nor Bennett (beset by arm troubles after his third major league season) quite compare to some of the higher-ranked names above the No. 24 spot, including the likes of Brandon Webb, Kerry Wood, James Shields, Bert Blyleven, Cole Hamels, Mark Prior, Don Sutton, Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens, just to name a few. Flanking Holland on the lower side? Try the contemporary-loaded quintet of Javier Vazquez, John Danks, Clayton Kershaw, Freddy Garcia and CC Sabathia.
There is an existing line of thought that holds that the Rangers should launch Holland's 2010 campaign at Triple-A Oklahoma City, enabling him to fine-tune his repertoire and mound approach in a lower-pressure environment and, in effect, allowing him to "learn how to pitch." Irrespective of which level the Rangers elect to employ him at six months down the road, it's imperative that we recognize that Holland's gargantuan ERA is not reflective of his true talent level and that, with the proper handling, he is still capable of doing some very, very special things on the pitcher's mound before it's all said and done.