He retired the side in order in the first inning. He blew Kyle Seager away with just three fastballs to cap the frame, working him outside and then inside before freezing him with 94 mph heat on the outer third. You probably didn't expect him to do something akin to his 7.1 innings of nine-strikeout, one-walk baseball from his last outing against Toronto, but you felt reasonably confident that he would get the Rangers through 6-7 innings before handing the reins over to the bullpen, and, at a bare minimum, put Texas in a position to claim the series split going into the travel day.
And then all hell broke loose.
I don't know what happened between the first and second innings. I've been racking my brain in an effort to come up with another instance where a Rangers starter started so strong and then collapsed for no identifiable reason, and nothing has come to me. What we can confirm though, is that the Holland catastrophe ranks right up there among the very worst starts -- from the standpoints of both performance and duration -- in franchise history, with only nine other starts meeting the criteria of fewer than two innings pitched and eight or more runs allowed on at least 10 baserunners:
|Luis Mendoza||2008-07-07||TEX||LAA||L 6-9||1.1||9||8||8||2||11||0||3||51||29||2|
|Kevin Millwood||2006-05-09||TEX||MIN||L 5-15||1.1||9||9||9||1||10||0||1||45||30||-1|
|Chan Ho Park||2005-06-21||TEX||LAA||L 6-8||1.0||10||8||8||1||11||0||0||44||24||0|
|R.A. Dickey||2004-06-13||TEX||STL||L 2-13||1.1||8||9||9||3||11||0||1||63||34||-1|
|Ken Hill||1996-09-12||TEX||MIL||L 4-15||1.1||8||8||7||1||10||1||1||47||36||8|
|Roger Pavlik||1994-05-20||TEX||SEA||L 2-19||1.2||8||9||9||2||10||0||3||51||30||1|
|Rick Helling||1994-05-11||TEX||CAL||L 1-13||1.0||10||9||9||0||10||0||4||47||30||-3|
|Kenny Rogers||1993-05-16||TEX||CHW||L 8-15||1.2||9||10||10||1||10||2||2||-2|
|Kevin Brown||1990-07-01||TEX||BOS||L 4-15||1.2||7||9||8||4||11||0||0||65||34||3|
I could go through each individual plate appearance in that second inning and explain where things went awry, but I'm pretty sure I don't have the stomach for that fight. In scanning the pitch location/velocity/movement logs for that inning, though (here's a peek at the platform I use for such research, lest anyone believe that I'm merely blowing smoke), the story becomes plainly apparent. There was an element of crummy BABIP-based luck early on there, as he didn't pitch either of Jesus Montero or Justin Smoak especially badly ... but it all went downhill from there, as his locations became progressively more hittable, his pitch selections took a turn for the bizarre (a 1-0 curveball up in the zone to Seager?), and his extended ordeal sapped whatever life remained in his pitches. By the end, there wasn't even a semblance of control left.
What's a little disconcerting about this setback is that Holland himself doesn't even seem to know what happened, and while I suppose there's a bright side here in that he didn't indicate there being any physical problems, you can't help but feel a twinge of anxiety when your guy talks about working/trying so hard to produce great results, and yet falls so miserably short of the bar against a bad offensive team (yes, a team that scored 21 runs last night, but still a bad offensive team in the aggregate):
"I felt like I had everything going for me," Holland said. "I thought for sure today was the day. I came back out and 'blank' hit the fan. It's unbelievable. Things just didn't go my way. I didn't get the job done. ... It's very frustrating. I wish I could say what I really want to say, but it's really upsetting to have something like that happen to you when you've been working so hard. It's one of those nights. I have to shake it off. ... I did not give my team a chance to win. I made it really hard for our bullpen. We had to really push them after using quite a few guys the night before. It's a big let down on my part, I think."
By the time the game was over, Holland had checked video of his start tonight with what he did against Toronto and couldn't see anything wrong with his mechanics. He'll go to work in between starts to fine tune things, but more than anything will have to mentally move past it.
Holland went into last night boasting rate statistics on the season of 8.3 strikeouts, 3.0 walks, and 1.1 home runs per nine innings, culminating in a vanilla ERA of 4.05, a fielding-independent ERA of 3.68, and 1.2 wins above replacement (fWAR) by the FanGraphs calculation. After last night, his ERA sits in that most dreaded of places (that is, north of 5.00, which conjures to mind far too many painful memories of the Rangers' early-aughts pitching), his FIP has spiked by roughly three-quarters of a run, and his 3.5-4.0 fWAR trajectory has been shot to pieces ... for now, at least. I'm not happy about it, and I wouldn't expect any of you to be happy about it, and I would certainly expect the Rangers to hold Holland to a loftier standard. It was a miserable outing, and not even a team as good as Texas can afford too many of those.
Let's momentarily mute our feelings of infuriation and disappointment and be rational about at least one thing, though: Holland was a 3.6 fWAR pitcher last season, and, before last night, was looking at a legitimate shot of elevating his game into the 4.0 fWAR echelon and beyond. No, I don't view fWAR or any other such holistic metric as the holy grail of pitching valuation, but the fielding-independent variables fully within his control were suggestive of a pitcher who was taking at least a small step forward this year before last night's debacle, and I'm not prepared to throw him -- or his entire season -- under the bus after one singularly horrendous start.
If Holland can continue to deliver fairly consistent value at or above that 3.5-4.0 fWAR range (and I believe he will), he's a strong No. 3 starter on a championship-caliber ballclub and a generator of huge surplus value over the entire life of his contract. You don't just want that; you need that. It wouldn't be the ace that a lot of people are looking for, and, truth be told, he might never evolve into anything materially better than what he is right now ... but it's good enough to merit keeping Holland around for the maximum possible duration, which would be 2018 if the Rangers picked up both club options in 2017-18. Don't let one night, truly awful as it was, cloud your better judgment.
Now, sure, it was an awful night for the starter. It snowballed into what some might call an even more awful night for the bullpen, which hemorrhaged 13 runs over seven innings in a desperate effort to close out the affair without succumbing to fatigue. The offense pumped out eight runs, and still lost by a double-digit margin. It was embarrassing and unacceptable, and it can't continue, and I don't really mind anyone being angry about it -- especially those who paid good money to go out there and watch the Rangers fall behind 17-0 before they could even bat in the fourth inning. Get as angry as you want ... but at least try not to dispose of all good sense while you're busy getting/staying angry.
"At least the Angels lost."