Why is it that these posts about losing efforts tend to be more interesting to read/write than posts about winning efforts?
● It's August 6th, Derek Holland has been back from the disabled list for about a month, and -- uhm, well, things aren't exactly going according to plan, as the Royals ripped Holland for six runs (all earned) on eight hits (two homers) and two walks in six innings, and sent both Holland's ERA (5.18) and FIP (5.05) for the season ballooning north of the 5.00 threshold once again. He struggled through a 26-pitch, two-run first inning, but recovered to roll through the second and third innings on 28 total pitches (including a pair of strikeouts and three groundouts), and, at that point, you harbored some hope that he would be able to roll about 7-8 innings deep with just 2-3 runs allowed. Instead, he was dinged for at least one run in each of innings 4-6, and by the time his afternoon was through, he had incurred some pretty serious damage.
So, in addition to this being the third time in Holland's last starts where he allowed at least six earned runs, this start bears the ignominious distinction of being Holland's worst appearance in any game from a win probability standpoint (-.464 WPA) in his major league career, and stands out as his fourth consecutive start where he allowed multiple home runs. I also find myself somewhat disturbed by the faulty processes that led to yesterday's two long balls -- the first was clobbered by Jeff Francoeur (who may be the only everyday player in baseball this year worse than Michael Young) on a 93 mph heater right down the pipe, and the second came on a hanging 1-1 breaking ball to Brayan Pena that vaulted the Royals from a 5-4 deficit into a 6-5 lead.
Jason Cole and I engaged in a little back-and-forth discussion on Holland, and he mentioned that Holland really needs to have that steady 94-95 mph 'oomph' on his fastball to mask his secondary-pitch deficiencies; as it is, Holland averaged a little less than 93 mph with his heater yesterday and maxed out at just 94.4 mph, which becomes a bit more alarming when you consider that (a) he averaged 94.4 mph (or better) with regularity on his fastball late last year, (b) the Royals' Pitch f/x setup seems to run a bit hot, meaning that Kauffman Stadium may have actually been generous as far as his velocity was concerned, and (c) his command seems to dangerously ebb and flow more often from one inning (or batter) to the next this season than it did last season.
I don't think you pull the plug on Holland at this point in time and, say, swap him out for Roy Oswalt -- who's mired in his own weird situation right now -- or Martin Perez, but if the post-season started tomorrow, I don't think Holland makes the top-four cut. There's a huge window of opportunity available for him to right the ship and springboard himself right back into the middle of that conversation, and I think he deserves that opportunity on the basis of what he's done in the past (and, also, the fact that the other options aren't necessarily superior), but that all speaks to another troubling reality of Holland's current performance: he's not reliable right now. I don't feel like I can trust him to deliver right now. He's still very much capable of spinning a great start on you, but ... gugh. I just don't know. I wish he would pitch better.
● Speaking of Oswalt, I ... well, actually, I said just about everything that I have to say on Oswalt last night. Hopefully, he was telling the truth when he said he just couldn't go anymore, and he's amenable to filling that long-relief role in the bullpen, and this ends up being just one great big overblown blip on the radar. If not, then the days are numbered until he is moved out of Texas and/or launched into the sun. It's times like these that you wish you could administer a dose of sodium pentothal to a higher-ranking Rangers official and find out what everyone really thinks about Oswalt, the driving organizational forces behind that signing, and the setbacks that he has encountered of late.
I'd especially love to know what Nolan Ryan really thinks of how this entire Oswalt melodrama has played out over the last few months, and whether he now harbors any regrets about the Rangers signing him.
● Aside from Holland's WPA-murdering struggles, this was just a very strange, out-of-kilter game from an execution standpoint, with a list of follies and questionable decisions that included (but probably wasn't wasn't limited to):
(1) Elvis Andrus attempting to score from first base on a Michael Young double with nobody out in the top of the seventh inning, and summarily being cut down at home plate when he blew through Dave Anderson's stop sign at third base, which was particularly frustrating given that Andrus represented the go-ahead run in what was then a 6-6 game (and also in that we were still all excited about his two-run triple that capped a five-run rally in the fourth inning);
(2) The ninth-inning squeeze play chaos (more on that in a second);
(3) Robbie Ross being summoned into the game in relief of Roy Oswalt in the bottom of the ninth inning (nothing questionable here, aside from perhaps Oswalt's level of desire), and then very nearly losing the game right there by issuing two walks (which, for those of you keeping score at home, means he has walked two batters in two of his three appearances this month, after having done so only once during the previous four months of the season);
(4) A squandered 10th-inning opportunity to retake the lead after the Rangers' failure to do so in the ninth inning, as a first-and-second, no-out game state was followed by a David Murphy pop out, a Mike Napoli walk to load the bases, a Mitch Moreland line out, and an inning-ending Mike Olt strikeout on a 3-2 fastball;
(5) Michael Kirkman, rather than Joe Nathan, pitching in the bottom of the 10th inning with the game still knotted at 6-6, which seemed to be a continuing function of the dugout just flat-out refusing to use Nathan in a tie game on the road (hopefully the club's adherence to that idea loosens up a bit come the post-season);
(6) Kirkman issuing a lead-off walk, and then getting screwed over twice by his defense without recording an out, as Alberto Gonzalez -- who had been inserted into the game as an injury substitute for Andrus -- booted what should have been a rally-extinguishing 6-4-3 double play, and as Mike Olt -- who was making his first major league start at third base -- sailed a running, cross-body throw towards second base into right field on the very next play, which finally put the Texas fan base out of its misery. The Rangers are a good team, and the Royals aren't such a good team, but this was a textbook case of how basic mistakes in execution can level the playing field very quickly.
● And, finally, let's dive into the most contentious moment of the game, that being Ron Washington's decision to put on a squeeze play with the game still tied at 6-6 in the top of the ninth inning. Mike Olt drew a lead-off walk to open the frame, ended up making it to second base safely on a botched hit-and-run when Salvador Perez's throw scooted into center field (an accurate throw would have nailed Olt by a mile), and then advanced to third base with relative ease. The game state transitioned into a runner-on-third, no-out situation with a 2-1 hitter's count on Andrus, and then the squeeze attempt ensued, albeit with disastrous, facepalm-inducing consequences:
Two big things that I think were going through Washington's mind when he called for the squeeze: (1) the squeeze play had paid dividends in the past, as 13 of the Rangers' 15 squeeze attempts from 2010-present successfully scored the runner from third base, and (2) he had the most experienced bunter on the team at the plate, and he was up with a hitter's count that should have lent itself to Andrus getting a pitch out over the plate that he can work with. Instead, Greg Holland missed low and away with a diving slider, Andrus failed to get the bat on the ball, and Olt, who was going from third on the pitch, ran right into a trap at home plate. What an awful, terrible play to watch unfold.
To be clear, I didn't like that no-outs squeeze call from a risk/reward standpoint, because you're gambling a lot on Elvis getting a pitch that he can actually do something with, and if something goes awry, well, you're screwed (as we saw happen). Then again, the alternative isn't foolproof either -- yeah, you have Andrus at the plate with a hitter's count, but if he doesn't deliver, you're relying on Michael Young or Josh Hamilton to drive Olt home, and the fact that Washington pulled the trigger on that squeeze attempt with his 1-2-3 hitters up seemed to reflect not just Washington's lacking confidence in the top of his batting order to produce a hit, but also his lacking confidence as far as their ability just to drive a medium-deep ball into the outfield.
After the game, Andrus said that he did everything within his power to get the bat on the ball, and Washington demurred, saying that Andrus basically didn't try hard enough: "It’s a squeeze play. You go down with your legs and do whatever you have to to make contact. I know it’s a bad pitch, but you’ve got to get to the ball any way you can. ... The situation was perfect. We’ve got the go-ahead run at third and the guy who can really handle the bat at the plate. I wanted that run. It didn’t work out. We’ve been pretty successful with them; we finally didn’t get one." The animated evidence is there for you to judge for yourself, and here's a related poll on the matter. I can't understand how Washington believes Andrus should have made contact on that, but, well, that's why I started a poll. Have you ever thought about it?