Derek Holland started this season with a minor league contract and a spring training invite. With a rotation that was expected to feature Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija at the front end, Holland was maybe going to be the fifth starter, at best. But the best-laid plans of managers and GM’s often go awry. Now Holland leads the team in innings pitched in 2018, followed by Andrew Suárez, Ty Blach and Chris Stratton, with Bumgarner coming in a distant fourth.
Holland struggled with injuries during the later years of his time with the Texas Rangers. A knee surgery sidelined him for much of the 2014 season, then strain and inflammation in his left shoulder caused him to miss quite a bit of time in the 2015 and 2016 seasons as well.
He signed with the Chicago White Sox for the 2017 season, but wasn’t anywhere near as effective as he’s been with the Giants. In roughly the same amount of games started and innings pitched, he gave up about twice as many earned runs, walks and home runs in Chicago as he has this year with fewer strikeouts - which is not ideal.
He was released in early September of last year before he signed a minor league contract with San Francisco and was offered a spring training invite. He chose the Giants because they presented him the possibility of either starting or pitching in relief.
Indeed, though it was likely he would make the team during spring training, it was never clear whether he would be in the rotation or serve as a long reliever. But after it was announced that Bumgarner and Samardzija would be starting the season on the disabled list, Holland found himself in the rotation almost by default. Which has kind of been a theme for him this year.
In a rotation that has oftentimes resembled a revolving door, Holland has been the constant that the Giants have desperately needed this year. Forget having a dominant rotation, it has often felt like the Giants are lucky to be able to even field a pitcher at times, due to the amount of injuries and rough starts that have sent the likes of Blach and Stratton to the bullpen or back to Sacramento.
Despite getting off to a rough start on the season, where he was averaging three-to-four earned runs per game, Holland quickly mellowed out, with 23 earned runs in 71 innings pitched for an ERA of 2.91 since the beginning of June. This includes a brief stint in the bullpen in early July before he was needed once again to fill a hole in the rotation when Samardzija went back on the disabled list.
Coming to San Francisco has done wonders for Holland, who credits both the ballpark and pitching coach Curt Young with his 2018 turnaround. Coming to San Francisco has also been good for his family, specifically two of his uncles who are lifelong Giants fans and were reported to have had a tough time deciding their rooting interests in 2010 when Holland faced the Giants as a Ranger in the World Series. They were delighted to have him join their team, and they aren’t the only ones.
Holland became a fan favorite early in the season thanks to his impressions, humorous post game t-shirts, water jug walk-off celebrations and his camaraderie with his teammates; including his oiled up wrestling promos with Hunter Pence to try to help get Brandon Belt into the All Star Game.
In a season that has has tried the patience of fans looking for cromulent baseball and/or entertainment value, Holland has provided both as well as being the lone source of consistency in the pitching staff. He has truly been one of the few highlights of a season that seems at times to have been doomed before it even started.