SAN FRANCISCO — For much of his first season in orange and black, Derek Holland was known for what he was doing off the field. His use of an Alhambra water jug became a staple in the early walk-off celebrations, and his outings usually were punctuated by an odd postgame T-shirt.
There was a downside to all that, too. The Giants left-hander got in hot water for a racially insensitive skit in August and apologized multiple times.
All of that distracted a bit from what Holland actually was doing on the mound. He was one of the most consistent starters in the National League, resurrecting his career while working with Curt Young, Matt Herges, Buster Posey and Nick Hundley. Holland changed his pitch mix and moved his position on the rubber, and that has him back on the game’s radar one year after he was let go by the lowly White Sox.
Here are the highs and lows of Holland’s first season in San Francisco …
What Went Right
Holland ended up making 36 appearances because he swung to the bullpen a few times, posting a 3.57 ERA that was 15th in the National League. He led the Giants in innings (171 1/3) and also ranked 15th in the NL with 169 strikeouts. Holland’s ERA improved 2.63 runs from 2017 to 2018, the second-largest increase in the majors behind only Anibal Sanchez of the Braves.
For Holland, the first key was health, and once he had that he was able to make constant adjustments. When he was moved back into the rotation on July 25, he posted a 2.97 ERA the rest of the way. He allowed two or fewer runs 10 times in an 11-start stretch late in the summer and was just as strong out of the bullpen. In six relief appearances, Holland had a 1.86 ERA and piled up the strikeouts.
Whether in the bullpen or starting, Holland was absolutely dominant against lefties, holding them to a .440 OPS and no homers in 143 at-bats.
What Went Wrong
The flip side of that last stat is the trouble with some righties. They had a .262/.331/.467 slash line against Holland, and if he’s back in the NL West next season, he might see some different lineups. As good as Holland was in the second half, he struggled to get going early on. He had a 4.36 ERA in 17 starts through July 1 and was moved to the bullpen because Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija were returning.
And look, an MLB Network appearance with the team’s Japanese massage therapist went off the rails and was a bad moment for the Giants at a time when they were desperately trying to stay in the race and were coming off a brutal series in Cincinnati. Holland moved past it, but it definitely stuck with a percentage of the fan base.
Holland came in as a non-roster invitee and won a job. He made $2 million, a big-time steal for the Giants.
Over and over again in the second half, in formal and informal settings, Holland said he wants to come back to San Francisco. He even would have strongly considered coming back had the Giants traded him before the August 31 waiver deadline, which they should have.
It’ll be interesting to see what Holland's market looks like. He showed enough on the field in 2018 and has a strong enough history as a starting pitcher that he can rightfully ask for a two- or three-year deal, and as a 32-year-old with a history of getting hurt, he should cash out. It's possible a contender elsewhere jumps on him early in free agency.
For the Giants, a two-year deal could make a lot of sense. There’s uncertainty about Jeff Samardzija, Madison Bumgarner can be a free agent in 11 months, and there isn’t a lot of young pitching depth behind Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez. Holland proved willing to take on any role, and at the right price, he could be a valuable piece regardless of which direction the team goes in 2019.