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On Game 4 Of The World Series

Pitcher consistency is a funny thing. It's funny because, as much as people like to talk about it, it's very poorly understood. For example, we don't even know if pitcher consistency is a good thing. There are suggestions out there - statistical arguments too smart for me to argue with - that, all things being equal, it's better to have an inconsistent pitcher than a consistent one.

Of course, we don't even know if pitcher consistency exists. Obviously some pitchers are statistically more consistent than others over a year, but we don't know if that's noise, or if pitchers have varying true talent levels of consistency. What makes the analysis so difficult is that much of it is based on results, and results are but an indirect measure of pitcher performance. A pitcher can throw the exact same game with the exact same sequencing and get very different results, and so we're kind of stuck at a point where we can't say for sure whether or not this guy is more consistent than this other guy.

But here's one thing we can say: over the course of the 2011 regular season, based on his results, Derek Holland was a very inconsistent pitcher. He may not be an inconsistent pitcher, but he was an inconsistent pitcher, or at least he seemed like one based on the hitters' performances. Holland was so famously inconsistent that it's become a part of his identity. You just never know what you'll get from this kid.

Sometimes it can be hard to properly understand somebody else's inconsistent player. A.J. Burnett, for example, is probably the player most well-known for being inconsistent, but because he's never played for the Mariners and because I've never watched a bunch of his starts, I don't really get what it's like. You might not get what the Derek Holland experience has been like. But, conveniently, we have an easy comparison.

Derek Holland started 32 games during the season, and threw 198 innings. Jason Vargas started 32 games, and threw 201 innings. Holland had six starts in which he posted a Game Score over 70. Vargas had six starts in which he posted a Game Score over 70. Holland had seven starts in which he posted a Game Score under 30. Vargas had seven starts in which he posted a Game Score under 30. Holland allowed zero or one runs 11 times. Vargas allowed zero or one runs 12 times. Holland allowed five or more runs ten times. Vargas allowed five or more runs 12 times.

You know how inconsistent Jason Vargas felt? That's how inconsistent Derek Holland felt. Holland, of course, is known for his four complete-game shutouts. Vargas threw three complete-game shutouts, and had another scoreless nine-inning performance that wound up going to extras. Those were the great games, and both guys also had clunkers.

Whether or not there's anything predictive there, I don't know. I don't know if the fact that Holland and Vargas had wildly up-and-down 2011 seasons will mean anything come 2012. But I know what it means psychologically - start to start, you really just don't know what you're going to get. We could never feel certain of anything with Vargas, and Rangers fans could never feel certain of anything with Holland.

So imagine how it must have felt to be a Rangers fan prior to this game, with Derek Holland's boom-or-bust left arm set to get the baseball with his team behind 2-1. Holland had been bad in the playoffs and he had a chance of putting the Rangers way behind early, but he also had a chance of completely shutting the Cardinals down and singlehandedly lifting his team to a tie. It seems to me like that would add some extra anxiety, although maybe it just gets lost in all the general anxiety of watching your team in the World Series. I wouldn't know.*

* >:(

And then Holland went out and did what he did. Tonight, in Game 4 against the Cardinals, Derek Holland turned in one of the best starts in World Series history, where by "one of the best" I don't mean top-5, but more like top-30 or 40 or 50. Maybe that sounds less impressive, but there have been a lot of World Series games. Holland was superb. Obviously, there's the zero runs in 8⅓ innings. Obviously, there's the seven strikeouts and the two walks, the second of which came in the top of the ninth with an elevated pitch count. I think what I find most incredible is the batted ball distribution. Against Holland, the Cardinals hit three balls to the outfield. One of them was a grounder up the middle.

This was the St. Louis Cardinals. The St. Louis Cardinals, with a DH. The team that had scored 16 runs the night before. Holland opened the door just wide enough for the Cardinals to think he was inviting them in, then he slammed the door in their faces.

This was a spectacular start from a guy who isn't a spectacular starter, but who could become one one day. While Vargas and Holland were similarly inconsistent during the year, it's obvious that Holland has the stuff to reach another level. On one hand, it's real frustrating when a guy with that stuff has inconsistent success, but on the other, when you have a guy with that stuff, inconsistency is tolerable, as it's a part of his development.

There's no guarantee that it ever clicks for Derek Holland. It just dawned on me how appropriate it was that Holland's opponent was Edwin Jackson, and that Jackson struggled. Jackson these days is better than a lot of people give him credit for, but he's not what he could be. He's not what people thought he would be, once. He's still a guy with good stuff and inconsistent success.

But boy did it ever click for Derek Holland tonight. While you can't ever count on anything from Holland before a game starts, he sure can leave you feeling amazed when it's over.


I got a late start with this and it's, oh my, two o'clock! so here are some super-fast bullet holes:

  • Reagins: Right, I have potatoes on the list. Anything else?
    Wife: How do you feel about kale?
    Reagins: What for?
    Wife: I saw this recipe for chips that sounds interesting.
    Reagins: Kale chips, you mean? I don't -
    Reagins: Hold on, got a call on the other line.
    Reagins: /switches
    Reagins: Hello?
    Caller: hahahaaaaaaaaaa
    Reagins: /switches back
    Reagins: Sorry about that.
    Wife: Who called?
    Reagins: Napoli homered again.

  • At one point very early in the game, FOX flashed an Allen Craig stat graphic, showing that he'd batted 7-for-22 against lefties since September 18th. Batting 7-for-22 is good for a .318 average. Craig posted a .313 average against lefties over the whole year. Even worse, Craig is 5-for-19 against lefties since September 19th. That was one shitty graphic.

  • Tweeted Jon Morosi after Edwin Jackson issued his seventh walk:

    Eventually, these walks are going to hurt the Cardinals. You just can't win a World Series game like this.

    In 2005, White Sox pitchers walked 12 Astros batters (albeit in 14 innings) in Game 3 of the World Series, and Chicago still won. There have been three instances that a team won in the World Series despite issuing nine walks. Five instances with eight walks. Fourteen instances with seven walks. I get what Morosi was saying and obviously the walks were bad, but I wish people wouldn't deal in absolutes. Absolutes are for coroners.

  • When Derek Holland was removed in the top of the ninth, one source had him at 116 pitches. Another source had him at 118 pitches. Yet another source had him at 119 pitches. This happens more often than you might think. It is completely inexcusable.

  • Here's how good Albert Pujols was yesterday: so far, Pujols has gone hitless in three of four games in the World Series. His World Series OPS is 1.264.