Courtesy of

Key to Derek Holland finding his footing in 2020: His sinker

The Pirates recently signed journeyman lefty Derek Holland to a minor league contract, adding another contender for the team's fifth starter slot or a long-relief option in the bullpen.

Holland was a perfectly serviceable starter as recently as 2018, when he posted an adjusted ERA that was six percent better than the overall MLB average in 171.1 innings pitched for the Giants. 2019 was a trainwreck, though. The 33-year-old was pummeled while splitting the season between the Giants and the Cubs, with an adjusted ERA that was 30 percent worse than average. Holland's low-90s sinker was the main culprit. He threw the pitch in the zone less often (54.7 percent of the time in '18, 50.9 percent in '19, according to Fangraphs) and got fewer chases on sinkers thrown off the plate (33.3 percent outside swing rate in '18, 28.2 percent in '19). In 2018, batters hit a home run 9.7 percent of the time that they hit a fly ball off Holland's sinker. Last year, that rate nearly doubled (17.2 percent). Holland's sinker was +0.9 runs better than the MLB average per 100 pitches thrown in 2018, but -0.55 runs worse last season. He relies heavily on that pitch (30 percent of the time), so Holland has to re-discover his sinker lest it sink his career.

A hitting Riddle: Continuing an offseason-long theme, the Pirates signed another position player who excels defensively and gets the bat knocked out of his hands. JT Riddle has been superb while playing shortstop, posting +13 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in what amounts to about a season's worth of MLB playing time at the spot. DRS measures how many runs a player saves or costs his team compared to an average defender at his position, while accounting for range, turning double plays, throwing arm and errors. He also got some playing time in center field last year with the Marlins and graded out as average defensively. The hitting, though, has been brutal. In more than 700 career plate appearances in the majors, Riddle has a park and league-adjusted On-Base-Plus Slugging Percentage that's 43 percent below the MLB average. Among the 320 players with at least 700 PAs over the past three years, Riddle has the 11th-worst adjusted batting line in the game. He and Luke Maile might become the best of friends in Bradenton.

• Catcher’s got a gun: Controlling the running game might not be as important as it once was, given the high-powered nature of today’s game and the league-wide decline in stolen base attempts (teams averaged just 0.47 per game last season, the lowest rate since 1971). But Jacob Stallings excels in this space, too. Stallings threw out 40 percent of base runners attempting a steal in 2019, well above the 26 percent MLB average. And when you consider the arm strength that he possesses, it’s not surprising. At his best, Stallings unleashed his throws to second or third base at about 86 mph, according to MLB Statcast. Statcast measures catcher arm strength by looking at "max effort" throws, or the top ten percent (in terms of velocity) that a catcher fired to nab a runner. That ranked seventh-highest among all qualified MLB catchers. From stealing extra strikes with pitch framing, to preventing passed balls, to vanquishing base runners, Stallings is an asset behind the plate.

To continue reading, log into your account: