In the minors, Derek Holland ascended from a 25th-round draft-and-follow selection to primo prospect on the basis of a fastball that jumped up to the mid-to-high 90s range. That velocity wasn't really present in 2009 and 2010, when the lefty sat at 92-93 mph, and he began 2011 in the same territory. But the man they call Dutch Oven, who takes on the Tigers this afternoon in Game 2 of the ALCS, has gained speed on his heater all season. Holland has responded by becoming one of the most fastball-centric pitchers in the game.
In April, Holland averaged 93 mph with his fastball and used the pitch a little over 56 percent of the time. Since then, both his fastball velocity and usage have progressively ticked upward:
Holland's fastball velocity and usage by month:
May: 93.6 mph, 65.3% pitch usage
June: 93.9 mph, 64.1% pitch usage
July: 94.3 mph, 64.1% pitch usage
August: 94.9 mph, 69.4% pitch usage
September: 94.8 mph, 70.2% pitch usage
With his fastball sitting near 95 over the last two months of the season (highest among AL starters over that time frame), Holland struck out a batter per inning in 59 frames. His fastball was particularly nasty in September, when he got hitters to miss 27 percent of the time that they swung at the pitch (the MLB average is 15-16 percent). Holland also shifted his fastball location late in the season, preferring to challenge hitters in the upper part of the strike zone:
His fastball isn't sitting as high in the zone, but Holland has taken that fastball-heavy approach into the playoffs. He threw the pitch nearly three-quarters of the time in two ALDS appearances vs. the Rays (one start), sitting at 95 mph and maxing out at a little over 98 mph.
The 25-year-old, who celebrated his birthday yesterday, might only be able to grow what can charitably be described as a playoff caterpillar on his upper lip () But that won't matter a bit as long as the Dutch Oven keeps cooking with gas.