Looking inside key for Holland, Fister

May, 18, 2013
5/18/13
11:27
PM ET

AP photo/Jae HongDerek Holland has been very sharp this season, with the help of a nifty slider.

Sunday's matchup between the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers features a pair of starting pitchers with a common bond.

Rangers starter Derek Holland and Tigers starter Doug Fister are the two pitchers who have been very successful at limiting opposing damage.

They also have pitched inside the most of any starters in the game this season. Holland has done so by significantly increasing the use of one of his primary pitches. Fister's attempts to pitch inside may have added a little bit of a fear factor to his game.

Let’s go further inside the pitching matchup and look at the stats that Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and John Kruk will be talking about on the Sunday Night Baseball telecast.

Holland
Holland enters the day 3-2 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. He is averaging 6.9 innings per start this season. Entering Saturday that ranked sixth-best in the American League.

In the early part of the season, Holland has limited the damage against him in two respects. He’s cut back on his walks (to 1.8 per nine innings), and he’s limited hard contact.

Opponents have recorded what our video-tracking service denotes as a “hard-hit ball” on 15 percent of the at-bats they’ve had against him this season. That’s down from his 21 percent rate in 2012. After allowing 32 home runs in 2012, he’s yielded just two in 2013.

You might be surprised to know that Holland is tied for the highest average velocity on his fastball among left-handed starting pitchers at 93.3 mph (same as now-injured David Price, and 0.8 mph faster than Clayton Kershaw).

But what’s worked for Holland most significantly this season has been the use of a slider as his finish pitch.

Holland is throwing his slider twice as often with two strikes in 2013 (44 percent of pitches) as he did in 2012. He’s struck out 37 hitters with that pitch this season, which was the most in the majors entering the weekend.

Holland has thrown 105 two-strike sliders, 62 percent of which have been "inside" (defined as over the inner-third of the plate, or off the inside corner). He pitches inside with that pitch more than anyone else in the sport.

Is it working? Consider this: Holland allowed 14 two-strike homers last season. He’s given up none in 2013.

As well as Holland as pitching, his numbers could be even better. His Fielding Independent Pitching (an ERA estimator tied to strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed) was 2.35, more than a half-point better than his ERA.

Matchup to watch:Torii Hunter was 6-for-his-first-29 against Holland, but has four hits in his last five at-bats against him. Hunter has become more of an opposite-field hitter during a stretch that started after last year’s All-Star Break. Holland has seen that. Three of Hunter’s last four hits against Holland have been to center or right field.

Fister
Much like Holland, Fister has excelled at limiting home runs allowed.

Since the start of the 2011 season, Tigers starter Doug Fister has been the toughest pitcher (among ERA qualifiers) to hit a home run against. Fister is allowing 0.57 home runs per nine innings and ranks among the best in the majors with a 1.30 ground-ball/fly-ball ratio. This season, Fister has allowed only one home run on the 67 balls hit in the air against him.

As noted, Fister has lived on and off the inside corner this year to an extreme level. He’s actually hit more batters (10) than he has walked (8). He has more hit batsmen than all of his teammates combined.

Fister has had an odd platoon split this season. Left-handed hitters are hitting .196 with a .507 OPS against him. Right-handed hitters are hitting .320 with a .768 OPS, atypical for Fister, against whom righties hit .246 with a .626 OPS from 2010 to 2012.

Fister’s success against lefties is partly attributable to lower-than-average batting averages on balls in play on both ground balls and line drives, and an ability to bounce back when he falls behind in the count.

Lefties are 6-for-43 with no extra-base hits after Fister falls behind in the count, 1-0 against them.

Working inside has also made a difference. Lefties have only three hits in the 21 at-bats against Fister that ended with a pitche over the inner-third of the plate, or off the inside corner.

Matchup to watch: Rangers outfielder David Murphy has hit four home runs against Fister, twice as many as anybody else. All four homers came against pitches that were up in the strike zone, as noted in the image below.

Michael Bonzagni also contributed to this post

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