Do the Yankees finally have their shutdown closer?

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles, clay holmes
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees have had a promising start to the 2024 season despite some inconsistencies in their offense. A key factor in their performance has been the stability provided by their closer, 31-year-old Clay Holmes, who has excelled in his role early in the year.

Clay Holmes’ Impressive Start With the Yankees

Holmes is in his final year of arbitration, set to become a free agent in 2025, and his performance this season could significantly increase his value on the open market.

Currently earning $6 million, Holmes has maintained a perfect 0.00 ERA over 15 innings pitched. His impressive statistics include a 1.60 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), a 9.60 strikeouts per nine innings rate, an 81.3% left-on-base rate, and a 71.4% ground ball rate.

MLB: New York Yankees at Kansas City Royals
Sep 30, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Clay Holmes (35) pitches during the ninth inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past two years, Holmes has been a critical asset for the Yankees, but this season could be his best yet. He ranks in the 99th percentile in both walk and ground ball rates, with an expected ERA (xERA) of 2.47. While he has benefitted from some fortunate situations to maintain his flawless ERA, even an ERA close to his xERA would be highly satisfactory for the Yankees.

Holmes’ Pitch Arsenal and Impact

Holmes’ effectiveness is largely due to his diverse pitching arsenal, consisting of a sinker, slider, and sweeper. His sinker, thrown at an average speed of 96.3 mph, has allowed a .297 batting average this year. In contrast, his slider has been untouchable, with opposing batters hitting .000 and a 52.6% whiff rate alongside a 30% put-away rate.

The sweeper, used less frequently at 12.1%, has also proven effective, securing four strikeouts from just 24 pitches. The contrast between his slider’s vertical movement and the sweeper’s horizontal movement creates a challenging dynamic for hitters, enhancing Holmes’ effectiveness. His sinker and sweeper both generate significantly more movement than average, contributing to his success.

Since the era of Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees have been in search of a reliable closer. This season, Holmes is emerging as a dominant force in the bullpen, echoing the team’s knack for discovering undervalued talent in relief roles, as evidenced by Holmes and Ian Hamilton.

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