New York Yankees: Identifying why star closer Clay Holmes has been struggling lately

Alexander Wilson
yankees, Clay Holmes

The New York Yankees have lost eight of their last nine games, indicating they’ve hit a wall after a dominant start to the 2022 season. However, several individual players are experiencing a lull after the All-Star break, notably closer Clay Holmes.

In fact, in Holmes’s last five appearances, he’s blown three saves, hurting his team tremendously as they look to scratch their way out of a tough stretch.

Holmes started off the season in elite form, recording a 0.84 ERA in April over 10.2 innings, 0.00 ERA over 14 innings in May, 0.75 ERA in June, and then in July, things begin to deteriorate.

When looking at Holmes’s advanced analytics, his pitch usage hasn’t changed significantly. The only notable difference is a drop in sinker usage from 90.2% to 82.9% from July to August. However, Clay was already struggling in July, so this isn’t a clear indication of regression.

Identifying Clay Holmes’s biggest struggles:

If there’s any specific number to harp on, it is Holmes’s first pitch strike percentage.

In the month of May, Holmes recorded a 70.2% first-pitch strike rate, but that number dropped significantly in June to 51%. In July, it landed at 37.5%, meaning batters are simply taking more pitches against him or he’s having a hard time locating the strike zone. To start August, his F-strike percentage still hovers at 42.1%, well below his 70% when he was at the top of his game.

Now that we’ve properly identified one of his biggest flaws over the past two months, we can assume that he’s simply going through a cold streak, losing the strike zone a bit. However, opposing batters are being far more disciplined when facing the star closer, after a dominant start to the season where he saw batters swing aimlessly at pitches outside the strike zone.

In May, he generated a 43.8% swing rate on pitches outside the strike zone. Fast forward to July, and only 23.9% of swings are on pitches outside the strike zone. Either he’s not getting enough break on his sinker, or batters are simply taking more pitches to force him to work harder and throw strikes.

The Yankees should give Clay a few days to recuperate:

There may not be an easy way around solving this issue, but being aggressive seemed to help boost his production earlier in the season. It is possible that a few days off via a phantom injury list spell could do him well moving forward.

With Aroldis Chapman finally hitting his stride and showcasing great efficiency over his past eight appearances, the Yankees can afford to give Holmes a few rest days. In fact, Chapman has allowed three hits and zero earned runs in the last 5.0 innings, a.k.a. the month of August. He’s lowered his ERA to 4.13 after dealing with Achilles tendinitis that knocked him out for several weeks.

The Yankees are trying to find different ways to give their impact players rest, and with Holmes struggling, throwing him into high-leverage situations may not be a great move until he can build some confidence and change up his pitch strategy.