The Yankees are preparing a change of the guard at closer

yankees, Clay Holmes
Sep 11, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees pitcher Clay Holmes (35) delivers a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays during the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Clay Holmes was an absolute revelation last season for the Yankees and burst onto the scene thanks to a remarkably dominant campaign. Even though he regressed a bit roughly midway through the year, he established himself as one of the best bullpen arms in baseball. Holmes relies heavily on his sinker and occasional slider he mixes in, and him having changed to that approach at the plate has seen him really tap into the dominance he’s always had in him. 

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Clay Holmes and the Yankees know what makes him special:

Holmes is currently penciled in as the Opening Day closer, and today he was able to take his first live BP sesh at camp. He induced a few ground balls and forced Judge to fly out to center on his patented sinker that he hurls in the high 90s. What makes him such a difficult pitcher to face is that he’s not looking to blow stuff past you high and inside. Instead, he’s trying to induce soft contact and grounders, as well as jam hitters in on the hands. 

The team agreed to contract terms to avoid arbitration, as Holmes will be making just $3.3 million this year for his services. That has been a theme this season with the bullpen arms, as there are countless guys who provide ample value. Holmes is another drop in the bucket in what should be a nasty bullpen all year long. Last season he posted a 2.54 ERA and 2.85 FIP, as well as giving up a minuscule 0.28 HR/9. He relied on getting the grounders more than ever, as indicated by his career-best 75.8% GB% — 7% higher than the previous season. 

His two-pitch mix is lethal and clearly has struck a chord with what works:

If he can even replicate the year he had last season, with a tad bit of regression, he’ll have another stellar campaign. There’s no denying how much the Yanks value their bullpen arms, as well as not spending a ton on them, and Holmes fits the bill. He hurled his sinker 80.1% of the time, with that slider clocking in at 19.8% of the time. Since he’s switched to that strictly two-pitch mix, thanks to the advice and guidance from Matt Blake, it has opened the floodgates for the rest of his career. 

I imagine Holmes will see the majority of save opportunities this season, even if the Yanks roll with more of a closer-by-committee type of setup. His stuff is so elite that it makes perfect sense to utilize him in the high-leverage moments or to close out games and seal the deal. He’s certainly not going to just regress beyond measure, and now he’s starting to become more of a household name.

This year will be a huge year for Holmes, as he could be playing for a contract to void those two years he may head to arbitration. The Yanks also have a flurry of other arms chopping at the bit, so Holmes knows he has to put his best foot forward. I expect nothing less than greatness from Clay and look for him to build on a fantastic breakout season.