The Yankees have rediscovered their star closer

clay holmes, yankees
Jun 10, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka (66) and relief pitcher Clay Holmes (35) celebrate after defeating the Boston Red Sox 3-1 at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees kicked off the 2023 campaign aiming to recapture the exemplary performance they witnessed from Clay Holmes in 2022.

With a 2.54 ERA, a 2.90 xFIP, a 74.4% left-on-base rate, and a ground ball rate of 75.8%, Holmes had one of the best seasons among the league’s bullpen pitchers.

Early Struggles in the Season

Holmes began the year struggling, surrendering two earned runs in his opening appearance and four runs within the first month. He started May by giving up a combined total of three earned runs over two games. However, since then, his performance has been nothing short of exceptional.

Clay Holmes’ Lights Out Performance

After his heroic performance on Tuesday night, helping the Yankees out of a bases-loaded predicament, Holmes now boasts a 2.48 ERA with eight saves and 36 strikeouts over 29 innings pitched.

At 30 years old, Holmes is generating significant velocity and movement on his pitches, placing in the 100th percentile for barrel rate and the 79th percentile for whiff rate.

Analyzing Holmes’ Pitching Strategy

Holmes has used his sinker 66.2% of the season, complemented by a slider at 23.9% and a sweeper at 10%. His sinker usage has decreased by nearly 14% compared to last year, but it’s still yielding a .243 average against with a 26% put-away rate. His slider, on the other hand, has been absolutely lethal, registering a .136 batting average with a 45% whiff rate and a 27.5% put-away rate.

Interestingly, Holmes’ slider generates 19% more vertical movement than the average pitcher’s, while his sinker produces 26% more vertical and 8% more horizontal movement.

Utilizing a tunnel concept, it’s challenging for opposing batters to predict if a sinker or slider is coming out of his hand, as the vertical movement on his breaking pitch only occurs halfway to the strike zone.

Resurgence as the Yankees’ Closer

Early in the year, Holmes’ struggles prompted the Yankees to consider alternative options for their closer. But Holmes has seized the position with aplomb and has shown no signs of letting go. He has conceded just one earned run in his last 19 appearances, demonstrating that he’s at the top of his game. Holmes hasn’t allowed a hit with over 90 mph in exit velocity in his last six games.

During his electrifying performance on Tuesday, Holmes threw 16 pitches, including 10 sinkers and six sliders, topping out at 98.2 mph. Out of these 16 pitches, only six made contact with a bat, but none were hit into fair play. Holmes even struck out Francisco Lindor and Starling Marte with the bases loaded, two of the league’s most reliable hitters.

Final Thoughts: Holmes’ Return to Form

Based on his recent performances, it’s safe to say that Clay is undoubtedly back, providing the Yankees with the standout closer they sorely needed earlier in the season. By recapturing Holmes’ elite form, the Yankees have injected further excellence into their bullpen.

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