Yankees have a big closer problem ahead of the playoffs

Alexander Wilson
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

With the playoffs quickly approaching, the New York Yankees still have a few problems to iron out. The team is seemingly getting healthier, preparing to return both Harrison Bader and DJ LeMahieu this week, providing essential defensive value and offensive contributions.

However, there is one position that has become a bit of a liability over the past few weeks, which is surprising, given how strong it’s been all season. The specific spot is closer, a role that has been dominated by Clay Holmes this year but has seen a steep drop off in effectiveness the past few weeks.

The 29-year-old pitcher was acquired last year by the Yankees from the Pittsburgh Pirates, putting together a 1.61 ERA over 28 innings. So far this season, he features an impressive 2.55 ERA, 2.88 xFIP, and 9.45 strikeouts per 9 over 60 innings. However, his latest performances have been inefficient, procuring a bit of caution ahead of the postseason.

In the month of September, Holmes features a 4.00 ERA, giving up four earned runs over 9.0 innings. However, Holmes has given up an earned run in three of his last four outings, a rarity given how dominant he’s been this season.

Clay is still generating ground balls at a solid clip, but he’s walking a significant amount of batters compared to the past. He’s walked three batters in his last two games, which is simply unusual given his performance this season.

Are the Yankees messing with Clay Holmes’s pitch usage?

It is possible that general fatigue is setting in, but we’ve also seen a significant change in pitch sequence. Primarily, he features a sinker/slider combination, but since July, he’s experienced a steep decrease in sinker usage and a massive increase in slider.

Specifically, his sinker has dropped from 90.2% usage in July to 63.8%. His slider increased from 9.8% to 36.2%. It is possible the Yankees are simply trying to work some things out before the playoffs when they revert back to his normal numbers.

However, it is quite interesting to see the massive change and how his stats have reflected the adjustments. Interestingly, he’s seen a sizeable increase in velocity with his sinker, elevating it from 97 mph in August to 97.7 mph in September.

Maybe the Yankees are trying to ramp things up. The spin rate on his stinker has also increased, but all of his other metrics including whiff rate and put-away rate have decreased.

By the looks of it, pitching coach Matt Blake is trying to figure something out, asking Holmes to make some changes along the way. I wouldn’t be overly concerned about the closer spot just yet, especially since Holmes’s velocity remains solid, which generally works against the presumption of fatigue.

However, if he continues to struggle, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wandy Peralta feature in high-leverage situations more frequently come the playoffs.

It will be an interesting decision to see what the Yankees ultimately do if Holmes finishes the year on a down note.