Yankees have a problem bubbling at the closer spot

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees, clay holmes
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees entered the 2024 season with one of the best rosters in baseball, assuming their bullpen would once again be elite. To open the year, the Bombers couldn’t do anything wrong, but fast-forward to early July; they’re plummeting down the standings ahead of the All-Star break, desperately needing reinforcements by the trade deadline.

Closer Concerns: Clay Holmes Under Pressure

The season is long, and the Yankees have plenty of time to turn things around, but they have another issue bubbling to the surface: closer. On Friday night against the Boston Red Sox, Clay Holmes blew his fifth save of the season, giving up a two-run homer to Masataka Yoshida, tying the game in the ninth inning and forcing the Bombers to try to win it in extra innings.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

“They made him work even when he was retiring hitters,” manager Aaron Boone said, “and spoiling, spoiling, spoiling.” 

On the season, the 31-year-old hosts a 3.00 ERA, his highest since 2021, when he was acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Over 36 innings, he’s striking out 9.25 batters per nine, logging a 71.4% left-on-base rate and 67.6% ground ball rate. Holmes still has fantastic stuff, but sometimes his pitches can be volatile and lack accuracy. The Red Sox fought him off on Friday, and one pitch was all it took to deliver a home run.

“I felt like the pitches were there and I was executing,” said Holmes, who blew his fifth save of the year. “They did a good job of just fouling pitches off — pitches I thought were pretty good pitches. 

Evaluating Holmes’ Effectiveness and Future Role

The question the Yankees have to ask themselves is if Holmes can be trusted as a top-flight closer when the postseason rolls around. He still ranks in the 86th percentile in expected ERA sits at 2.96, and the 88th percentile in fastball velocity is at 96.4 mph on average. Opposing hitters have been hitting his sinker, enjoying a .337 batting average against compared to a .260 average last season.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees
Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

With his fastball losing a bit of life, including 1.2 inches less vertical movement compared to last season and a bit less horizontal movement as well, it is evident that his sinker might not be getting the proper action it needs to create deviation.

Trade Deadline Decisions Looming for the Yankees

The Yankees need him to turn things around, or Brian Cashman needs to be proactive in solving the problem at the trade deadline this month. Either way, the Yanks are floundering in pretty much every area except the outfield, where Juan Soto and Aaron Judge are keeping them respectable.

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