Yankees have their closer locked in for 2023

yankees, Clay Holmes

The New York Yankees lost several bullpen arms this off-season, notably Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton. Chapman has been the team’s closer for years, but coming off a disappointing 2022 season, he will hand over the reins permanently to another flame-throwing relief pitcher.

Clay Holmes, who finished the 2022 season with a 2.54 ERA, will claim the job as his own. Holmes was electrifying for the first half of the season before hitting a few speed bumps, sustaining an injury that clearly impact his fundamentals and efficiency.

Management is clearly favoring him as their primary closer heading into 2023. The 29-year-old enjoyed a 2.90 xFIP, 9.19 strikeouts per nine, a 74.4% left-on-base rate, and a 75.8% ground ball rate across 63.2 innings.

Incredibly, during the 2021 season, he hosted a 4.93 ERA with the Pittsburgh Pirates but a 1.61 ERA with the Yankees after being traded.

Brian Cashman made it evident that Holmes is their top closer but also mentioned that he wouldn’t stray away from making a move in free agency if an opportunity presented itself. For now, it doesn’t seem as if they are investing big in the position, but they may look to acquire another bullpen arm to bolster the unit.

“I feel really good about Clay Holmes being our closer, but it doesn’t preclude us from entertaining any outside players via trade or free agency, if it makes us better,” Cashman said. “I’ve done that before. At the time [of the Chapman trade], there was no perceived need for a closer. There was an opportunity that presented itself, so we’re always open-minded.”

The Yankees found a gem in Clay Holmes:

Holmes utilizes a primary sinker/slider combination. He threw his sinker at 80.1% last season and his slider at 19.8%. Interestingly, he saw his slider increase in usage toward the second half of the year but tossed his sinker about 20% more compared to the 2021 season. It generated a .200 batting average against with a 26.3% whiff rate and 22.7% putaway rate. It averaged 97 mph. His slider produced a .174 batting average with a 43% whiff rate and a 31.8% putaway rate. Incredibly, his slider generates 124% more horizontal movement than the average pitcher, and his sinker 21% more vertical movement.

His Steamer projections have him earning a 3.14 ERA next season across 64 innings. Clearly, he has found his groove with the Yankees and is considered one of the top high-leverage arms, but they will need to manage his workload to maintain its production during the playoffs, which is a lesson they learned this past season.

Players like Jonathan Loáisiga will take on significant roles, but an injury to his shoulder early in the 2021 season forced management to rely more on Holmes than they would’ve liked. Expect those two to flip-flop as the team’s primary closer, helping to mitigate fatigue down the stretch.

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