The New York Yankees are preparing to make a big strategy shift at the closer spot. With veteran pitcher Aroldis Chapman struggling this year, manager Aaron Boone has been forced into making a difficult decision.
Chapman currently hosts a 2.63 ERA and 9.88 strikeouts per nine. However, in the month of May, Chapman has a 6.75 ERA and has given up four earned runs and nine hits over 5.1 innings. He started out April with far more success, giving up two hits in 8.1 innings of action. His velocity has completely fallen off, nearly blowing several games.
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Chapman’s velocity is down:
Looking at his fastball, Chapman is only reaching 97.2 mph on average, well down from 98.5 mph in 2021. His slider has also seen a sizable decrease in velocity. Chapman is known for his flame-throwing style, and if he doesn’t have control of his fastball, he’s prone to hanging sliders over the middle of the plate.
That is why Boone has shifted over to Clay Holmes as their closer in recent days. We should expect to see him far more often in that role to help stifle opponents in the 9th inning.
“I want him in big spots, especially against some of the best right-handed hitters in this game, and I still got Chappy down there who is an elite closer and other guys that we have confidence on a given day can go out there and close out a game,” Boone said after Saturday’s win. “No, I’m not permanently doing anything. This is just a case of today.”
While Boone suggests that it’s not a permanent thing, teams mostly feature right-handed hitters, which would suggest that Holmes could be utilized more frequently in a closing role.
“He’s been special, probably as good a reliever as there has been in the league I would think to this point,” Boone said of Holmes. “I can’t imagine [anyone] being any better.”
How great has Clay Holmes looked for the Yankees this year?
On the season, he hosts a 0.42 ERA over 21.2 innings pitched. His 93.8% left on base rate is the best in his career, and is generating ground balls on 83.3% of contact.
The Yankees have completely turned Holmes’s career around after struggling in Pittsburgh. Essentially, they’ve asked him only to throw his sinker and slider. Pitching coach Matt Blake has completely axed his curveball. He’s utilizing his sinker at 80% and slider at 20%. His velocity hovers at 96.3 mph on average with his FB, but the movement it creates is the most dangerous variable.
He’s able to throw pitches at the same spot that curate insane movement, leaving batters looking embarrassed after each strikeout. In fact, hitters are swinging at pitches outside the strike zone 7% more than last year.
One of the biggest strategy changes has been Holmes’s aggressiveness on the mound. His first-pitch strike percentage has elevated to 68%, the highest in his career by a large margin. He’s not wasting time getting after batters, putting them on their toes, and mixing in his slider to keep them honest.
If Chapman continues to struggle at this rate, Boone won’t have a choice but to move Holmes into a permanent closer role, especially since he hasn’t given up a run in over 21 innings.