In the wake of the struggles of the Yankees bullpen early in the year, Clay Holmes, a 6-foot-5 sinker-balling relief pitcher came to the rescue. Not only did he come to the rescue, but he became the most dominant force out of the bullpen around the league for some months. He posted some incredible stats and performed at his highest level in some very difficult situations. But the question remains, will Clay Holmes be the Yankees’ closer in 2023?
For years, the shutdown guy for the Yankees was Aroldis Chapman in late-game scenarios, but he has since fallen from grace. Over the last few seasons, he has struggled to not only get batters out, but even stay on the roster.
Now for Chapman, there is a major possibility that he will never put a Yankees uniform on again due to off-the-field issues that he found himself in. Essentially what this means is that there’s an open spot in the bullpen now and Holmes is hungry for it.
The Best Around
In the first half of the 2022 season, Holmes performed at a level that no other relief pitcher in the league was pitching at. He went on an extensive scoreless innings streak that lasted the better part of two months (29 IP). Essentially no one could touch him as he continued to mow batters down with his sharp breaking sinker and curve ball.
He was doing all of this while Aroldis Chapman was struggling to get batters out consistently. While Holmes was eviscerating basically every batter that stood in front of him, manager Aaron Boone still remained confident in Chapman’s place as the official closer.
This decision continued to leave fans up in arms for a good part of the season, but Holmes never let it faze him and he continued to focus on his game.
Pitching Through Struggles
While his first half of the season proved to be one of the best we’ve ever seen, he found himself in some struggles after the All-Star break. This time period was when essentially the entire Yankees team broke down and went from the most dominant team in baseball, to being one of the worst.
There was a point in this problem period that some were worried if his early season dominance was all a fluke. He started giving up runs a pace that he never exhibited before. His command faltered, along with the effectiveness of his pitches.
There was a period of time down the stretch where he gave up at least one run in four straight appearances. Keep in mind, he didn’t give up that many runs throughout the entire first half, which is why people began to worry.
However, he bounced back quite nicely when the Yankees entered the postseason as he didn’t give up a single run. With the offensive struggles the majority of the lineup had, it was important for the pitching staff to step up, and Holmes was at the top of that list. He essentially turned back into the version of himself that pitched in the first half, and fans couldn’t have been happier.
So What’s Going to Happen?
The most likely answer is that Boone will focus on using Holmes as their primary closer. He was used a decent amount of time as the closing pitcher in 2022 as he racked up 20 saves. While the Yankees have a pretty effective bullpen going into the 2023 season, Holmes has performed at the highest level out of all of them.
It will be important for Holmes to perform well, but his “stuff” is there. He can get strikeouts it big spots, and get ground balls. He is essentially exactly the type of pitcher that belongs in the closer spot: someone who can get outs.
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Featured image courtesy of Mike Stobe / Getty Images
Statistics courtesy of baseball-reference.com
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