Last Updated on October 19, 2023 at 9:57 am by Michael Bennington
When all were exasperated to see the Yankees’ pitcher amassing an ERA of 4.11 in mid-May, the legendary closer kept his belief in Clay Holmes and predicted his return similar to what he did. Indeed, Rivera’s assessment proved accurate. In the midst of one of the most underwhelming and inconsistent periods for the New York Yankees, Clay Holmes delivered a remarkably solid performance.
Throughout his 66 appearances, Clay Holmes maintained an impressive 2.86 Earned Run Average (ERA) while notching 24 saves. His contributions were further highlighted by a formidable 1.5 wins above replacement (fWAR), which ranked as the highest on the Yankees and the 13th-best among all MLB relievers. Additionally, his 2.65 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) stood as the 10th-best among relievers with a minimum of 50 innings pitched.
Mo was right about Clay Holmes
It was May 13, 2023. Just hours before the Yankees played the Rays at Yankee Stadium, Rivera stood on the field during pregame ceremonies. Though decades removed from his playing days, Rivera’s presence still evoked vivid memories of his legendary career in pinstripes – both the highs and lows.
By then, Clay Holmes had amassed a 4.11 Earned Run Average (ERA) in his initial 17 appearances, marking a rather underwhelming beginning following his inaugural All-Star appearance in 2022. When asked about the pitcher, Rivera told The Athletic that every time Holmes hit rough patches this season, it noticeably dragged down the whole team’s confidence, much like when Rivera himself used to hit rare bumps in the road. But the legend believed Clay Holmes has the ability to follow a similar path of ironing out those struggles and achieving consistent dominance, perhaps even exceeding Mo’s own standards.
Despite Clay Holmes’ occasional hiccups, Rivera expressed steadfast assurance in the young pitcher’s talent and mental makeup to progress and succeed. The iconic ex-closer backs him to push through difficult moments and thrive, just as Rivera did for so many years. His prophecy about Clay Holmes’ rise to stardom in pinstripes turned out to be true.
The game against the Rays saw Clay Holmes playing a pivotal role in the Yankees’ thrilling 9-8 win. He came in and delivered 1 2/3 huge innings to bridge the gap to Wandy Peralta, who closed it out for the save. The right-hander struck out three Rays batters while allowing three hits during his stint. He faced some drama in the seventh when Randy Arozarena’s broken-bat single up the middle brought home two runs to cut the Yankees’ lead. But Clay Holmes composed himself and worked around it, firing a scoreless eighth to help lock down the victory.
Subsequently, his ability to grind through high-leverage situations has proven vital for the New York Yankees. Throughout his 66 appearances, Clay Holmes maintained an impressive 2.86 Earned Run Average (ERA) while notching 24 saves. His contributions were further highlighted by a formidable 1.5 wins above replacement (fWAR), which ranked as the highest on the Yankees and the 13th-best among all MLB relievers. Additionally, his 2.65 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) stood as the 10th-best among relievers with a minimum of 50 innings pitched.
Hard work behind the success
Clay Holmes attributed his breakout success in 2022 as instrumental in his preparation for the subsequent season. He mentioned that the experience had been a valuable learning opportunity for him. The pitcher added that it had undoubtedly bolstered his confidence. Furthermore, he reflected on the important lesson that emerged from the experience, emphasizing the significance of trusting one’s abilities, regardless of the quality of their performance.
Clay Holmes’ success has introduced an element of uncertainty into his future. While manager Aaron Boone requires a performance similar to him to bolster the team’s chances of making a comeback in 2024, the possibility of Holmes becoming an enticing trade asset looms. It’s worth noting that Clay Holmes is set to become a free agent after the upcoming season, and according to the projections by MLB Trade Rumors’ Matt Swartz, he could potentially command a salary of $6 million in his final year of salary arbitration.
Given the consistent demand from various teams during most offseasons for high-caliber back-of-the-bullpen pitchers, the Yankees might be tempted to consider trading Clay Holmes to address other roster needs. However, such a move would result in the Yankees parting ways with the groundball specialist they’ve heavily relied on in the past two seasons.
Clay Holmes credited his successful season to two key factors: improved command and enhanced utilization of his two slider variations. At the core of his pitching arsenal is a 96 mph sinker, a pitch that contributed to his impressive 65.5 percent groundball rate during the season, ranking him third-best in the majors. He explained that he had honed his ability to command the sinker effectively, particularly when facing left-handed batters. This improvement allowed Clay Holmes to deliver a more compact and precise slider when pitching to southpaw hitters, a departure from the more conventional slider he employs against right-handed batters.
The adjustments he made yielded positive results. In 2023, left-handed batters managed only a .560 OPS in 114 plate appearances against Clay Holmes, a significant improvement from the .692 OPS they posted in 107 plate appearances in the previous year. The pitcher acknowledged the valuable contributions of pitching coach Matt Blake, assistant pitching coach Desi Druschel, and bullpen coach Mike Harkey to his development.
Clay Holmes explained that the improved command to the glove side had created an opportunity for a slider against left-handed batters. The pitcher emphasized the significance of gaining confidence and trust in this aspect of his pitching. He noted that by effectively deploying the slider alongside his inside sinker, it added complexity for left-handed batters. Moreover, Clay Holmes believed that using both the slider and a larger slider against right-handed batters contributed to generating swing-and-miss outcomes, whether it happened early in the count or when he had the sinker at his disposal to induce chase swings. He considered these adjustments to be highly beneficial to his performance.
In the current season, Holmes notably avoided being placed on the injured list, marking the first time he remained injury-free since 2018.
Clay Holmes, acquired by the Yankees through a trade with the Pirates in 2021, believed that he had improved significantly throughout the current season in handling this pressure effectively. He expressed his personal goal of finishing the season on a stronger note than how it had initially begun, and he felt content with the way he was concluding the season, perceiving it as a positive outcome.
The pitcher took particular satisfaction in resolving the challenges he faced after a sluggish beginning, thus affirming the accuracy of Rivera’s earlier assessment.
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