Clay Holmes providing nostalgic dominance in Yankees’ closer role

Clay Holmes Yankees
New York Yankees pitcher Clay Holmes delivers against the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, May 4, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Mariano Rivera left probably the biggest shoes in Yankees franchise history to fill. Parents told their children about Mariano Rivera’s outings. Pitchers of all levels study his mechanics like it’s scripture in hopes of replicating his results. Hitters knew the exact pitch that he was going to throw, and there was nothing they could do about it.

Rarely did Mo give anyone the opportunity to get the better of him, because his outs came and went like clockwork. It plays into the “Yankee fans are spoiled” stereotype because they got used to his “ol’ reliable” cutter.

It has been over a decade since he hung up the pinstripes with many others trying and failing to fill that void, the Aroldis Chapmans and Andrew Millers of the world.

Enter Clay Holmes, the new-school Yankees’ closer. He has not allowed a run in 16 appearances (16.1 innings pitched) this season. Over a third of his outs have been strikeouts and the the majority of the rest come from weak-contact ground balls.

It wasn’t always like that. While Holmes was still a reliable bullpen piece since he was traded for in 2021, he wasn’t as precise and reliable as his famed predecessor. In 2022, his All-Star year with the Yankees, he had 20 saves but also five blown saves.

Last season was a mixed bag as well: 24 saves but three blown saves and four losses tagged on him.

In the middle of August in Miami, Holmes loaded the bases before he committed a fielding error to let two runs score. Then he let up a triple to let up two more cross the plate. Exactly one week later and nearly a year after letting the Boston Red Sox walk him off in 2022, he allowed them to do the same thing in 2023 but at home: a single, a walk, a ground out, and a double to score in the one-run decision.

The 2023 season was so up and down that Michael King was the closer preferred over Holmes until the starting rotation fell through and King was plugged in there.

Holmes effectively got the closer job back by default until a rare playoff-less season ended.

In spring training heading toward 2024, the task was clear: Erase the mistakes of the past. Cement what’s good, adjust what’s not, and come back to 161st as the shut-it-down closer of the New York Yankees.

He’s done as much, slamming the door with 11 saves in five and a half weeks of baseball. He’s shown his sinker more to left-handed hitters than righties, but it’s by far his bread-and-butter pitch. It moves over two feet, dropping a whopping 24.9
inches according to Baseball Savant, and it’s not even Holmes’ pitch that generates the highest whiff percentage. That title goes to his sweeper, something he’s just thrown 27 times, a privilege for righties only. In accordance, his whiff percentage
has gone up from 26.2% to 28.6% between last year and this year, meaning he’s gotten that much crisper.

His average fastball speed crept up from 96 to 96.3 mph, so if he needs to turn on the heater, he can.

For more on Clay Holmes and the Yankees, visit AMNY.com