In a room full of professional athletes, Jonathan Holder and Adam Warren don’t exactly stand out. Even in a room of normal people they might still blend in. The pair of Yankees right-handers are two of the most average looking pitchers in Major League Baseball, yet their results so far have been anything but.
Amidst the hot start of the Yankees’ offense, less focus has been placed on the team’s elite bullpen. Even when discussed, most of the attention is placed on the late inning triumvirate of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Tyler Clippard. Even with strong starts from all three, Holder and Warren have quietly been just as good. They’re also arguably just as important to the team’s success.
The five aforementioned pitchers are the Yankees’ top relievers by average leverage index. They have compiled a league-best 1.44 ERA and 33% strikeout rate. By any measure they have been elite. We’ve come to expect dominant numbers from Chapman and Betances, but few predicted this level of success from the bullpen as a whole.
By this point, most Yankees fans are familiar with what Warren brings to the table. After a brief audition in 2012, Warren was a fixture in the bullpen in 2013 and 2014, before splitting time between starting and relieving in 2015. Prior to the 2016 season, Warren was traded to the Cubs in a deal for Starlin Castro. He didn’t have much success in Chicago, and later came back to the Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman trade.
While Warren’s career Yankees ERA sits at a strong 3.23, he has taken it to a completely new level this year. He has allowed only one earned run over 17.2 innings, good for a 0.51 ERA. While his this will certainly regress, Warren’s improvement is backed by the underlying numbers.
Now settled as a full-time reliever, Warren’s career-high strikeout rate of 29.2% is supported by an improved 12.1% swinging-strike rate. Although he features a similar repertoire, Warren is missing more bats in and out of the zone, and his 21.5 K-BB% puts him in elite territory. In 2017, Warren has gone from a reliable innings-eater to a real weapon at Joe Girardi’s disposal.
With the influx of young talent in the Yankee organization last year, it would have been easy to ignore a minor league reliever like Holder. Yet, to little fanfare, he was quite possibly the most dominant pitcher in all of the minor leagues. The numbers are simply staggering.
In 20.1 innings at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Holder struck out 51.5% of the batters he faced and walked exactly zero. He didn’t even need fielders. Overall, he ran a strikeout rate of 42%, posted an ERA of 1.65, and basically demolished anyone in his path. Before the season FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen ranked Holder as the Yankees #17 prospect, projecting him as a setup man with three above average pitches.
So far in 2017, all three pitches have shown up. Holder features a low-90’s fastball, a high-80’s cutter/slider, and a mid-70’s curveball, all of which have yielded strong results. Holder currently sports a 2.08 ERA with a 25% strikeout rate and just a 3.6% walk rate. He’s shown the ability to miss bats and command all three of his pitches. There are no red flags that suggest his early success is a fluke.
The Yankees went into 2017 hoping Warren and Holder could soak up innings, yet they both have already established them as serious high-leverage weapons. Both have shown a negligible platoon split and the versatility to throw multiple innings at a time. That makes them useful to Girardi in almost any situation. Both pitchers have flown under the radar, but if they keep up their performance, Warren and Holder will be crucial parts of the Yankees’ playoff push.
Data courtesy of FanGraphs.