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Jonathan Holder is at a career crossroads with the Yankees

Holder will need to bounce back from an injury-riddled 2019 season to cement a future in the Yankees’ bullpen

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

There are few Yankees players who have more at stake this season than Jonathan Holder. The 26-year-old right-hander enters his fourth MLB season with a mixed bag of results in his past and an uncertain future in the Yankees bullpen. Holder owns a 7-6 record and a 4.30 ERA over 155.0 career innings, but his ERA spiked to 6.31 in 34 games in 2019 before he was shut down with a shoulder injury in August. Even with the departure of Dellin Betances, the Yankees have plenty of bullpen depth in their organization, so now it’s up to Holder to prove he can replicate – or improve upon – the 3.14 ERA he registered in 60 games back in 2018.

Holder would probably feel pretty good about his job security on most MLB teams. He’s a young pitcher with two productive seasons under his belt, set to be paid a team-friendly $750,000 this season. However, the Yankees already have five relief pitchers who can be considered locks for the Opening Day roster, barring injuries. Assuming the Yankees decide to carry eight relief pitchers, that leaves Holder in competition for the final three spots with Jordan Montgomery, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, Deivi Garcia, and anyone else who impresses in camp. Domingo German will also likely return from suspension in June, further cluttering the pitching staff.

The Yankees still have reason to be optimistic about Holder’s future. Even as he struggled with shoulder injuries last season, Holder posted a 10.02 K/9 and a 2.40 BB/9, both improvements from the year prior. He also didn’t experience any significant dips in velocity. The biggest problem Holder faced in 2019 is that he stopped generating weak contact at a high rate. Holder ranked in the top 6% of MLB in 2018 with a 28.6% hard hit rate against him. A look at Holder’s Statcast metrics shows that he left too many breaking balls out over the plate in 2019, and his hard hit rate went up to a career worst 34.2% as a result.

When Holder struggled last season he was sent down to the minor leagues, using up his final minor league option and leaving the Yankees with less flexibility moving forward. If the Yankees are impressed with the performance of pitchers like Garcia, Mike King, or even Albert Abreu this spring, they might feel comfortable trading Holder while he still has some value and freeing up space on the 40-man roster. The acquisition of Gerrit Cole has also dampened Holder’s chances of sticking in New York for the long term. Holder had some success in the opener role when called upon last season, but the Yankees are far less likely to utilize that strategy with the depth Cole brings to the pitching staff.

If Holder can put his shoulder inflammation behind him, he could bounce back in a similar fashion to Tommy Kahnle last season, providing some stability in the middle innings for the Yankees. However, he has much less margin for error with young relief pitchers nipping at his heels and no minor league options left to play with. Holder will be coming to spring training with a lot to prove and his future is as uncertain as anyone on the Yankees’ roster.