When the Yankees traded for Clay Holmes last year, many in the fanbase were outraged. While this was not necessarily because of Holmes himself — most of the anger was directed towards the team’s decision to trade Hoy Park, who had been raking in Triple-A — his 4.93 ERA in 44 games with the Pirates didn’t help matters. And yet suddenly, much like Wandy Peralta before him, Holmes found himself in pinstripes, turning in a 1.61 ERA in 28 innings the rest of the way. Powered by a massive drop in walks (from 5.4 to 1.3 BB/9), the right-hander became a reliable weapon in the middle innings.
2022 Statistics: 62 games, 63.2 IP, 7-4 W-L, 20 saves, 2.54 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 9.2 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.1 fWAR, 1.3 bWAR
2023 Contract Status: Second year of arbitration
What is a B+? To many teachers, a B+ is a solid grade, indicating that a student has met expectations on a given body of work, and depending on where exactly the school sets the baseline, it may even be indicative of slightly exceeding expectations. In today’s era of grade inflation, however, a B+ to many students represents a poor grade, a sign that you did not do well on a particular assessment or in a particular class.
While the dynamics behind this difference in perspective is a conversation for both another day and another platform, the duality of the B+ is, I think, rather appropriate for Clay Holmes this season. If I travelled back in time to March and told myself that Holmes would finish the season with a 2.84 ERA, post a 7-4 record, and record 20 saves, I would sign up for that in a heartbeat, thankful that the Yankees finally replaced Aroldis Chapman as closer and found stability in the back end of the bullpen. In fact, I’d even have predicted that his final grade in this report card series would be an A. We grade on a curve here at Pinstripe Alley, at least to some extent, and while Holmes’ breakout in 2021 was nice, to see a full season of it in 2022 would have been incredible.
And yet, today, that B+ grade feels right, because Holmes himself opened the season by raising those expectations. Back on Opening Day, Holmes gave up one run on three hits in two-thirds of an inning. Another run would not be recorded on his ledger until Manuel Margot tapped a ball to the pitcher that scored Francisco Mejia on June 20th.
Over that stretch, Holmes was arguably the best relief pitcher in baseball. His 1.1 fWAR ranked fourth among relievers with at least 20 or more innings in that span, behind Michael King, A.J. Minter, and Ryan Helsley. His 1.58 FIP ranked sixth, his 26.8 K-BB% 16th. Most importantly, he left 100 percent of inherited runners on base, courtesy of a staggering 82.2 percent groundball rate. Out of 73 batted balls, only one was a barrel. And he did this by leaning on the sinker, a pitch he threw a staggering 82.2 percent of the time over the course of the season (only Tim Mayza threw it more).
Armed with his groundball inducing weapon, Clay Holmes turned the ninth inning into game over, giving the Yankees a sense of late-game security that they had not felt since...well, since Mariano Rivera trotted out to the mound with his bat-breaking cutter for the last time in 2013.
From this day until the end of the year, however, Holmes returned to being the pitcher he was in Pittsburgh. He allowed 20 runs (17 earned) in 31.2 innings of work, posting a 4.83 ERA (4.09 FIP). His walk rate skyrocketed to 11.9 percent, giving him a 10.5 K-BB%. He hit six batters, more than twice as many as he did in the first half of the season. While some of this is certainly due to injuries — he did miss two weeks in August due to a back issue and missed the last week of the season with a shoulder sprain — part of it was just simple ineffectiveness.
A historically dominant first half and a subpar second half. Where does that leave Holmes? Going forward, at this point in time, it’s clear the Yankees envision him returning to not quite his first half self, but still a top-flight reliever we saw in the postseason. With that future outlook in mind, a B+ for his 2022 performance looks right on the money for me.