The reaction to the Yankees’ July 26, 2021 trade with the Pirates was not a particularly positive one. There weren’t any particularly big names moved, but many Yankees fans still didn’t love it.
In the deal, the Yankees’ sent two minor leaguers who had been putting up very nice hitting numbers last year, Diego Castillo and Hoy Park, for reliever Clay Holmes. Park had even been good enough to get a brief call up to the majors, and had made his debut a couple days before the deal. Meanwhile, Holmes had put up a career ERA over five in the 100+ innings he had thrown over the previous couple years. With the Yankees’ offense especially anemic in 2021, moving some solid MILB hitters for a seemingly mediocre reliver looked like the last thing the team needed to do.
However, despite his numbers, Holmes’ “stuff” got great reviews. At least in 2021, those raving about him appeared to be correct.
2021 Stats: Total - 70 IP, 3.60 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 1.17 WHIP, 10.03 K/9, 3.73 BB/9, 0.64 HR/9, 1.1 fWAR
With Yankees - 28 IP, 1.61 ERA, 2.10 FIP, 0.79 WHIP, 10.93 K/9, 1.29 BB/9, 0.64 HR/9, 0.9 fWAR
2022 FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections: 60 IP, 3.96 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 1.40 WHIP, 9.89 K/9, 4.73 BB/9, 0.89 HR/9, 0.3 fWAR
Upon arriving with the Yankees, Holmes did a complete 180. He allowed just eight runs (five earned) in 28 innings. With the Yankees’ rotation dealing with injuries and often being unable to pitch deep into games, the bullpen was stagnating, and Holmes revived it in a big way. He provided invaluable contributions as the Yankees eventually got into the playoffs, after looking dead in the water at points of the season.
Just quickly glancing at his stats, the big major change that helped propel Holmes was the huge drop in walks after coming to New York. That had been a major problem for him throughout his Pirates’ career, walking 6.3 batter per nine innings in his four seasons in Pittsburgh. The 5.4 BB/9 that he had in 2021 prior to the trade was actually a pretty big improvement from previous seasons, and proceeded to walk just four batters in 28 innings in pinstripes.
Holmes was likely able to accomplish this with a pretty noticeable difference in his pitch usage. His sinker has been his most used pitch for pretty much all of his career, but he used it even more after the trade:
He also greatly reduced the amount he threw his curveball, and even eliminated it by September. Looking at the numbers hitters put up against those various pitches, it’s not hard to see why that was a good move.
If you break it down by month, you can further see how effective of an out pitcher Holmes’ sinker became as the season went along.
After getting a “really, this guy?” reaction after the trade, Holmes became a genuine bullpen weapon for the Yankees by the end of the season. Of course, the big questions is: can he continue that into 2022?
The projections for Holmes this coming season paint him to be a solid reliever in ‘22, but not the lights-out one he was down the stretch. It should be noted that those projections have to take into account that he was not great for the majority of his career, and has only been genuinely good for his 28 innings as a Yankee. Plus, relief pitching can be fickle. If he does regress, he would be far from the first reliever to have a stretch of elite results, only to fall back to earth.
On the other hand, as mentioned, Holmes did make some adjustments after coming to the Yankees. The Pirates’ pitching coaching hasn’t had the best reputation in recent year, while Matt Blake and the Yankees have had some pretty good successes. It makes sense that he improved after coming over.
Clay Holmes might not end up putting up another sub-2.00 ERA if he gets a full season of work, but there’s plenty of reasons to hope that he’ll be a very good pitcher for the Yankees again in 2022.