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Clay Holmes is simplifying and mystifying

The Yankees’ reliever has cut his repertoire to two pitches, and it’s working like a charm.

Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Following a July trade last year that sent Clay Holmes from Pittsburgh to the Bronx, the righty became a completely different animal on the mound. In his first three seasons with the Pirates, Holmes pitched 77.2 innings to the tune of a 5.91/5.06 ERA/FIP combo while walking nearly seven batters per nine innings. Even in the first half of last season, the pitcher wasn’t able to do much of note. But once Holmes arrived in the Bronx, he cut his troublesome walk rate all the way down to 3.9 percent and maintained an impressive 2.10 FIP. This year, the Yankees’ reliever has been one of the more eye-opening players on the roster thus far. Holmes is simplifying his pitch repertoire, only using his sinker and slider to this point, but is also maximizing those pitches, making him look like a legitimate weapon out of the bullpen.

Between 2018 and 2019, Clay Holmes had generally been a three or four pitch pitcher, relying mostly on his sinker, then his curveball, a slider, and an occasional four-seam fastball. So far this season, Holmes has only thrown two pitches, his sinker and his slider 85.6 and 14.4 percent of the time, respectively.

Evidently, this new approach is working. In the short time Holmes has been on the hill in 2022, he has surrendered just one run and two walks, and struck out eight over 7.2 innings. This performance has also notably looked impressive as well. This is likely due in large part to a jump in his horizontal movement from both of the pitches, as well as his ability to maintain his velocity increase from last season.

This boost is especially beneficial when considering that sinkers and sliders break in different directions, and Holmes’ weapons do this authoritatively. When you have two dangerous pitches, which can move significantly to each side of the plate, that would seemingly lead to some useful deception for the pitcher.

Making Vladimir Guerrero Jr. look silly is no small task, but the aforementioned combination seems to have done the trick. In a logical sense it adds up too, significant differences in the end location of a pitch would indeed lead to some poor decisions in the batter’s box. The right-hander is also doing an effective job of working those pitches away from each other, keeping the sinker mostly to the third base side of the plate, and his slider to the other. This command over his two sweeping pitches would only help increase that level of deception and success.

One good indicator of this progression from Holmes would be the significant increase in his chase rate. In 2021 hitters chased Holmes’ pitches at a 22.3 percent clip, ranking in the third percentile in baseball. This year that percentage has jumped to 38.6 percent, good for 96th percentile. This is a good thing, as chasing outside the zone typically leads to swings and misses, or weak contact, two things every pitcher likes.

The favorable contact has also been showing for Holmes so far, as he’s rocking an 85 percent ground ball rate, something that will obviously stabilize itself, but it’s what you want from a sinker-heavy pitcher such as Holmes. To go along with that, the right-hander has yet to give up a barrel to opposing hitters, pointing once again to the idea that this mix may be working effectively.

All of this, of course, has come over the course of a handful of innings, and much is subject to change. However, it is certainly encouraging to see the ideas behind Holmes’ changes be strongly supported by the numbers. The bullpen looked to be a key strength for this Yankees team coming into 2022, and it appears Clay Holmes may fit right in with the group of dangerous arms Aaron Boone is able to call on.