In my opinion, slight changes in mechanics and movement can always tell the story of a player’s ups and downs throughout the course of a season. There is a reason why players go through ebbs and flows. Movement translates into success or failure. For pitchers, the fine details behind the way and direction in which they release the ball are enough to tell the difference between balls and strikes.
Proprioception (the ability to feel one’s body in space) is a significant indicator of whether a pitch can make adjustments on the fly or not. Sometimes, your body restricts your ability to make those adjustments, and sometimes, it’s their brain (it also can be both). Both affect proprioception. In the case of first-half sensation Clay Holmes, it was clear that he had some sort of limitation in the way of feeling where his hand was in space. When you’re dependent on the forces of seam-shifted wake, like Holmes is, these slight differences have an even greater effect on where the ball ends up.
Let’s try and reason through how these changes in release point affected Holmes’ outcomes on the field. We will do it via some data and video.
As many fans know, Holmes’ breakout in pinstripes is largely attributed to his sudden ability to consistently throw the ball in the strike zone. His sinker movement was already unique. All he had to do was find the zone in some way, shape, or form. His success would come and go along with his control.
Well then. That’s a pretty steep drop off! How in the world does this happen to a pitcher?
It’s impossible to explain for sure, but perhaps there is some efficacy in the idea that Holmes’ back was ailing him and he didn’t really realize it till it was slightly more severe, or intense enough to warrant a break. Usually, a dropping release point is a decent predictor of future injury. Luckily for the All-Star reliever, it wasn’t in the severe version like it is for other pitchers.
It’s weird to see that Holmes was pushing the ball as much as he was in August. One of his greatest skills is his ability to stay behind the baseball and maintain a great angle with his torso to pair with his release.
In July, all of that went away. Holmes was standing almost completely upright. That tracks well with back pain or stiffness. If you can’t get any bend, your torso will stay too upright, and that’s not good for a pitcher like Holmes, who needs to a certain seam orientation (finger positioning) on the ball to keep his wicked moving sinker in the strike zone.
There’s something about this pitch (and the ones in recent weeks) that are ever so slightly different from the sinkers in July. It’s the difference in mechanics that produce a lower release point. In the clip against Joey Votto, he falls over his lead leg block too soon, and in the clip against Ryan O’Hearn, he doesn’t even allow his lead leg to block before he starts rotating his spine. Against Andrew Velazquez, his lead leg pushes force into the ground, sending energy back up his kinetic chain, resulting in a strong posture and a higher arm slot. That’s the crux. The difference in strength and timing of the lead block changes the release point and hand position.
Thanks to Holmes getting his release point closer to where it was in the beginning and middle of the year, the right-hander has had a few much improved outings. Seeing him induce a groundball against Mike Trout was one of those at-bats just makes you feel way better about where he stands. Holmes’ performance in the first half had a calming effect on the Yankees pitching staff. If they can get anything close to that performance, it’s one less area to worry about come postseason time.