You wouldn’t know it by all of the articles in May calling for Holmes’ head, but the Yankees’ closer had another solid season at the back of the bullpen. After giving up seven earned runs through his first 10 innings, he pitched to a 2.21 ERA across 53 frames the rest of the way, ultimately joining Michael King and Wandy Peralta as the only Yankees with back-to-back sub-3.00 ERA seasons in 2022 and ‘23 (min. 50 IP). Now entering his final season of team control, Holmes will certainly be motivated to build on the past two years' success.
2023 Statistics: 66 games, 63 IP, 2.86 ERA, 2.65 FIP, 2.97 xFIP, 10.14 K/9, 3.29 BB/9, 1.5 fWAR
2024 Contract Status: Arbitration eligible
While Holmes enjoyed a breakout season in 2022, one of the chief complaints about that performance was his inconsistency. In the first half, he looked otherworldly, pitching to a 1.31 ERA and 2.00 FIP over 41.1 innings, a stretch that included a franchise-record 29 straight scoreless appearances. However, in the second half, he battled injuries and his walk rate soared from 5.5 to 11.3 percent, bumping his ERA and FIP up to 4.84 and 4.41, respectively.
This year, some of that wildness remained early on, as his walk rate was still bloated at 10.1 percent in the first half. While everyone was questioning Holmes in May, I wrote about how he was struggling with the feel for his sinker, something he mentioned as contributing to his second-half struggles in 2022. Ultimately, he was able to locate it down to a similar extent in both seasons (the first image is 2023, the second is '22):
As he made up for his early-season struggles with control by spotting the sinker more accurately, his walk rate dropped to seven percent in the second half, and he upped the usage of the sinker from 65.5 to 74.3 percent. This improved control contributed to a better second half than in 2022, as he pitched to a 3.71 ERA and 3.44 FIP, but it still left something to be desired.
That’s probably because while his ability to rein in some of the career-high movement that he had on the sinker in the first half of this year (lopping off 1.2 inches of run and 1.4 of drop) helped with his control, it led to fewer whiffs: in the second half, he notched swings and misses on the pitch 5.6 percent of the time compared to 8.8 in the early going. Additionally, the sinker always generated far fewer swings and misses than his sliders, each of which notched whiffs at least 19.4 percent of the time on the season. Per run value, they were markedly better than the sinker in the second half, but perhaps Holmes needed to throw his sinker more often to ensure a consistent release point.
There’s certainly a balance to be struck between maximizing a pitcher’s movement and maximizing their ability to locate (much less, maximizing the potential of one pitch at the expense of others). Holmes has yet to nail down that balance for an entire season, although it’s entirely possible fatigue contributed to his diminished effectiveness in the second half this year as well.
Next year will be an interesting test for him; it will be his third campaign with this repertoire (sinker/slider/sweeper), and so it will provide another point of comparison for evaluating his first-half/second-half splits. If he can continue to lessen the gap between his early-season results and his end-of-year ones, then he might be worth signing to an extension. Otherwise, especially if the Yankees are on the outside looking in at the playoff race again, they might have to capitalize on a good first half and trade him at the deadline.