The Yankees had a two-run lead heading into the ninth inning. Domingo Germán had shut out the Guardians until that point, but after getting Myles Straw to swing at a pitch outside of the zone to strikeout and allowing a hit to Steven Kwan, Aaron Boone emerged from the dugout. He briskly walked up to the mound and made a call to the bullpen for the closer Clay Holmes, much to the chagrin of the fans in attendance at Yankee Stadium, as he was greeted with plenty of boos walking to the hill.
Holmes threw a total of 10 pitches — all sinkers — and allowed three runners to cross the plate due to a multitude of events, including an error (that was awarded to him and inevitably discounted the two runs that would have been attributed to him) and two hard-hit singles off the bats of Jose Ramirez and Josh Naylor.
This series of events caused an enormous amount of backlash both in the stands and on the internet. When Boone was asked about the decision, he said this:
I asked Aaron Boone how much trust he has in Clay Holmes moving forward in high leverage situations. Here’s what he said: pic.twitter.com/3bIKwQdr9b— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) May 2, 2023
Anyone waiting for Boone to come out and say that he doesn’t trust Holmes is going to be waiting a long time. We know that he’s very loyal to his players, even when it might be to the detriment of the team. However, from both his words and his actions, Boone clearly believes that Holmes is a pitcher that can be consistently good in high-leverage systems. But is that really true?
Holmes has had plenty of ups and downs since July 2022. After an All-Star appearance due to his excellent play in the first half of the season, where he posted a 1.31 ERA, 1.96 BB/9, 27.0 K%, 0.87 WHIP, and 2.32 xFIP, he crumbled in an almost historic fashion. Everything from a numbers standpoint got demonstrably worse. His xFIP went to 3.98, while he struck out almost six percent fewer batters and walked six percent more. His K-BB% dropped from an astonishing 21.5 percent to 10.3 percent.
I could go on and on about the numbers from last season, but everyone knows that he was awful, plain and simple. And even though his numbers from the first half as a reliever in high-leverage situations are decent (fifth in FIP and xFIP, fourth BB/9 among 27 relievers with at least 12 innings pitched in 2022 first-half high-leverage situations), there are other numbers that support Holmes not being the guy Boone should go to when games are on the line.
The sample is still small in 2023, but in 2.1 innings pitched in high-leverage situations, Holmes has walked four batters while allowing four hits and four runs. A batter slash line of .333/.529/.417 and a wOBA of .439 isn't going to cut it. To put more salt in the wound in this limited sample size, he has a negative K-BB% along with a 7.25 FIP and 7.93 xFIP.
The Yankees, at this juncture, can’t wait around for Holmes to figure out his issues. Boone needs to understand that Holmes currently is not a pitcher that is doing a good job in high-leverage situations, and he hasn’t been for a while. Having relievers like Michael King, Ron Marinaccio, and Wandy Peralta is perfect, primarily because it doesn’t force the manager to make a decision with the bullpen that has a higher chance of causing a loss.
As much as I respect Boone for sticking by his players, there comes a time when the facts have to be faced. That time is now. The argument shouldn’t be that Holmes can’t be a decent pitcher — there’s evidence to suggest he can be. However, putting him in during the ninth inning with King and Peralta on the bench is poor managing. Not only does Holmes have to whip things into shape, but Boone also needs to change the way he approaches Holmes’ deployment.