A quick check on Clay Holmes numbers would tell you that he has been lights-out this year, with a 2.84 ERA, a 2.41 FIP, a 53.1 percent groundball rate, and 11.37 strikeouts per each nine innings in 25.1 frames. However, if you have followed the Yankees this season, you probably know that he has been inconsistent.
In fact, up until May 3, Holmes had a 6.30 ERA. Yet, his FIP until that day was a solid 2.98. He was bound for some positive regression, but more often than not, fans evaluate players for their performance and not by looking under the hood. And it’s fine for the most part: it’s what’s available to the sight.
Still, what Holmes has done since May 6th up to this point is nothing short of amazing. Over his last 15 games, he has allowed just one earned run over 15.1 innings, for a fine 0.59 ERA of 0.59. He also has a 2.04 FIP over that span, and a 7/20 BB/K ratio.
What’s behind the surge? Yes, positive regression is one of the answers. However, Holmes’ slider is also an important factor fueling his turnaround. The shape of the pitch is different than it was last season, and its usage patterns have also been different.
It’s important to remember that Holmes was cruising in the first half last year, with a 1.31 ERA. Then, he struggled mightily after the break with a 4.84 ERA. He probably spent a large portion of the offseason trying to improve and gain some consistency, so it must have been crushing for him to post that 6.30 ERA after a bit over a month of action to open the year.
It took a while, but Holmes is now looking like a reliable late-inning weapon again. Re-shaping his slider seems to have helped him take off.
The pitch now has more vertical break. As a result of this offering’s effectiveness, he is using more sliders and sweepers at the expense of his trademark sinker. He threw the latter more than 80 percent of the time last year and it is at 64.8 percent this season.
Holmes, per Baseball Savant, throws both a slider and a sweeper. The latter is a bit slower and has more horizontal break. The former, however, has developed into a deadly weapon with sudden, pronounced vertical break (drop).
This was Holmes’ slider last season:
And this is how it looks this year:
In his last 15 games, the proportion of sinkers Holmes throws compared to sliders and sweepers is now at 63-37. Both his old slider (45.2 percent whiff rate in 2022) and this year’s edition (46.8 percent) were swing and miss weapons, so why not use it more often?
Per Savant, he has decreased both his sweeper (13.2 percent to 10.8) and sinker (80.1 percent to 64.8) usage last year to up his slider usage from 6.6 to 23.9 percent. It makes perfect sense, and it’s paying off.
At one point last season, hitters knew that Holmes was likely throwing a sinker and given the incredible movement the pitch has, there was a good chance it landed out of the zone. He was almost a one-trick pony, and it worked for a while. Then, the need to throw more sliders and sweepers to keep batters honest became real and he made adjustments.
Not only is Holmes throwing more sliders, but he is also showing a new, improved version of the pitch. It says a lot about his commitment to the team and his ability to adjust, and both are necessary traits in a successful major leaguer.