Clay Holmes’ struggles speak to bigger problems with Yankees

Aug 12, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone (17) receives relief pitcher Clay Holmes (35) in the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 12, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone (17) receives relief pitcher Clay Holmes (35) in the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

In Classic Yankees fashion, Clay Holmes has gone from the most dominant reliever in Major League Baseball to someone who, over the past month, can no longer handle high-leverage situations. Anybody care to explain?

Part of the problem is the Yankees not scoring enough runs (or the rotation giving up too many), which has constantly put pressure on the bullpen to come through and each every time the unit is called upon.

The other is Holmes being unable to locate half as effectively as he did from the start of the season until the second week of July. Since July 11 when he blew that save at Fenway Park that has seemingly unraveled his season, Holmes is 0-3 with a combined five blown saves/losses, a 9.00 ERA and 2.09 WHIP.

Now, it’s hard to come down on Holmes because of his insane first half of the season before that, where he posted a ridiculous 0.46 ERA and 1.70 FIP with just FIVE walks in his first 38 games. But something’s going on at the moment that’s beyond anyone’s control.

Holmes either needs a phantom IL stint to get some much-needed rest or manager Aaron Boone needs to readjust the bullpen roles for a bit. The right-hander certainly doesn’t deserve to lose his job on a permanent basis, but this cannot continue in the interim as the Yankees play their worst baseball of the season. For all we know, he could be dealing with an injury! And blowing another save against the Red Sox on Friday night when the Yankees were leading 2-1 in dire need of a victory should be the final straw.

What should the Yankees do with Clay Holmes after he blew the Red Sox game?

Maybe shouldn’t have optioned Clarke Schmidt and Ron Marinaccio when the bullpen was terribly overworked, huh?

The Yankees love to randomly place guys on the IL to give them rest, so why is Holmes’ situation any different? He’s already at 49 innings pitched for the year. His career-high of 70 in the big leagues came last year when he threw 42 innings for Pittsburgh and then 28 for the Yankees. Before that? 50 in 2019 and 26.1 in 2018. In 2019 he was officially transitioned to a reliever after throwing a total of 127.2 total innings in 2018 in between roles.

He’s never thrown this many high-leverage innings in his life and was constantly being called upon to do it on little to no rest before the second half of the season began. Then, Boone tried to rest him after his cold streak took hold, but it hasn’t worked. Holmes has been on seven, five, five, three, and three days of rest in between outings and he’s failed to get back on track. Even when he was brought in for slop duty against the Mariners earlier this week, he gave up two hits and a run.

But here comes the Yankees’ obsession with bullpen roles! They took two years to finally move Aroldis Chapman, now they’ll seemingly do the same with Holmes despite the most obvious warning signs. Regression! It happens. Don’t watch it happen. Try and mitigate it.

Coincidentally, Chapman has rebounded to his closer form while Holmes has wilted. Maybe just interchange these two for the time being and see what can be done? (Can’t believe we’re saying that but … yeah, when you’re 7-14 over your last 21, you’re desperate.)

So, to summarize the Yankees’ Clay Holmes problem that runs far deeper than him:

  • They optioned two keep bullpen pieces in Schmidt and Marinaccio despite known the unit was overworked
  • They didn’t address the bullpen or rotation needs aggressively enough at the deadline, which continues to create a strain
  • They historically take forever to make decisions that remove certain players from their “roles” and never get ahead of the problem
  • The starting rotation has regressed, recording a 4.88 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in the second half compared to a 3.20 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in the first half, putting more pressure on the bullpen
  • The offense, despite scoring 4.57 runs per game in the second half, has scored three or fewer runs in 11 of the team’s 21 games since the break, forcing the team into more “all hands on deck” bullpen situations when the time comes

There’s no “easy” solution here. Making potential sweeping changes can be hard, but giving Holmes time to breathe whether it’s on the IL or in a lesser role is the move to preserve the season, since, at the moment, there’s no way to solve the above bulleted issues.

The Yankees created this mess. Time to get out of it instead of watching it persist.