Pittsburgh Pirates: Clay Holmes Eyeing Breakout In 2021
By Noah Wright
Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Clay Holmes will finally get a shot to breakout into a potential long-term relief pitcher during this 2021 season.
Clay Holmes has been in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization for quite some time now. He was selected in the 9th round of the 2011 draft and was given the largest signing bonus a 9th round pick had ever been given.
Holmes was originally a starting pitching prospect, but has since moved to the bullpen because of injuries and Tommy John surgery. However, he still has the potential to become a quality reliever for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2021.
Holmes pitched his most MLB innings in 2019. During that season he posted a 5.58 ERA, 5.03 FIP and 1.62 WHIP. Holmes struggled with walks, allowing 36 of the 240 batters he faced to reach via the free pass.
Despite the overall weak surface numbers, there was a lot going for the right-hander in 2019. For one, he had a solid 23.3% strikeout rate and 0.9 HR/9 rate. He induced ground balls at an outstanding 60.3% rate. He was also above average in terms of expected batting average, slugging and barrel percentage. Deserved Run Average pinned Holmes at 4.17, which was 15% better than the league average.
Pretty much all of his struggles came off his four-seam fastball. Of the 36 walks Holmes surrendered 14 of them came from his four-seamer. It was also the only pitch he threw at least 10% of the time with an opponent batting average higher than .250, reaching all the way to .317.
His four-seam fastball was the only pitch he threw that opponents hit hard, having a 91.1 MPH exit velo. None of his other pitches reached 90 MPH. It’s also not like he was able to fool batters very often with it as it had the lowest whiff rate of all his offerings.
Take out this one pitch and Holmes is probably a low-4s ERA pitcher rather than a low-5s ERA pitcher. Holmes has since dropped his fastball, increasing the usage of his sinker, slider and curveball. Holmes can throw his sinker just as hard as his fastball. It also has a lot better movement. His slider has wipeout action and his curveball drops significantly before reaching the zone. Each also has distinct speeds. His sinker averages out in the 94-97 MPH range, his slider comes in the upper-80s and his curve drops in around the lower-80s.
Holmes looked great in Grapefruit League play this spring. He pitched 9.2 innings and did not allow a run while walking three batters and striking out eight. Additionally, his stuff was on point.
The success Holmes found in Grapefruit League play carried over into the season opening victory for the Pittsburgh Pirates. On Opening Day Holmes threw 12 pitches and only three pitches were called balls. Overall, he tossed one inning and got one strikeout, that being Anthony Rizzo, who’s had a sub-15% strikeout rate in three of his last four seasons.
At 28-years-old Holmes is on the older side for only having 77.2 innings tossed in the Majors. He’s lost a few years to injury, including 2020. However, despite his age, Holmes has the potential to lock down a long term role on the Pirates bullpen in 2021. Dropping his fastball will definitely not only help his control, but improve his strikeout rate and overall results.