Pittsburgh Pirates: Breaking Down Clay Holmes Breakout Season


Pittsburgh Pirates right-handed reliever Clay Holmes looks like he’s finally turned a corner, let’s take a look at what could be his breakout season.

It’s just a few days over a decade ago since the Pittsburgh Pirates made history when they signed three prospects in the 2011 draft to record-setting deals. This is essentially the reason why we have slot values today to prevent this from happening again. However, one of those three players was right-hander Clay Holmes, who was selected in the 9th round.

After a Tommy John surgery, struggling once he reached the Majors, and then further injuries that have limited his playing time at the game’s highest level, Holmes finally looks like he’s turning the corner and breaking out this year.

Through 26.1 inning pitched this season Holmes owns a strong 2.73 ERA, 2.99 FIP and 1.10 WHIP. Much of his success has to do with his much-improved command. He currently only has a 7.2% walk rate. This is nearly half of what he posted in 2019 at 15%. He’s only getting strikeouts at a 22.5% rate, but he still has an outstanding 2.71 xERA, 3.29 xFIP and 2.91 SIERA. He does have a 3.92 DRA, but his results have been fantastic.

The right-hander’s batted ball rates are very impressive, and that’s an understatement. He’s inducing ground balls at a rate of nearly 70% (69.9%). That ranks 4th among all qualified relievers. But he’s mixing that with a whole lot of soft contact. Opponents only have an 85.5 MPH exit velocity, which is in the top 91st percentile. His 33.3% hard-hit rate is in the top 82nd percentile. This has led him to have allowed a single home run all season.

Holmes has been because he has essentially dropped his fastball completely, opting to use his sinker as his primary offering with the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. He’s throwing his sinker at a career-best velocity, coming in at 95.4 MPH. Both of his breaking balls, his slider, and curveball, have whiff rates above 30%, showing he’s getting a decent amount of swings and misses on those offerings. All told, all three of his pitches have an above-average run value.

Holmes has also been outstanding when it matters the most. He’s held opponents to a .633 OPS with RISP. In high leverage situations, he’s only allowed them to have a .485 OPS. Currently, he has a +.27 clutch WPA on FanGraphs.

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This may be his age-28 season, but Holmes isn’t even in arbitration yet. If he continues to pitch the way he has thus far this season for the Pittsburgh Pirates he could make himself part of the team’s future bullpen plans. He has improved velocity, gets a ton of softly hit ground balls, and has looked better when it comes to controlling his pitches. He’s trending in the right direction at a time the Pirates would like to see some of their players with three or more years of control remaining prove themselves in the majors and potentially become part of future plans.