Pittsburgh Pirates: Colin Holdermam Becoming a Shutdown High-Leverage Reliever

Arizona Diamondbacks v Pittsburgh Pirates
Arizona Diamondbacks v Pittsburgh Pirates / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Colin Holderman has become one of baseball's best set-up men in 2023

One trade the Pittsburgh Pirates made nearing the 2022 trade deadline was sending designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach to the New York Mets for rookie reliever Colin Holderman. Holderman’s 2022 season was cut short due to shoulder injuries. However, not only has he returned to 2023 with a vengeance, but has become one of the best set-up men in baseball. 

Holderman has certainly lived up to his last name. He has racked up ten holds while working to a 2.18 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 2.12 FIP across 20.2 innings. The right-hander has a strikeout rate of 30.6% and BB% of just 5.9%. His 5.2 K:BB ratio is the 21st best among qualified relievers. Holderman has really only had one poor outing. Of his 21 appearances, he’s gone scoreless 19 times. Outside of his meltdown vs the Los Angeles Dodgers, he has an ERA of just 0.92. 

Now Holderman isn't great at limiting hard contact. His average exit velocity of 90 MPH is in just the 28th percentile while his opponent's hard hit rate of 46.3% is in the 13th percentile. But he's elite at limiting quality contact. He’s in the 91st percentile of barrel rate. His 2.4% barrel percentage ranks 27th among the 335 pitchers with at least 50 batted ball events so far this year.

Holderman has come up clutch when it matters the most. In late and close games when Holderman pitches, opponents are batting a meager .241/.297/.328 with 19 strikeouts in 64 plate appearances (29.7% strikeout rate). Opponents own a sub-.500 OPS when facing Holderman when the Pirates are either down or ahead by one run.

Holderman can attribute his success this year to his sweeper. Batters aren’t able to touch his sweeping pitch, managing a meager .111 batting average, slugging percentage, and wOBA of just .116. His swing and miss rate on his sweeper is 40.7%. There’s only two qualified pitchers in baseball whose sweeper pitch has held opponents to a sub-.120 BA/SLG%/wOBA: one is Yohan Ramriez with the only other being Holderman. In terms of run value, he has the 7th best sweeper, but on a pitch-by-pitch basis, he has the 2nd most valuable sweeper.

While Holderman’s expected statistics reflect a similar story to his ERA, sporting a 2.50 xFIP, 2.58 SIERA, and 73 DRA-, one could even make the argument that the Pirate set-up man hasn’t even reached his full potential. The right-hander has a .340 batting average on balls in play. Some of that could be attributed to the amount of hard contact he lets up, even if he doesn’t allow too much quality contact. But that is still much higher than his career average .295 mark. 

To put it simply, Holderman has been nothing but dominant this year. The trade to acquire Holderman is looking like a massive win for the Pirates. Given that Holderman is only in his second season and won’t be arbitration eligible until 2026, he will be setting up games for the Bucs for quite some time.

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