CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 14: Aroldis Chapman #54 of the New York Yankees reacts after giving up a single to the Chicago White Sox in the ninth inning at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 14, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
From 1915 to 1925, Wally Pipp was a staple in the New York Yankees offense. Manning first base, Pipp led the American League in home runs in both 1916 and 1917, and played in at least 138 games in every season from 1919 to 1924. However, as most Yankees fans will tell you, Pipp’s most notable impact on the team was unfortunately due to a headache.
As the legend goes, Pipp’s headache was causing double vision and after he asked the trainer for some aspirin, manager Miller Huggins recommended taking a full day off. As a result, the team turned to a young prospect Lou Gehrig and the rest is history. Eventually, Pipp would state that he took the “two most expensive aspirin in history.”
The New Pipp?
Flash forward just under 100 years later, and the Yankees might be finding themselves in a similar situation. Since becoming a reliever, Chapman has been one of the most prolific closers in baseball. With a devastating fastball, slider, and sinker, Chapman has at times been un-hittable. However, this season Chapman has struggled. A loss of control has seen him post his worst WHIP and FIP in his career. Not only has Chapman struggled on the mound, but now Achilles tendinitis has sent him to the injured list.
Meanwhile, the emergence of Clay Holmes from an unreliable reliever in Pittsburgh to one of the best pitchers in baseball in the Bronx has been nothing short of incredible. Led by an incredible slider, Holmes has filled in admirably for Chapman, leading to the belief that Chapman might not return to the closer role when he’s healthy.
The Pros of Holmes as Closer
Easily the biggest pro for having Holmes take over closer duties from Chapman is since coming to New York, Holmes has been the better pitcher. While Chapman has struggled with his command, Holmes has walked six batters in over 52 innings pitched as a Yankee. Holmes is clearly confident on the mound and hasn’t allowed a run in his last 22 appearances. Holmes has already picked up six saves on the year, most recently making quick work of the Tampa Bay Rays, striking out 2 and not allowing a runner to reach base.
At this point, all signs point to Chapman finishing his Yankees career when his contract ends this season. And while he has struggled as of late, it wasn’t that long ago that Chapman was the best closer in baseball. There is some reason to believe that after his Achilles is fully healed, he should start to bounce back. Even if he never returns to the dominant closer he once was, he potentially could still serve as a better closer in baseball.
Hard to imagine there are many better relievers than Clay Holmes right now. When Aroldis Chapman returns he will have to come back in a lesser role.
While Chapman might be better once he’s healthier, the biggest argument to keep Chapman in the ninth has little to do with him. Instead, one could ask the question if limiting Holmes to the ninth is the best option for the Yankees. With Chad Green lost for the year, Jonathan Loaisiga struggling and on the IL, and Michael King becoming hittable, the Yankees suddenly find themselves without a ton of reliable options in the bullpen.
While Holmes has been wonderful in the ninth, he might be more valuable being saved for high leverage situations. His ability to both pitch multiple innings and successfully strand inherited runners on base has made him a lethal option to help shorten the games to the ninth. Meanwhile, outside of a traditional closer role, Chapman might be limited to set-up opportunities. His inability to get quick outs likely limits him to single inning appearances while his struggles to hold runners on base will force the Yankees to use him only in situations with no inherited runners.
Pretty soon, the Yankees will have a decision to make regarding who will get the ninth inning. However, regardless of who is the official closer, it is clear that Holmes will have the most critical role in the Yankees bullpen.