SSTN Mailbag: Clay Holmes, Aaron Hicks, And Cashman!
The best part about good baseball communities is that intelligent minds can disagree. I think that everyone who follows both the Yankees and this site are part of the best baseball community on the internet, and that the people who contribute here both as writers and commenters are among the most intelligent baseball fans out there (even if we all have one or two screws loose). We certainly do not always agree; in fact, our Editor-In-Chief, Paul Semendinger, and I find that we have disagreed about the genesis of the Yankees' issues in recent weeks. Both of us have very valid points, but we often come to different conclusions. This week however, Paul and I are nearly in lock-step on one issue: the most recent Bader injury.
I was thrilled to see Harrison Bader back in the lineup, as I have probably been the President of the Harrison Bader Fan Club since the trade, and I believe that he will be a highly productive player even if he only gets 400-450 ABs. Getting him to that number is tenuous after a scary collision with IKF earlier this week. I didn't have a problem with IKF playing CF earlier this season; he's proven to be a versatile defensive piece throughout his career and he got CF reps in Spring Training, so playing him out there wasn't a huge deal. Playing him in LF though, where he's never played a single professional inning, next to a guy known for playing all-out seemed like a recipe for disaster. My opinion is that the bloop was the centerfielder's ball all the way, and IKF should have seen Bader coming and gotten out of the way. IKF's inexperience in LF is the reason Bader got banged up, and frankly, Bader is of far greater importance to the Yankees' performance this year than IKF. The Yankees are desperate for outfielders, I get it, but this was not the path forward, and it might cost the Yankees dearly.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll talk about Clay Holmes' role, Aaron Hicks, and Cashman's comments! Let's get at it:
Bryan asks: What are the Yanks going to do with Clay Holmes? Obviously he shouldn't be the closer anymore, but how can he be utilized going forward? Are there reasons for his fall?
I agree completely with Brian: Clay Holmes cannot be the closer for the time being. It's a shame, because it probably pushes the Yankees' most versatile weapon, Mike King, into a more rigid role as a closer, which ultimately makes him slightly less valuable. That said, being able to close out a game is pretty darn important, so you could definitely utilize King in worse ways.
I honestly think that Holmes' issues are less mechanical and more mental. The only glaring statistical feature that has changed is Holmes' velocity: Holmes' sinker is down exactly 1 MPH from last season, but I'm not as concerned there. It's early in the season, and most pitchers pick up velocity as the months get warmer towards June/July, which is exactly what happened to Clay Holmes last season. Holmes began last season by throwing 96.1 MPH with his sinker, and later upped his monthly average to 97.6 MPH in June, so he's following the same pattern now.
The bigger issue as far as I'm concerned is his sinker command. Holmes was far better at pounding the bottom of the zone with his sinker last season than he has been this season. Check out 2022:
And now 2023:
Big difference! That said, I don't see huge mechanical issues causing Holmes' sudden loss of sinker command. I don't think Holmes trusts his sinker enough, and he gets into the trap of trying to get too fine with his location, which leads to hangers that get hit. To put it simply, the Yankees need to put Holmes in situations where he can find confidence with the pitch again.
Get him out there with clean innings in the middle innings with 2-3 run leads; let him realize that the sinker plays, and I think he'll start to get his command back...I hope.
Mike asks: Please explain any justification for keeping Aaron Hicks around. I'm waiting!
Even as a former Aaron Hicks apologist, it's almost impossible to defend from a baseball standpoint. The scenario I described in my opener to this week's SSTN Mailbag is case-and-point. The Yankees feel it is better to play a light hitting infielder who has never played left field over Aaron Hicks. If that's the case, there is no justification for keeping him around. The only explanation is money, which frankly isn't terribly significant in the grand scheme of things; it is only significant because the Yankees and Hal Steinbrenner are allowing it to be significant.
And that's the crux of what's driving me crazy. Everyone (Brian Cashman included) certainly know that the right thing to do is to cut Aaron Hicks, but ownership's maniacal adherence to luxury tax thresholds keeps Hicks on the roster to the detriment of the on-field product. It's getting insane, and I hold ownership accountable for it above everyone else.
Steven asks: What were your thoughts about Brian Cashman's comments about the team's performance and his insistence that this is still a championship team.
I found his comments fairly routine, and some of what he had to say echoed my opinions: the team has largely been crippled by injuries, including 1/3 of the starting lineup for much of the season (guys who were expected to produce, like Stanton, Judge, and Bader), 3/5 of the rotation (Sevy, Rodon, and Montas), and key parts of the bullpen (Loaisiga, Trivino, and Kahnle). That's a ton, and even if the Yankees had better depth, they would not be able to totally make up for those losses in the short-term.
However, I thought Cashman's insistence that there is nothing inherent in the team's roster construction that led to this issue rang hollow. The Yankees have one of the older lineups in baseball even with the youth injection we're witnessing, and many of those players have injury-riddled histories. Sometimes, you have to admit that risks have been taken in the way a roster is constructed. Those risks are not paying dividends right now. That doesn't mean it will always be the case, but you have to own up to it in the moment.
As usual though, I appreciate that Cashman made it clear that if people are going to judge the team's performance thus far, they have to put the blame on him. That's what leaders do, and even if you disagree with Cashman, you have to give him credit for consistently insisting on taking blame for gaps in performance.
Overall, I'm not pleased or upset with his comments; all I care about is hoping guys get healthy so that the on-field product isn't as dreadful. I also think it's time to admit that the training staff overhaul didn't work, and to go back to square one, but that's a conversation for another day.