My favorite thing about Jonathan Holder is being able to say “Jonathan was able to Holder there” after a successful outing. It’s why I root for him to succeed. Not because him doing well would help my favorite baseball team, but so I can continue to make the same tired joke over and over again. Helping the Yankees is an added bonus. Yes, I have my priorities straight.
In 2017, Holder was a serviceable middle-relief, low-leverage arm for Joe Girardi. In 2018, he was able to take the next step and become one of Aaron Boone’s go-to arms. While still behind the team’s top bullpen options, Holder was frequently used as one of the first arms out of the bullpen, and more often than not, Jonathan was able to Holder there.
2018 Statistics: 60 G, 66 IP, 3.14 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, 1.091 WHIP
2019 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration, arbitration eligible in 2021, free agent after 2023
The story of Jonathan Holder’s 2018 can be a bit misleading. Judging solely off his overall season numbers, it looks like Holder had a fine, but unimpressive, second full season in the majors. Digging deep into Holder’s season paints the better picture, and it’s easy to see why he was able to gain Boone’s trust and climb up the ladder of relievers.
In his second and third outings of the year back in the first week of April, Holder gave up a combined seven runs (six earned) in just 2.1 innings of work. Those two games accounted for 25% of the runs Holder gave up all season. After those two games, Holder was sent down to Triple-A as injuries had already started and the team needed reinforcements. He was called up two weeks later, and would cement his place in the bullpen thereafter.
From April 21st until August 1st, Holder appeared in 35 games. In that span, Holder pitched to the tune of a 0.88 ERA, allowing just seven runs (four earned) and only one home run. Holder was one of the Yankees best pitchers during that stretch, though things took a turn for the worst on August 2nd in Boston.
Holder imploded during that dreadful four-game series at Fenway, emerging as one of the primary culprits in the sweep that effectively ended the Yankees’ divisional hopes. On August 2nd, Holder threw 25 pitches, and those 25 pitches accounted for zero outs and seven Red Sox runs. It was an appearance so bad that it was almost impressive in how bad it actually was.
Holder pitched in 60 games for the Yankees in 2018. He gave up a total of 27 runs. More than half of those runs came in just three games. Those three games badly damaged his April and August numbers, and put a damper on his season as a whole.
Holder was by no means perfect the rest of the way, but he pitched to a more-than-respectable 2.42 ERA, while striking out just under one batter per inning. He was able to put that clunker against the Red Sox behind him pretty quickly and continue to be a big part of the team’s success this year.
It would be unfair to call Holder’s 2018 a roller-coaster season when just 5% of his games went horribly. His numbers are quality as a whole, but look elite if you ignore those three nightmare games. We can’t just hand-wave away Holder’s worst outings, but it’s probably a safe bet that his worst games next year won’t cost the Yankees seven runs a pop.
I wrote last week that the Yankees bullpen is in a vulnerable state right now. David Robertson and Zach Britton are free agents right now and both Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman could be free agents next offseason. While they still need to address that and would be wise to sign at least one of Robertson and Britton this winter (BRING BACK D-ROB), knowing they have Holder probably makes the Yankees feel a little bit better about their situation.
*Season statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.