When the New York Yankees decided to flip the page on their 2016 season and build for a better future, they did so at the expense of their bullpen. What was one of the most lethal shutdown bullpens for the better part of the last two seasons (let’s face it, with Mariano Rivera, it has been the last 20 or so years) has suddenly been searching for answers to bridge the gap from starter to closer.
Jonathan Holder could be that gap. Coming off of a relief performance in which he struck out 11 consecutive batters, and 12 of the 13 he faced in four innings, it is time to give Holder strong consideration for a September call up.
Record-setting performances and mind-boggling stats aren’t anything new for Holder. The 23-year-old righty has been doing special things out of the bullpen ever since he was at Mississippi State, where he worked in tandem out of the pen with fellow 2014 Yankees draft pick Jacob Lindgren.
Holder hurled 28.1 innings his freshman season, striking out 30 and walking just five. He also set a school record by not allowing a run to cross for the first 27.1 innings of his career, finishing with a 0.32 ERA. His sophomore campaign saw Holder tie the SEC mark for saves in a single season, when he went 2-0 with 21 saves behind a 1.65 ERA, striking out 90 and walking 17 in 54.2 innings. He became the Bulldogs all-time saves leader in his junior campaign, falling just 16 short of the NCAA all-time record. The Yankees took notice of the Bulldogs pen, selecting Lindgren in the second round and Holder in the sixth.
While Lindgren made a brief debut in the majors, he has also had a much more rocky career than his Bulldog counterpart. Currently on the shelf after Tommy John surgery, he has been surpassed by Holder, who is arguably the most dominant reliever in their entire system.
The Yankees tinkered with Holder in his 2014 debut campaign, as he started in eight of his 12 appearances; he hurled 36.1 innings, but wasn’t as dominant with the Staten Island Yankees as he had been in college. The following season, primarily spent in High-A Tampa, was more of the same as Holder made 18 starts in his 19 appearances. This time around, he looked more like himself, posting a 2.44 ERA while exceeding the 100-inning mark for the first time in his career.
Holder returned to the pen full-time in 2016 and has been absolutely dominant. He made 28 appearances for the playoff-bound Trenton Thunder, recording 10 saves in 11 opportunities while posting a 2.20 ERA. While he doesn’t possess elite stuff as a closer, he still has a good feel for his arsenal. He is much more effective with it in smaller doses, seeing his strikeout rate rise and walk rate drop from being a starter. He struck out 59 and walked seven in 41 innings.
Since his promotion to the RailRiders, he has been nearly untouchable.
In 12 appearances, Holder is a perfect 6-for-6 in save opportunities. He’s recorded 35 strikeouts and zero walks in his first 20 innings. And his 11-consecutive-strikeout performance on Sunday not only earned him International Pitcher of the Week honors, it clinched the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders a playoff birth.
For more on Holder’s breakout season, read my full feature at Today’s Knuckleball by clicking on the link below: