Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Yankees fans on X/Twitter hate closer Clay Holmes to the point of unique vitriol.

Sounds like someone who, hypothetically, could have an ERA north of 6.00 with nowhere near enough saves to justify it. Maybe two total in a month, plus a blown one while giving up way too much contact. That could be Clay Holmes, right?

I mean, sure, it could be. Except in this case. Those numbers belong to Josh Hader, who just signed a five-year, $95 million deal with the Astros in free agency. Houston currently sits dead last in the AL West, four games behind the bargain basement Oakland A’s. You be the judge on Hader’s early returns.

Holmes, on the other hand, has been practically unhittable to the point of looking like an early Cy Young contender. He’s one of four pitchers leading baseball with ten saves, but with one key difference. It’s May 2, and Clay Holmes still hasn’t allowed an earned run this season.

It isn’t a mirage or overachieving either. Not on a grand scale, at least. Holmes has an expected ERA (xERA) of 2.47, a 1.60 FIP, and a 2.07 xFIP. This means his pitches are working, particularly his slider. It has a +4 run value with his demon sinker and a developing sweeper rounding out his stuff.

And speaking of stuff, Clay Holmes has pockets full of it. His Stuff+, which measures everything from a pitch’s shape to its spin to its movement and speed, is at 125 on the year. Not bad at all given 100 is considered the average, but let’s look at the Stuff+ on Holmes’ individual pitches.

His sinker, despite its great movement, is fairly average at 102. But that’s not a problem thanks to his devastating slider. Its Stuff+ ranks second among all pitchers at an eye-popping 198. For context, Pittsburgh’s Jared Jones leads all qualified pitchers (as in starters) with overall Stuff+ at 135.

Read my lips: Clay Holmes is and should be an early candidate for the AL Cy Young Award. The numbers are there early, so all Holmes has to do is avoid the post-All-Star Break wall that’s plagued him each of the last two years. Manager Aaron Boone is also being extra careful about not making Holmes get more than three or four outs per save. Wednesday’s five-out finish in Baltimore is an exception.

There’s also plenty of precedent for closers winning a Cy Young Award. In fact, Holmes’ fellow closer and former Yankee Sparky Lyle was the first in 1977. Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers amd Bruce Sutter also took the Cy Young home. Willie Hernandez and Dennis Eckersley are even rarer birds, having been closers who took home MVP trophies the same year they won their Cy Youngs.

However, it hasn’t happened in a long time. Eckersley was the last AL closer to win one in 1992, when his 51 saves led the American League. Eric Gagne was the last on the National League side in 2003, when he notched 55 saves of his own.

What does this mean for Clay Holmes? It means he has to prove himself not only the best reliever in baseball, but also one worthy of an MVP. Can he keep up with the AL’s best starters with plenty of season left and the Cy Young race wide open?

He’s certainly pitching like he can.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.