Who Was he?
I only managed 4 at bats during my senior year of high school as I was middle reliever with the hitting chops of your average Stoughton Bottle. The only plate appearance I still remember was a 3 pitch strikeout at the hands of a right-handed flame-throwing sophomore who was in the process of no-hitting my team. That was Darren Holmes. He kept teasing us by throwing hooks and a nasty slider in the warmups between innings, but when it counted, he just threw cheese right by us.
2 years later I heard that he had signed with the Dodgers as a 16th round pick which seemed really low for his talent but apparently everyone was certain he would honor a commitment to UNC and the bums took advantage. Arm injuries and whatnot kept Holmes from making the majors until 1990 where he was a slightly better than average middle reliever for a decade before suffering what most expected to be a career-ending shoulder during the 2000 season. The injury kept Darren off the field all 2001 and for 2002 he ended up accepting a spring NRI from his hometown nine.
What Was He Like?
By the time he reached the Braves, Holmes fastball velocity had dropped to 90-92 with occasional spikes up to 94 or so. He threw the pitch about 50 percent of the time and then it was curveball time. Sir Charles was one of the best benders of the early aughties. A true 12-6 breaker, Holmes would throw it in any count to any batter and he could throw it for strikes — usually early in the count — or bury it under the zone for a swinging strike 3.
So, What Happened Then?
Signed for the MLB minimum of $315k, 2002 was one of those magical seasons where everything was absolutely perfect. A guy who had always given too many free passes, for that one season Holmes became Christy Matthewson, walking just 12 batters in 55 innings (0.5/9 innings). That curveball that had captivated us back in the day was always sharp, always well placed, and usually resulted in a turn back to the dugout.
Holmes managed a 1.24 ERA through April and while he couldn’t keep that pace going all season he made it through 55 innings at a 1.81, good for 1.6 fWAR. He followed it up by striking out 5 in 2.2 innings during the playoffs.
2003 saw a new 1-year contract for $700k, and unfortunately things went worse for the now 37 year old. He managed a league average performance between 2 stints on the DL. Retirement followed. Holmes currently lives in his hometown of Asheville and had accepted the position of bullpen coach for the Orioles before the shutdown.
Who Was he?