Welcome to Get To Know A Nat. Thrice a week we will showcase a different WashingtonNational expected to be on the 25 man roster come opening day (as well as a few others that may be on the cusp of making the team). By the end of Spring Training we hope you’ll have a good understanding of just who the guys taking the field at Nationals Park will be, what will be expected of them, and what to be looking for throughout the year.
Name: Tyler Lee Clippard
Nickname(s): Clip! The Specs
DOB: February 14, 1985
Twitter?: @TylerClippard, but also follow @TClippardsSpecs
From: Lexington, Kentucky
Position: Relief Pitcher Bullpen Role: Set-Up Man (8th Inning)
With the Nats Since: Acquired via Trade from the New York Yankees in 2007
Just Who Is This Guy?: Last year I was running out of superlatives for Nationals pitchers, and found it hard to accurately describe the bespectacled one. It won’t be any easier this year as he is just a richer version of himself now.
I could also put it this way. I don’t think I like Rafael Soriano, and I really don’t trust Drew Storen. Both of those guys could do a lot better this year, and both could be about the same as last year. The thing with Clip is you really don’t have to even think like that. He’s just the man, period. If there was a way to get more out of him by moving him around-I would. There isn’t tho, so he just remains the single best pitcher in the Nationals bullpen, bar none, not even close, no chance, no way, no how. Period. The End. If you don’t agree, just stop talking you’re wrong.
What Happened in 2013: Tyler Clippard was pretty much Tyler Clippard in 2013. He had fewer strikeouts and gave up two more home runs than in 2012, but he gave up fewer walks and went from 55 hits down to the absurd 37 in 71 innings. A WHIP of 0.87, people.
If players don’t get on base, they can’t score runs (certainly not in bunches). While he certainly benefited from a BABIP of .170, Clippard’s speed and location helps him keep batters of balance-so I’m willing to be he earned part of that.
Clippard is primarily fastball and change-up pitcher, but he does mix in a cutter and curve ball now and then. Last year he introduced a split finger fastball as well (something I picked up in Baseball Prospectus). I wonder if the new pitch related to a slight dip in velocity for Clippard. His fastball average speed is down 0.6 MPH, and 0.8 MPH on the change up. That’s not a dramatic drop, and it certainly didn’t hurt him this year, but for a guy who relies on those two pitches heavily maybe adding another type of fastball is proactive attempt at keeping things fresh.
What to Expect in 2014: What’s expected is that Tyler Clippard will continue to get guys out at the rate he is doing so. That’s kind of a boring answer though, so let’s talk about why he isn’t the closer for a minute.
The Nats love strong bullpen arms, and there probably isn’t a stronger arm than Clippard’s out in the pen right now. Given how television (and player contracts, frankly) emphasizes things like “saves,” one might ask why the most consistent arm in the pen isn’t shutting games down for the Nats regularly? Indeed, it’s a great segue to getting mad at Soriano’s contract or Drew Storen’s inability to be consistent. While those are two things worthy of complaint, they actually don’t reflect question of when Clippard should be pitching.
In a perfect world you’d (well maybe not you, but me for sure) constantly have your best pitchers against the best parts of the lineup at the end of the game whether that happens in the 7th, 8th or 9th. The Nats may not be ready to be so fluid with their bullpen arms at the end of the game, but it does mean that at any given moment Clippard might be in line to face those batters.
But the wholeness of the bullpen is dependent on all the arms, not just one. Even tho they didn’t get Grant Balfour, it’s clear the Nats believe they can never have enough pitching- I tend to agree. Clippard is already doing his job, and he’s doing it very well.
If it all goes right?: Look, that’s a boring question. He continues to dominate, right? He’ll go 15 games at a time without giving up a home run like he did last year, and snap off lots of 6 innings in 6 games with no hits as well. Clippard makes closing games possible for whoever is taking the ball in the 9th.
If it all goes wrong?: Clip’s big pitching mistakes seem to be when he doesn’t locate his fastball. It’s too up (or he doesn’t go “up” enough climbing the latter). Those pitches become home runs, and I guess that – yes – with a decrease in velocity he could leave things out there for hitters to hit. But I think it only really goes wrong if the rest of the bullpen is the problem. If the team isn’t getting to the 7th and 8th with leads to give him the ball, or if closer X is not finishing games, that’s going to cost the Nats wins. I don’t know if I really believe this, but if the bullpen struggles like it did at times last year the answer might be to blow it up. In that case, Tyler Clippard either becomes the new closer (after other closers are removed from the premises, so to speak) or, worse in my mind, he becomes a very valuable trading piece to send to a competing team.