While the Nats have struggled this season, there is one player who may actually be living up to the lofty standards we had for the team when starting 2012. Out of relief pitchers used with any regularity this season Clippard ranks 5th in ERA at 1.85. His WHIP stands at 0.87. It's a little fluky to be sure, his .172 BABIP isn't something you can bet on every year, but this is the pitcher that Clippard has been since 2009. Here are his BABIPs since that season :
2009 : .197
2010 : .284
2011 : .197
2012 : .259
2013 : .172
Being under .200 is kind of fluky but he's a guy who despite giving up no groundballs (22.0% this year, not over 29.8% in last 5) is still kind of hard to hit. He's also been pretty consistent in keeping balls in the park.
2009 : 11.1%
2010 : 6.7%
2011 : .9.5%
2012 : 6.8%
2013 : 5.5%
Combine this with an acceptable walk rate and a good ability to strike out guys (9.9 K/9 this year, best on Nats) and you've got a guy who's going to be an effective pitcher at worst, a damn good one when things break his way, like this year. Plus he's been crazy durable. He's appeared in the 7th most games since 2009 and has pitched the most innings of anyone who hasn't started a game during that time.
All this suggests he should be a potential go to guy coming out of the pen, and he has been used 44 times this year (one less than appearance leader... Drew Storen?) The problem is when he's come in.
Only 5 times out of 44 appearances has Tyler Clippard come into a game when it wasn't 0 on, 0 out, none since May 29th. Only 6 times (inluding last night) has Tyler Clippard appeared in a game when the Nats were behind. None of the two instances overlap. Clippard has only entered a game in a situation where he had to clean up someone else's problem to keep the Nats in it twice (well maybe 3 times). On April 20th he entered a tie game with a man on 2nd and 2 out. On May 29th he entered a tie game with a man on 2nd and no one out. (On May 17th he entered a game with men on 1st and 2nd, but ahead 2 and with 2 outs, so I don't count that, maybe you would).
By vitrtue of appearing in the 8th in so many low scoring games Clippard's leverage index (an attempt to use potential win probability change to measure pressure of a situation) isn't bad. But it's still lower than Storen and if we look at specific situations it looks, and is, all out of whack.
# times in a game with runners on
Clippard : 5
Storen : 10
Stammen : 9 (in 33 games)
# times in a game with runners on and the Nats within 2 runs of the other team
Clippard : 3
Storen : 7
Stammen : 4
# times in a game where Nats were 3 or more runs from the other team (ahead or behind)
Clippard : 19
Storen : 14
Stammen : 13
# times in a game where Nats were 4 or more runs from the other team (ahead or behind)
Clippard : 12
Storen : 7
Stammen : 10
Ok so it does look like Stammen is getting more mop up duty but those early numbers are the ones that should bother you. Ian Krol has appeared in 17 games. He's already matched Clippard the number of times coming in with runners on base (5) and has been in more tight scenarios in these cases (4). Abad, 22 games, 3 with men on, 2 of those within 2 runs, isn't far behind. Even Ryan Mattheus who's only seen action 14 times, has been called in with men on base 3 times. Hell Ohlendorf has done it twice in 7 games.
The point is this; it's easily arguable that the two most reliable arms in the Nats pen are Rafeal Soriano and Tyler Clippard. In classic fashion Soriano has been pinned to the 9th inning and frankly, for him, that may be the only answer. He's a big baby who can't handle anything outside of normal expectations. Clippard though, Clippard has been everything in his major league tenure. Starter, closer, long relief, and the guy you use in important situations to get you out of jams. In fact that's how he was used in the past with the Nats.
2010 : 1.4
2011 : 1.7
2012 : 1.6
2013 : 1.2
Forget the math behind this and focus on what this is saying. In 2013, in a year the Nats goal was "World Series or Bust" they took one of their best arms previously used in all sorts of sticky situations and stuck him in an 8th inning only role. They took him away from the most pressure filled situations, where games are won or lost, and replaced him with lesser arms because that's the way things roll stop questioning conventional wisdom have you ever held a tape recorder in the face of a guy wearing only a towel?!?! Then shut it!!(sorry got taken over by Jason Reid there for a second)
We don't get to talk about this much with winning teams, because most fans and reporters want things to stay as is. Clippard in the 8th only but the team is going to win 95 games? Don't rock the boat people! Since the Nats are losing though maybe, just maybe the team can do something about this misuse of an asset. This isn't something that's going to turn the Nats into a winner, but it's one of the little reasons, a forgotten one perhaps, on why this year's Nats aren't as good as they could be.