Nationals Baseball: The Tragic Misuse of Tyler Clippard

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Tragic Misuse of Tyler Clippard

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.


Miles Treacy said...

Wow! Davey seems to always have that stubborness about him and giving players benefit of the doubt for way too long (HRod, Espi, Moore, etc. etc.) The Storen stats are the most telling for the pen. I mean, how do you keep turning to this guy? He obviously hasn't been the same since last year. Mental, health, who knows but outside of those 3 weeks this year where he was brilliant he's done nothing but let the team down. Whether it's blowing leads or giving up late inning runs that make a come back null. Did you CC Davey on these numbers?

Here's to hoping Stras and Gio throw no-hitters. Seems to be the only way the Nats can win now a days. Do you have any numbers from last night. Seemed last night was pretty unlucky on offense. A lot of balls were squared up just right at defenders.

Harper said...

Miles - it's because Storen was seen by Davey as the third most reliable arm in the pen. (shifting to Krol now). With Soriano stuck in the 9th and Clippard stuck in the 8th, Storen was the best arm available for the tough situations. He had to keep dragging him out there until very recently because he let convention handcuff him.

Last night? I didn't see the game so I can't comment on how dominating Cole was but yeah the BABIP was low and the LOB% was high, which is usuaully the "unlucky" indicators. Of course for the Nats that LOB% has been high for a good long while now.

Chaz R said...

Interesting stuff, Harper. Davey is VERY conventional and loyal to his players (clearly coaches too). Just when you want him to be conventional he changes up and makes a mistake the other way- last night he left Jordan in the
8th against lefty hitter Alvarez, who proceeded to knock one into the left field seats.

Strasburger said...

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd they count us out. Hopefully this riles them up/

Harper said...

Chaz R - I'm not sure it's loyalty to players that keeps Clip where he is though. Loyalty to a system that basically has held sway the pat 15-30 years (depending on whether you are thinking about just closers or including 8th inning guys)

Jordan use was interesting. Not sure he would have done it in a closer game. Had the rope thought to do it last night.

Strasburger - It'll rile up the players. The bats, probably not.

Kenny B. said...

Oh, the stupid, stupid world of reliever conventions. There needs to be a Billy Beane of managers who finally destroys this anachronistic concept of relief roles.

Hell, at this point, let's give Clippard a shot at starter. Or perhaps he could try hitting off the bench. Can't be worse than what we have in either of those spots already.

This season is pretty much lost, so I want to stop watching futility night after night. Get everyone on the brink the rest/rehab/surgery they need, remove the rental players, and let's test our minor league system guys with the young core guys. I'm ready to start thinking about next season.

Strasburger said...

NEVER! .... If we don't have three more wins by the end of Friday than we do today, I'm giving up on the season too. Very sad. Very, Very Sad.

Donald said...

I'm desperately trying to remember the feeling from 2011 when it was fun just hoping we'd finish above .500 and, however long the shot, we could keep dreaming about the possibility of the playoffs without any disappointment when we lost.

I want to recapture that for the rest of this season. Forget all of the expectations going into the year and instead just root to finish ahead of the Phillies.

Harper said...

KB/Stras - Barring a (continued?) total collapse from the team I'm looking at Aug 7th as the first potential CALL_IT date. If they can stay 7 out and then sweep the Braves? Gotta give them a shot then.

It's when you have to win every game vs a team AND make up ground with less than 2 months left that I start to say can't be done. We're getting real close right now though. 10-11 out would do it as well

Froggy said...

Totally know what you mean. 2011 was a fun year for the a 'loyal' fan hoping to break .500 and even though 2012 was great to be a 'bragging' fan, I think it was a fluke.

I've lowered my sights and set my desired expectations for the rest of the season to puhleaze finish ahead of the Fillies!

Oh and, puh-LEAZe fire Rizzo and hire Cal Ripkin in the offseason!

cass said...

Good post, Harper.

Clippard one of the most underrated relievers in baseball? I guess most setup men are. I've been a big believer that Storen will turn things around in the past, but it's crazy not using Clippard more when he is pitching well now and has a track record. Sad.

I thought Davey handled bullpen well last year. This year, not so much. I worry I'm falling into the trap of blaming the manager when a team loses and praising him when they win.

At this point, I'm most concerned about Bryce and the Aces, though. The recent "worst start of his career" performances of both Zimmermann and Strasburg has me nervous. And Bryce's lack of superstardom has been worried. I wish I could see month-by-month splits for stuff like o-swing% and contact%, but I can't find it.

Froggy said...

I don't give a dang what the stats say, Storen is just plain terribble. Yes, terrible. Real shame what he did to Strasburg tonight.

WiredHK said...

Uh, can you find a way to get this in Davey's hands? As of on cue, tonight's game was blatantly lost due to said misuse. Sick....

A Fly Moses said...

Seriously, this article could not have been better timed. I'm not mad at Storen; sometimes good relievers just have bad years (see: Melancon last year). But you have to realize that and not use him in situations like this; esp. when Soriano is warm and it is literally impossible for him to get a save chance.

But I also don't understand how you can POSSIBLY allow Span to hit with a slow runner on first and one out, when 90% of his at-bats end in ground balls to second. A double play is literally the only absolutely unacceptable outcome of that at-bat. And of course, Span promptly rolls over it to second, ending the game, while Bryce sits on the bench (and I don't really care that he missed the tag, Span still hit a double play ball).

I generally don't attribute a whole lot of team success to managers, but in this case, the results (basically zero pinch hits all season; the bullpen constantly turning small deficits into large ones) match what I'm seeing: incessant, obviously wrong decision making by Davey. I'm rarely all doom-and-gloom, but I'm officially ready for Davey to retire.

blovy8 said...

At least Clippards stats look good now. Had he been used in those high-leverage situations, he'd probably be much worse.

Erich said...

Harper, if you want to just repost this article for today's entry I think we would all understand.

Kenny B. said...

I've tried to get back to the 2011 mindset, but it just isn't happening. I can't unsee what I've seen. And even if this were 2011, the completely abysmal offensive stats would still be a source of major concern.

The starters could be the best in the majors and this team would still have a losing record just because the offense is so bad. It's to the point where I can't watch a game anymore once they're behind, because it's just a giant waste of time and a massive frustration.

I saw a fan on Twitter once capture the feeling with something to the effect of "Nats are down 2,736,907 to 0, adjusted for their likelihood of scoring."

Sirc said...

Has it ever happened before that an entire major league lineup performed below career averages?