After the Oakland Athletics acquired relief pitcher Tyler Clippard from the Washington Nationals, I was contacted by Noah Frank, the Digital Sports Editor of WTOP in Washington. Noah, a Bay Area native, has contributed to AN in the past with inside knowledge of previous acquisitions. He worked for the Nats for a couple years while Clippard was on the team, and he wanted to share with us his knowledge on Clippard's game and personality. Take it away, Noah!
Clipp ‘N Save: Your new Athletics set-up man
by Noah Frank
As he's made his name in the National League East and has faced a grand total on one Oakland batter in his eight-year Major League career, you probably don't know much about Tyler Clippard, acquired Wednesday from the Washington Nationals for Yunel Escobar. Thankfully for you, I watched nearly every single Nationals game in 2012-13 while running social media for the club (sorry about all the #NATITUDE), most of those games in person.
I'll leave the others here at AN to make value determinations on whether a 24-year-old Marcus Semien can provide something comparable to a 32-year-old Escobar in the infield, or whether Beane may even flip Clippard before the season starts. My focus is entirely on Clippard himself, an unconventional, begoggled set-up man who is a value to any bullpen, but whose most glaring weakness may be couched by the cavernous Coliseum.
A rival evaluator once described Clippard as the guy who is all arms and legs and strikes everybody out. After watching him pitch regularly the past three years, I can't think of a better singular line. There are a lot of moving parts in his delivery, but it's one he's shown to be repeatable, and one that adds a measure of deception that helps make up for the lack of high-end velocity you might expect.
Clippard's fastball sits pretty consistently at 91-93, but his changeup is easily his best pitch. He'll throw a couple different variations, switching between a straight change with a slight drop and a slippery, nasty, Bugs Bunny change that leaks hard inside to righties and away from lefties.
He also brought his breaking ball back into the mix more last season -- a big, loopy slurve. But he used it as more of a show-me pitch -- a reminder that it still exists more than a tool to get hitters out.
In general, Clippard's stats speak for themselves. Since shifting to the ‘pen full time in 2009, he has been one of baseball's most effective relievers. His 2.64 ERA and 1.03 WHIP are even more impressive considering he's been a workhorse, making at least 72 appearances each year since 2010. His 522 strikeouts over the past six seasons are tops among all relievers in baseball.
While he's been primarily a set-up man, Clippard was invaluable as the closer for the 2012 Nationals, stepping into the closer role and saving 32 games before returning to the eighth inning late in the season upon the return of Drew Storen. Pehaps his single most impressive stretch came in a three-game sweep of the Red Sox in Boston, in which he closed all three games, preserving leads of three, two, and one run, respectively. He allowed a single baserunner while fanning five over those three scoreless appearances, culminating in this devastating strikeout of Dustin Pedroia.
He will, however, give you some palpitations -- if not full on heart attacks -- from time to time. He has no hesitation pitching up in the zone, which he will do frequently, but his deception allows him to get away with it. It also changes the hitter's eye level for that devastating changeup.
He can walk the tight rope sometimes as well, often working into three-ball counts. Despite never finishing more than a full inning in 2014, he threw at least 20 pitches in 20 of his 75 appearances.
Here he is retiring the side in pretty typical Clippard fashion. Living with the fastball up, he gets both Wilmer Flores and Kirk Nieuwenhuis swinging, but then gives up a deep drive to Curtis Granderson, which Michael Taylor hauls in at the wall in the right field corner.
Clippard's approach makes him prone to fly balls, especially deep ones, but he generally keeps hitters in the park. He has recorded 290 ground outs and 611 air outs in his Major League career, a ratio that has held fairly consistent over the years. Considering how many balls are hit into the air off his pitches, though, his 21 home runs in 214 innings over the past three seasons isn't too shabby.
And you'd have to think playing in the Coliseum will only help keep a few more of those deep drives in the park (note: recent Park Factors of the last couple years show Nats Park near the bottom of the league in home runs allowed, but prior to their excellent pitching staff coming along, it regularly ranked in the top-middle).
He can also look pretty awkward on his way to the mound, head bobbing, goggles and all. But he's very athletic and in great shape, and is a terrific and avid golfer away from the diamond. While his usage has been called into question before, he stays off the disabled list and can be called upon several days in a row.
He was one of the more beloved fan favorites in Washington, a player who survived the bad years and has been a key cog in building that franchise into a success. He easily won the fan vote for a bobblehead last season.
I'll finish with one final anecdote, just a slice of his personality. The Nationals had a particularly tense, one-run victory over the Chicago Cubs in late 2012, in which there was an on-field scuffle between some players and coaches. Despite the win, the clubhouse was fairly quiet afterward, players keeping to themselves a bit. Jayson Werth had his giant great dane, Magnus, at the park that day, and it was galloping back and forth across the clubhouse carpet, weaving between beat writers.
Suddenly, Magnus pulls up in the middle of the room, right at the logo in the middle of the carpet, and relieves himself in Tom-Hanks-in-A-League-of-Their-Own fashion, for a solid 45 seconds, right in front of Clippard, who was standing at his locker. After the initial shock, Clippard steps over to the dog, finger extended, and shouts to the clubhouse, "Now that's Natitude!" Everyone burst into laughter, at least until the smell set in, at which point I quickly bailed.
Anyway, here's to hoping the club keeps Clipp. Knowing him on and off the field, he should fit right in.