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Johnson praises Clippard’s consistency

Aug 30, 2013, 12:26 PM EDT

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

In a season that has seen inconsistency up and down the Nationals’ roster, Tyler Clippard has been as steady and reliable as ever. He’s appeared in more games than any other pitcher on the Nats’ staff (61) and holds its lowest ERA (1.94).

Relief pitching is usually among the most volatile roles in sports. Success can be fleeting, fortunes and failures extreme. But though Clippard’s role has changed slightly over the years, his reliability has been a constant since 2009.

“He’s been the most consistent pitcher I’ve had in some time,” Davey Johnson said. “And his numbers are off the charts.”

Clippard is just 11 1/3 innings away from his total workload last season, a year he filled in as closer to save 32 games. With a month left in the schedule, he should easily surpass last year’s mark and possibly challenge his career-high for games played. Clippard made 78 appearances in 2010 which remains his highest total to date.

Johnson expects Clippard to set the career-high, simply because he needs him. Rafael Soriano and Drew Storen have both had their troubles at the end of games this season and the bullpen as a whole has been a weakness.

“A lot of the workload he had early, he wouldn’t have had,” Johnson said. “I had him in games where we were close, to keep us close.”

The Nats are 21st in the majors in bullpen ERA this season at 3.75. Their ERA in the ninth inning or later ranks 23rd in MLB at 3.91. But in the eighth inning, where Clippard has pitched primarily, he holds a 1.24 mark through 45 outings.

One thing Clippard has improved on specifically this season is eliminating extra base hits. This year he has a 3.5 extra basehit percentage (% of XBH per PA), about half of his career average. Batters are making contact with Clippard’s pitches at the same rate they always have, they just aren’t causing major damage.

Clippard is seeing more opponents swing at his pitches as well. 54 percent of his pitches have been swung at this season and 82 percent of his strikes have been on swings, both are career-highs. His 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings rate is also the lowest he’s held since joining the Nationals.

No matter how he gets out of jams, Johnson has been impressed with Clippard’s ability to pitch under pressure since before he even managed him.

“Even before I got here, I was watching the games, he’d come in in tough situations earlier in the game and get out of it and pitch another inning. And he did that quite frequently – get out of a big jam and pitch another inning.”

Clippard has pitched in ten of the Nats’ 14 wins since they were swept by the Braves Aug. 8-10. He’s been pivotal in their late season surge and, if they are to continue winning, will likely set up many of the future victories with dominant eighth innings.

“I feel for what we have to do from here on out, I’m gonna have to lean on him heavy,” Johnson said.

  1. Sec 3, My Sofa - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    And he has good run-in music.
    Fugees version of Ready or Not
    One of the few covers of an old tune (by the Delphonics, back then) I like better.

  2. Eugene in Oregon - Aug 30, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    Everyone — Davey Johnson included — please knock on wood (or, at the very least, imitation wood grain) quickly. Like right now.

  3. Section 222 - Aug 30, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    Clipp is a stud. It’s as simple as that. In 40 of his 61 appearances, he hasn’t given up a hit. And in 30 he hasn’t given up a hit or a walk. That’s just phenomenal. By comparison, Soriano has appeared in 58 games. In 19 he hasn’t allowed a hit and in 16 he hasn’t allowed a hit or a walk.

  4. Feel Wood - Aug 30, 2013 at 1:14 PM

    So I guess the moral of the story is Eckstein’s clipboard bad, Tyler Clipboard good?

  5. masterfishkeeper - Aug 30, 2013 at 1:39 PM

    In other news, Chris Young made a start for the Gulf Coast Nats this week, going two innings. He must have been a decade older than anyone else in the game.

  6. Sonny G 10 - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    Clip has been going great. I like that he has that curve ball in his hip pocket that gives the hitters something else to think about.

  7. NatsLady - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    Clip is an extreme flyball pitcher, literally the most extreme in the league. Us having a good outfield is great for him. Yes, he will give up the HR occasionally, that is the price you pay. But when he puts the ball in play, fielders are going to catch it (and they won’t have to throw it), hence the low BABiP characteristic of flyball pitchers. He also knows how to reach back and get a strikeout, and he isn’t afraid of long foul-ball battles. He just needs to be careful not to be predictable so hitters sit on the change-up. That is why the K of Stanton on three fastballs was risky but excellent.

    • bowdenball - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:17 PM

      A .154 BABIP is not characteristic of fly ball pitchers. It’s characteristic of being incredibly lucky. He’s almost 50 points lower than every pitcher in the league with 50 or more IP.

      • NatsLady - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:23 PM

        Yes. 154 is lucky.

        But I looked it up and did some matching. On average, flyball pitchers do have a lower BABiP than ground ball pitchers. Also, Clip is getting fewer line-drives hit against him (on a percent basis) than a lot of other relievers–batters are not able to square up well on his pitches–which also contributes to the lower BABiP. .

        There was a piece a couple of weeks ago (sorry, don’t have the line) about the two types of change-ups. One is a change-up aimed at getting ground ball outs, the other is a change-up aimed at getting strikeouts. The approach and movement is different. You can see where Clip falls, he is not getting ground balls with his change, he is either getting swings, or he is setting up the high fastball.

      • bowdenball - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:12 PM

        Yes, on average fly ball pitchers have a lower BABIP than ground ball pitchers. But it’s a very slight difference. And line drive rates aren’t nearly as useful an indicator for pitchers as they are for hitters. That’s kind of the fundamental premise of DIPS.

        Don’t get me wrong- Clippard would be a successful pitcher even with normal luck. He has a good K rate and a manageable walk rate and he’s a horse who has no problem pitching 10-15 more innings a season than normal back end relievers. I love him to death. But make no mistake- he’s been VERY lucky this season. I hope Nats fans keep this in mind when his numbers regress a little in 2013 and they don’ panic and wonder what the heck is wrong with him.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:27 PM

        Over past four seasons, among pitchers with at least 300 innings, Clip has a BABIP of .231 which is the best. In past five seasons, this will be his third season with under .200 BABIP.
        Clip has been doing this for a while. Lot of flyballs that do not go out of park and lots of Ks lead to lower BABIP consistently.

  8. NatsLady - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:14 PM

    Another thing Clip does well is not let bad calls get to him. You want me to throw 5 strikes instead of 3? Well, OK, then, here ya go.

  9. adcwonk - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    Clip’s success, as I reported earlier, after hearing him on a pre-game radio show, is that he added a curve-ball to his repertoire.

    Last two years he was almost all fastball/change. By the middle of last year teams had figured it out and were waiting on one or the other.

    So, over the winter, he decided to add back his curveball (which he threw when he was a starter), and we can all see that it’s made a huge difference.

    Way to go, Clip!!

    • NatsLady - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:28 PM

      I think you and I must have heard the same interview. I remember him saying also that you have to throw the curve a lot early on in the season. Otherwise, he said, it’s not there when you need it. I think he meant you have to resist the temptation to get quick outs with the FB and change–take the risk to use the curve, develop it, be able to throw it for strikes, make hitters aware of its existence.

    • Section 222 - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:35 PM

      I was going to dispute the assertion that it made a huge difference because my recollection was that Clipp was pretty darn effective last year. But you’re absolutely right Wonk. Clip had 74 appearances last year. After the first 37, his ERA was 1.73 our opponents’ collective OPS was a miniscule .424. In his last 37, his ERA was 5.70 and our opponent’s OPS was .792.

      First 30 appearances this year — ERA 2.48 OPS .541.
      Most recent 31 appearances – ERA 1.44 OPS .405.

      Amazing.

      • NatsLady - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:37 PM

        Correct. Clip himself said he lost the closers job because he became too predictable.

  10. Candide - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:28 PM

    Orioles get Michale Morse.

    • Candide - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:29 PM

      Or Michael Morse. Still checking my sources…

      • NatsLady - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:41 PM

        Baltimore wasn’t able to come to an agreement with Minnesota for Josh Willingham, but the Orioles have added a right-handed power hitter in acquiring Michael Morse from Seattle for Triple-A outfielder Xavier Avery.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:29 PM

      For Xavier Avery. Another robbery by Os folks. The other one was trading bedard away for Jones, Tillman, Sherrill, and some other guy.

  11. NatsLady - Aug 30, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    Still getting used to Bernadina with “Phillies” spashed across his chest. Made a nice catch there.

  12. Section 222 - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:08 PM

    Hadn’t noticed this yesterday from Wagner’s post in Nats Journal about ALR, perhaps it was noted here:

    “LaRoche has hit four homers in August, the same number as the previous two months combined. He has struck out 19 times in 79 at-bats. He has battled a leaner body, playing at 200 pounds, about 10 to 15 pounds less than he would prefer, the byproduct of the Ritalin medicine he takes to combat ADD (attention deficit disorder).”

    So not ill, but medication related.

    • natsfan1a - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:56 PM

      So those who were virtually diagnosing him with various ailments were wrong? I’m shocked. ;-)

  13. Faraz Shaikh - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:31 PM

    I would seriously consider trading away Clippard if we can get really good value for him.

    • Faraz Shaikh - Aug 30, 2013 at 3:39 PM

      in the off-season of course.

      • veejh - Aug 30, 2013 at 5:35 PM

        You must be smoking.crack. How do you replace a guy like this when trying to contend? Bad move.

      • Faraz Shaikh - Aug 30, 2013 at 8:47 PM

        as good as Clippard has been, he has only provided value for 60 some innings in a season. I don’t see why we have to pay more than $4 million for that. Lots of GMs build their bullpen with much cheaper options. I think we should work towards that.

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