Extension Candidate: Tyler Clippard

Icon_6756808The Washington Nationals are clearly a team on the rise, combining a young rotation (Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez) with an improving offense (Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Morse, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, eventually Bryce Harper) and a solid bullpen. Part of that bullpen is setup man Tyler Clippard, who's been one of the game's best relievers since the Nats moved him to the bullpen full-time in 2009.

Clippard, 27 in February, was acquired from the Yankees for Jonathan Albaladejo in December 2007. A starting pitcher with just a half-dozen big league starts to his credit at the time of the trade, the Nats kept the right-hander in Triple-A for the majority of the 2008 season. He struggled, pitching to a 4.77 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 4.2 BB/9 in 143 minor league innings that year, making a pair of unspectacular spot starts for Washington in June. The Nationals moved him to the bullpen full-time in 2009, and after a 24-game trial in the minors, he was called up in late-June and has been a bullpen force ever since.

Since that June 2009 call-up, Clippard has pitched to a 2.52 ERA with 10.6 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9. His arm has proven to be resilient after working 91 innings in 2010 (78 appearances) and 88 1/3 innings in 2011 (72 appearances), and his fastball velocity has actually increased the last two years. He also cut his walk rate from 4.3 BB/9 in 2009-2010 to just 2.6 BB/9 in 2011. Clippard's biggest flaw is his utter inability to get ground balls, which makes him homer prone. His 25.6% ground ball rate since the start of 2009 is easily the lowest among all pitchers (min. 200 IP), and his 1.05 HR/9 is the third highest among relievers during that time. He did make his first All-Star team in 2011 despite the long ball problem.

Clippard qualified for Super Two status by just two days of service time this offseason, so he'll be arbitration-eligible four times instead of the usual three. Our system projects him to make $1.7MM in 2012, which puts him in uncharted territory for non-closing relievers. Fellow Super Two relievers like George Sherrill ($900K in 2008), Brandon League ($640K in 2009), Rafael Perez ($795K in 2010), and Nick Masset ($1.035MM in 2010) all received considerably less their first time through arbitration while Brian Wilson ($4.4375MM in 2010) received considerably more thanks to his saves total. Clippard falls somewhere in the middle, an elite setup man without enough saves to pad his salary.

You don't see many teams locking up relievers to long-term contracts that buy out arbitration years for a number of reasons, namely the risk involved. Relievers are more volatile than just about any other position in the game, plus their salaries generally remain affordable through arbitration anyway. Wilson, Masset, Manny Corpas, and Jonathan Broxton all signed multi-year contracts that bought out some (but not all) arbitration years and no free agent years. A similarly structured contract could benefit both the Nationals and Clippard.

A two-year contract in the $4-4.5MM range or a three-year contract around $8MM seasons reasonable, though that is just my speculation. A relatively short-term commitment like that would put some guaranteed money in Clippard's pocket while allowing him to maintain the earning potential of his later arbitration years and free agency. The Nats would get some financial certainty and save a few bucks before he starts approaching closer money through arbitration. Most relievers don't get the luxury of multi-year contracts, but then again Clippard isn't most relievers. Washington is improving every year, and a multi-year deal for their star setup man could help ensure that he's still affordable when they're ready to contend.

Photo courtesy of Icon SMI.

20 Responses to Extension Candidate: Tyler Clippard Leave a Reply

  1. Jake White 4 years ago

    Yankees crapped the bed on that trade.

  2. fitz 4 years ago

    Pretty sad that the guy they spent $126 million on can’t even get a mention in the improving offense note.

  3. soxxxxx 4 years ago

    remember the time he gave up four home runs in a row…

    • Vmmercan 4 years ago

      Remember the time his name was Chase Wright?

      • YanksFanSince78 4 years ago

        He’s getting his “Yankee prospects that the Yanks had on a short leash and gave up on too quickly” confused. Clippard, Melancon, Kennedy…

        • asdf asdf 4 years ago

          i wouldn’t say they gave up on Kennedy too quickly.  The man just recovered from an aneurism-removal surgery.  Plus, he was involved in acquiring Granderson.

  4. That guy is a thorn in the marlins side.

  5. Guest 4 years ago

    really can’t say the yanks screwed up….didn’t he start and you gotta remember the nats converted him to set-up man…..that was a lucky trade by the nats, and im a nats fan and say it was a good piece of luck

    • Guest 4 years ago

      though give them credit for thinking to convert him and grooming him well in it

      • Guest 4 years ago

        yup….they figured it out….that is an example of how one teams trash is anothers treasure

    • YanksFanSince78 4 years ago

      Yeah but the thing is, he was such a great looking pitching prospect as a starter, he struggled in 07 at age 22 @ AAA and they simply gave him away for a middling relief pitcher. Never a good trade. We could afford to trade guys like him and McAlister because we had so many guys that passed them on the depth chart but still….never a smart thing to do in theory. Good for him and others for figuring it out.

      • Guest 4 years ago

        i would chalk it up to getting lucky on happy hour…just an opinion bro

      • alcan21 4 years ago

        abaladejo was lights out in the minors… last year as a yankee prospect he led all AAA in relief pitching stats.  abaladejo could not translate his minor league success to the mlb.  Thus, in hindsight it is easy to say the yanks made a mistake with clippard.

  6. LUWahooNatFan 4 years ago

    Clippard is definitely an important piece in the young core the Nationals have right now

  7. slider32 4 years ago

    Clippard has made himself into a top quality set up man, the Nats will take care of him.

  8. nats2012 4 years ago

    I think Clippard and J. Zimmermann are two guys the Nats should extend.

  9. Buyer beware:

    3.07, 3.18, 3.64, .284

    1.83, 3.17, 3.20, .197

    He had an unsustainably low BABIP that led to a low ERA in 2011. His 2010 is closer to what you can expect from him, he’s ok, but nothing spectacular and nothing to “lock down”. The Nats would be best to trade him to a GM who doesnt pay attention to stats like these and only cares about ERA.

    • hallwagner 4 years ago

      other side of that is he really doesn’t even put that many balls into play, considering his well above average strikeout rate

    • His 2010 numbers actually are slightly inflated because of a few bad innings late in the season. He was sub-3.00 for the majority of 2010. Clippard has been their best reliever for two straight seasons. He is consistently called upon in clutch situations to close out tough innings and has been utilized as a multi-inning setup man. Stats like these never tell the whole story.

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