The Blue Jays have announced a minor-league deal with righty Tyler Clippard. It includes an invitation to MLB camp.
Clippard only just turned 33 and has a long history of outstanding bullpen production. While his fastball velocity has continued to dwindle, Clippard is coming off of a season in which he posted a healthy 14.0% swinging-strike rate that sits above his career average.
Of course, there are other areas of concern, too. Clippard worked in the zone just 40.6% of the time, a personal low, while doling out free passes at a rate (4.6 per nine) not seen since he was still establishing himself with the Nationals.
Then, there’s the fact that Clippard’s hidden weapon — the ability to induce infield flies — was no longer quite as potent. (He ended the year with a 10.3% infield fly rate, lowering his career rate to 16.0%.) A few more of those pops have been squared up and turned into long balls, perhaps owing in part to his reduced velocity, with an assist from the increasingly springy baseball that Clippard and others are throwing.
The end result wasn’t pretty, as Clippard finished with a 4.77 ERA, marking the first time he finished a full season having allowed more than four earned per nine. He bounced between three organizations and was not selected to participate on the Astros’ World Series roster despite landing in Houston late in the season.
Despite the struggles, it’s easy to justify giving Clippard another look. Entering the 2017 season, after all, he had compiled 587 2/3 innings of 2.77 ERA ball as a major-league reliever. Notably, too, he was still quite effective against lefties last year, holding them to a .213/.311/.366 slash. The change-up artist has long carried reverse platoon splits and dominated southpaw hitters.
As the Roster Resource Blue Jays depth chart shows, there ought to be a solid opportunity for Clippard to earn a job in Toronto, especially if the organization thinks it can use him in a somewhat more specialized manner against lefty hitters. That said, Clippard will have quite a lot of competition in camp, as the long list of non-roster pitchers in the above link shows.