The Indians have a deal in place with righty reliever Tyler Clippard, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (Twitter link). It’s a minor-league pact that would pay him $1.75MM in the majors with up to $1MM in incentives.
Clippard worked plenty of useful frames last year for the Blue Jays, compiling a 3.67 ERA in 68 2/3 innings. That’s well shy of his prime levels, when he was a late-inning stalwart for the Nationals, but still represents a productive campaign.
Interestingly, Clippard has become an even more extreme pitcher than he was in his heyday. The 34-year-old worked at a healthy 14.3% swinging-strike rate and carried 11.1 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9. He also carried a 19.2% groundball rate last year, the lowest rate in all of baseball. Clippard still knows how to get hitters to chase and whiff on his change-up. The question remains what happens with his high heaters.
In each of the past three seasons, more than 12 percent of the balls put in the air against Clippard have ended up leaving the yard, breaking a string of six-straight years with a HR/FB rate of less than ten percent. As a result, Clippard has surrendered 33 dingers over his past 192 innings — a boost in long ball frequency that maps to a reduction in his average four-seam velocity.
On the other hand, Clippard did still bounce back to a well-above-average 16.3% infield fly rate, allowing him to rack up easy outs. When he keeps the ball in the yard, Clippard remains awfully tough to touch. In fact, he allowed earned runs in only five contests last year in which he did not also surrender a home run.
All things considered, it seems like an easy risk for the Indians to take. Clippard wasn’t well-loved by FIP (4.24) and xFIP (4.28) last year, or in the prior few campaigns, but checked in with an appealing 3.42 SIERA number in 2018. He also fared well in the eyes of Statcast, which credited him with a .278 xwOBA (compared with a .309 wOBA). Clippard is also the game’s most durable reliever, easily topping the league in total innings over the past decade.