While the Washington Nationals placed three players on the 2012 National League All Star Game roster and could potentially send a fourth, depending on the “Final Vote” results, there’s a segment of the fanbase that clearly feels that Tyler Clippard should not have been left off the roster. There are always players left off the rosters for the All Star Game who some believe should have made the team. It’s inevitable no matter how the voting is conducted, but sometimes there are legitimate arguments that simply cannot be overlooked.
Clippard’s may be one of those situations.
The 27 year old right-hander has arguably become one of the most reliable relievers in Nationals history when you look at what he’s been able to produce on the field collectively over the past few seasons. Since transitioning to the bullpen full time at the start of the 2009 season Clippard holds a 19-12 record with 14 saves in 226 appearances (274 innings). He has an ERA of 2.43 over that span, adding 10.6 K/9 and 3.7 BB/9 with a 1.033 WHIP. What’s perhaps most telling, however, is that he’s thrived no matter what role he’s been asked to fill.
2009 and 2010 saw Clippard largely pitching in the late innings, but he wasn’t truly the team’s primary setup option. He was the vulture in the bullpen, especially during 2010, who’d come into the close games, hold the opposition from scoring, and earn the win when the Nationals rallied late. He won 11 games in 2010, leading the Majors in relief wins.
Last year he handled the setup duties like one of the game’s best. He made 72 appearances, posted a 1.83 ERA, struck out 104 batters in 88.1 innings, and yes, made the NL All Star team. 2012 started much the same, but with the ineffectiveness and injuries plaguing the Nationals bullpen, Clippard finally was able to step into the closer’s role he has long publicly coveted and he’s flourished. He’s 13 for 13 in save opportunities and has yet to allow a run to score in a save situation. He’s impressed enough that Davey Johnson has already stated that Clippard would remain in the closer’s role once Drew Storen returns from the disabled list later this month and Clippard was just named Delivery Man of the Month for June by Major League Baseball.
Typically speaking there aren’t many relief pitchers that make the respective All Star rosters each year. The game just simply isn’t designed for it and it often takes an outstanding season for a reliever to earn such a recognition. However, this year there are five relievers on the NL squad – Cincinnati left-hander Aroldis Chapman, Pittsburgh righ-hander Joel Hanrahan, Atlanta right-hander Craig Kimbrel, Philadelphia right-hander Jonathan Papelbon, and San Diego right-hander Huston Street.
Clippard’s numbers across the board are fairly comparable to both Papelbon and Street’s on the season to date. Clippard is behind slightly in K/9 and BB/9, but has thrown more innings and is pitching more consistently than the pair. However, Street is the lone representative from the Padres and there really are no viable alternatives on either roster. In the end, any discussion about Clippard being “more deserving” than him is a moot point, as he’d need to be replaced by someone from his own team should he need to miss the game for any reason.
Papelbon, while just one of three Phillies to make the roster*, has been one of the bright spots on what has been a largely disappointing season for the Philadelphia faithful. He’s saved 18 games on the year with a 3.03 ERA despite allowing a career high 1.2 HR/9. Papelbon has the experience factor in his favor, however, and where the final spots on the roster are influenced by the thoughts of the manager, in this case Tony LaRussa, and it’s no secret that LaRussa likes his veteran relievers.
* Thanks to commentor souldrummer for pointing out an error in the original version of this post in which I mistakenly overlooked Cole Hamels and Carlos Ruiz making the team.
Chapman is 4-4 with 9 saves and a 1.98 ERA for the Reds, while finally emerging as the dominant reliever he’s been expected to be since the team signed him prior to the 2010 season. He’s got one of the top fastballs in the Majors and is the only left-handed reliever to make the NL squad, perhaps justifying his selection.
Hanrahan (3-0, 20 saves, 2.10 ERA) and Kimbrel (0-1, 23 saves, 1.50 ERA) have steadily been two of the best closers in the National League over the past two seasons and both are deserving All Stars this year. While Clippard makes a strong case for the game, he hasn’t been a better option than either of these two on the season to date.
Clippard’s case for being a part of the All Star Game festivities is certainly sound but it’s unclear if a strong argument can be made for why he should have made it instead of another reliever who did make the team. The All Star Game is a big honor, there’s no question about it, but there’s no way that everyone who deserves to go to the game will be able to fit onto the roster. Clippard is merely a victim of the numbers this year. Maybe being in the thick of a pennant race is enough of a trade off that he’s ok with the decision.