Tyler Clippard: National League Ranking

brandonconner
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Throughout the month, we will be ranking each Nationals starter and a couple of bench players to see where they rank at their positions in the National League. Earlier this week, we ranked Doug Fister and Tanner Roark. Today we will be continuing our series with Tyler Clippard.

In these rankings, we will be using statistics from the last two seasons to give us a bigger sample size – to see just how good Nationals players are. In this effort, we will see which parts of the team need to be fixed and which are solid compared to the rest of the league. The first step for the Nationals is to win the division, so if any National League East player comes across in our findings, we will be sure to point it out. If not, the main goal is winning the National League Pennant and going to the World Series.

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I will analyze both standard percentages as well as advanced statistics. This will give us a full picture of who the best players are at that position. To put the players in some type of order, we will be using WAR. This gives us a baseline to start the analysis.

Over the last two seasons, the top five National League relievers by WAR according to FanGraphs are Craig Kimbrel (4.4), Mark Melancon (4.4), Aroldis Chapman (4.3), Kenley Jansen (4.2), and Steve Cishek (3.4). With a WAR of 1.9, Clippard comes in at 9th on the list, between a pair of Rockies, Matt Belisle and Adam Ottavino.

Two of these players, Kimbrel and Cishek, reside in the NL East. Jonathan Papelbon also comes in slightly ahead of Clippard with a WAR of 2.7. All three of these pitchers are closers. The Nats closer, on the other hand, is nowhere to be found, which isn’t surprising given Soriano’s awful 2014 season.

Looking at these rankings, it’s apparent that closers have an inherent advantage. A lot of the value that is measured in WAR comes from save opportunities. In fact, the top seven pitchers on our list of relievers all have at least 48 saves over the past two seasons. Clippard, on the other hand, has only one. If we take out the closers, Clippard ranks 2nd in all other relievers over the last two years, which is certainly a positive sign for the Nats.

One of the most important stats we can look at for pitchers is K/9, or the number of strikeouts that a pitcher has per every nine innings pitched. This is even more relevant for relievers, since they are counted on to get outs in high-leverage situations, often coming in with runners on base, who they are expected to keep from scoring.

Over the last two seasons, Clippard has a K/9 rate of 9.87, or over one strikeout per inning pitched. This number isn’t quite as high as a lot of the pitchers that qualify, but it’s higher than Melancon, Papelbon, and Ottavino, who slide in above him on our WAR rankings. In other words, Clippard has been good at missing bats, a good quality for someone coming out of the bullpen.

This ability can also be seen when analyzing Clippard’s WHIP and batting average against. Clippard comes in fifth and fourth in those categories respectively, posting a 0.93 WHIP and a .168 average against. His walk rate of 19.5% comes in at 13th. Looking at this, it’s apparent that Clippard doesn’t just strand runners; he’s also been great at not allowing further damage by keeping more runners from reaching base.

Another stat which Clippard compares favorably with his non-closer contemporaries is FIP, or fielding independent pitching. This statistic looks at a pitcher’s results independent of luck and fielding, standardizing the number into something like an ERA number.

For Clippard, this statistic over the past years comes in at 3.29. While not quite so low as the FIP numbers of the closers ahead of him, Clippard’s FIP is in line with Belisle and Ottavino. In other words, Clippard’s results independent of luck and fielding errors are right in line with the other top relievers in the league.

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Unfortunately, it’s not all good news for Clippard. Over the past two years, he’s surrendered 14 home runs, the most of any of the top ten relievers on our board. His fly ball rate of 54.1% is also worrisome. Among all qualified candidates over the past two seasons, only Pat Neshek of the Cardinals had a higher rate. Clippard could run into problems if he can’t get that down, and the last thing the Nats need is for him to keep surrendering fly balls, particularly those that end up in the stands.

Perhaps the most worrisome, though, is Clippard’s BABIP, or batting average on balls in play. This measures how many balls in play against a pitcher go for hits, excluding home runs. For Clippard, this number is an ultra-low .203. This sounds like a good thing. After all, if balls that are put into play aren’t falling for hits, then what is there to worry about?

The worry here is mostly about “regression to the mean.” The average BAPIP is around .300, and a low BABIP is incredibly difficult for pitchers to maintain. It seems to reason, then, that Clippard, like anyone else, is a ripe candidate to have his numbers fall back down to earth. It’s far from a guarantee, but Nats fans might want to keep their fingers crossed when it comes to Clippard’s ability to avoid disaster when the ball is put in play.

So what do these rankings say about Tyler Clippard? In short, he’s been a key asset to the Nationals, a great reliever who has consistently contributed to the Nats success. He’s good at getting strikeouts, a key quality for delivering in high-leverage situations. However, Nats fans must be cautious going forward. Clippard surrenders a lot of fly balls, and his BABIP is due for a regression, meaning that he may be a prime candidate for an off year in 2015.

However, if Clippard continues to post the sort of numbers that he has over the last two seasons, then the Nats can remain confident that they have one of the best, most reliable relief pitchers in the league.

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