April 23, 2014

Statistically Speaking: Tyler Clippard’s Shaky Start

It’s another math light week for Statistically Speaking—you don’t need much advanced knowledge of math or statistics to realize that Washington Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard has struggled mightily out of the gate this season, coming to a crescendo in Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, where the usual reliable Clippard was on the hook for all four Angels runs. Clippard sputtering to start the season isn’t anything new, as the table of selected stats over the setup man’s first 11 appearances each year since 2011 below shows:

Year IP ERA FIP OPS BABIP Strikes RE24
2014 9.2 3.72 4.49 0.798 0.300 63.00% -4.99
2013 10.1 4.35 4.89 0.538 0.160 60.00% -1.48
2012 11 4.91 2.55 0.667 0.333 66.00% -0.80
2011 14.1 1.26 1.70 0.456 0.290 65.00% 8.09

Yes, Clippard is a notoriously slow starter; however, this season, it’s been a molasses-in-northern-Minnesota-in-January slow start. While he hasn’t been helped out by batting average on balls in play like he has historically—he owns a career .238 BABIP—he also has not helped himself out, with fielding independent pitching (FIP) nearly a run higher than his ERA, indicative of Clippard being responsible for the elevated OPS more so than any defensive miscues.

So what could explain the historically bad start by Clippard? Let’s go through some of the usual suspects that can sometimes induce performance declines and see if we can get to the heart of the matter with Clip’s shaky start.

First, let’s look at velocity; with drops in fastball velocity often come performance drops, as hitters no longer fear the velocity or the difference in velocity between the hard stuff and the offspeed stuff, so perhaps this is the culprit:

Brooksbaseball-Chart(1)

With the above chart, we find the exact opposite—Clippard’s fastball velocity has actually increased a hair in 2014, averaging 93.4 mph and maxing out at a little over 96 mph. His other most frequently thrown pitches (split-fingered fastballs are not shown due to small sample size) are also within shouting distance of one another with respect to velocity, so we can put to rest any questions over the demise of Clippards velocity, fastball or otherwise.

Thinking about all of his pitches, let’s see how he’s used each of his pitches in 2014. SL stands for slider, CH for changeup, FC for cut fastball, and FF for four-seam fastball:

TC_2014

…compared to 2013; IN indicates an intentional ball:

TC_2013

There is a slight change in how Clippard attacks hitters this season compared to 2013—he is going to his fourseamer 10% less now than last year, opting for more sliders and changeups, primarily.

More secondary offerings in place of a fastball that’s at an all-time best, velocity-wise—how well is Clippard locating, with the caveat that he is unique in that he thrives in the upper half of the strike zone with his fastball.

First, 2014:

TC 14 Loc

…compared to last year:

TC 13 Loc

By the looks of it, Clippard is just missing with his pitches, in particular, his bread and butter, the fastball and changeup. Unfortunately, just missing means missing in the strike zone. For the fastball, there isn’t as much rise in the pitch so far this year, concomitant with less drop with the changeup and the slider, which has been left up in the zone a little more this year compared to last.

Let’s finish this brief analysis with a look at Clippard’s swinging strike rate since 2011; this rate is typically above average for the righty:

Season SwStr%
2011 16.1 %
2012 10.6 %
2013 14.3 %
2014 12.8 %
Total 13.0 %

Again, nothing really screaming out as the reason for Clippard’s demise. Let’s look at the swinging strikes on 2014 broken down by pitch type for 2014:

TC SwStr

…and the same thing, looking at last year:

TC 13 SwStr

The first obvious difference is the lack of any swing-and-miss from a slider so fat in 2014; however, given the pitch isn’t used much by Clippard, this really isn’t anything of concern. However, despite the small smattering of data so far for this season, we do see that hitters aren’t chasing or missing the high fastball, just out of the zone. Hitters are also not apt to chase the changeup out of the strike zone this season, by the looks of it. Overall, we see Clippard’s ability to get hitters to chase not as strong this year, with those swings and misses just out of the zone being spit on, leading to working behind in the count more often, leading to both increased walk rates (5.6 BB/9 in 2014) and grooved pitches to get strike calls.

It’s been a discouraging start to the season for Clippard, but it appears that with a slight tweak in approach and possibly mechanics, the rough start will get smoothed out, bringing a return to the form that Nats fans have enjoyed for the last few years and the normally reliable Clippard back on track towards getting hitters to chase his pitch.

 ***

Data courtesy of Baseball-Reference, Brooks Baseball, FanGraphs, and Baseball Savant.

Washington Nationals Spring Training 2014 Preview Part V: The Bullpen

Washington Nationals RHP Tyler Clippard pitched 8th inning and earned 10th hold against Baltimore Orioles, May 20, 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals RHP Tyler Clippard in action of May 2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

As a whole, the Washington Nationals return mostly intact from the teams that won 98 games in 2012 and 86 games in 2013. This is a veteran team with high aspirations of competing in the World Series. I hardly think rookie manager Matt Williams will boldly proclaim “World Series or Bust” as his predecessor did, but the implications are there.

If the team overachieved in ’12 and underachieved last season, what is the logical progression for 2014? If the ’12 and ‘13 results had been flipped, I think everyone would be riding the Nats as an odd-on favorite this season. They may be anyway.

With a rotation as solid No. 1 through No. 4 as any in baseball, a deep bullpen, an infield full of silver sluggers and a versatile outfield led by a burgeoning superstar, the Washington Nationals seem poised to make noise this season on a national level.

For the next two weeks, District Sports Page will preview the Washington Nationals 2014 season. This week, we’ll do profiles of the players on the 40-man roster and significant non-roster invitees, players that have a chance to make an impact on the Nats roster this season.

Here’s the schedule:

Monday: The Infield
Tuesday: The Outfield
Wednesday: The Catchers
Thursday: The Rotation
Friday: The Bullpen

In week two, we’ll profile the manager and front office, reveal our Top-25 minor leaguers and prospects, examine the “big picture” the Nats this season, and do a little statistical analysis and projecting.

THE BULLPEN

Rafael Soriano, RHP: The saves were there last year, the elite skills were not. Soriano’s ERA and WHIP were their highest in any season he’s been a team’s top closer. On top of that, his K rate went down precipitously as he transitioned from a pitcher with a slider out pitch to a fastball pitcher, one who’s lost velocity each of the past four seasons. He lowered his walk rate, which obviously is good, but his hit rate jumped. His ground ball rate has dropped the past three seasons as his line drive and fly ball rates have risen, more evidence of him abandoning anything but the fastball. If the walk rate goes back to his normal seasonal allowance, he could be in a world of trouble. As it is, the velocity and strikeout rate drops are a big warning sign for a 34-year-old pitcher who hates not closing.

Tyler Clippard, RHP: Clippard turned in another exceptional season for the Nats with a 2.41 ERA and ridiculous 0.859 WHIP. All was bolstered by an incredibly unsustainable 4.7 H/9 rate and .172 BABiP, which completely mirrored his 2011 All-Star campaign. Those types of numbers are just unheard of, so he’s unlikely to repeat them, but he’s a funky pitcher. He succeeds with high fastballs and a changeup that almost impossible to identify out of his unusual and, frankly, weird delivery. The strikeout and ground ball rates were down just a tick but not alarmingly so. Clippard should be just fine in his established role. The big thing to worry about him is the price tag. He avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $5.88 million contract and he isn’t a free agent until after 2016, so the price tags is just going to keep going up. That’s a lot for a non-closer reliever — albeit one of the best in the game.

Drew Storen, RHP: Oh boy. Where do we start? Storen was fairly terrible in the first half, pitching to a 5.95 ERA, fueled by a .355 BABiP and outrageously high hit rate. The walks were fine, the Ks were fine, he was just simply unlucky as to balls finding their way into green space. He was sent to the minors on July 26 after wearing a the final inning of an 11-0 drubbing by the Mets on a day that he ran a 103 degree fever. When he came back Aug. 16, he was the same old Storen. Well, not really. He ditched the silly straight leg kick for a more conventional one that allowed him to have a more consistent delivery, but the results were more attributable to normalization. He held batters to a .200/.263/.214 line upon his return.

Jerry Blevins, LHP: Obtained from the A’s for Minor League Player of the Year Billy Burns, Blevins is more than a typical lefty specialist — he actually owned better numbers against righties than lefties last season. Overall, a 3.15 ERA and 1.067 WHIP were solid. He has a four-pitch repertoire and faced four or more batters in more than half of his appearance last season. Blevins won’t overwhelm with his fastball, and his K rates will keep him in a set up or LOOGY role, but he knows how to pitch. Has improved his walk rate each of the past three seasons.

Xavier Cedeno, LHP: Want the good news? Cedeno enjoyed his career year last season at age 26, earning a 1.50 ERA and 1.000 WHIP for the Nats. He struck out 9 per nine innings and walked just 1.5. Want the bad news? He also suffered his worst season as a big leaguer last year, as he allowed 11 runs (eight earned) in 6.1 innings for Houston before they cut him in April. Am I being dramatic? You betcha. But Cedeno’s numbers for the Nats came in just 6.0 over 11 games. Against lefties, Cedeno provided a .231/.333/.269 slash. Against righties, that jumped to .391/.517/.522. Granted, we’re talking 29 and 31 plate appearances here. Call me skeptical, but I just don’t see Cedeno coming anywhere near approaching his numbers for the Nats last season again. He’s not a kid, and nothing in his history indicates this was anything more than a couple of good appearances in a row against limited competition.

Craig Stammen, RHP: Stammen could start for half the teams in baseball. His stuff is that good. All his peripherals continue to go in the right direction and his traditional numbers are solid across the board. Is this a pitcher that has found his spot? Or are the Nats hiding a gem, either intentionally or not. Either way, Stammen has proven to be an absolutely invaluable arm in the long role that he’s occupied the past two season for the team. His walk rate dropped by 0.7 this year over last — if that holds, he should earn higher leverage late innings if Clippard gets too expensive.

Ryan Mattheus, RHP: On the other hand… Mattheus was unlucky, sure. His BABiP of .405 screams it. But look at the rest. Rising walk rate. K rate less than 6 per nine. Lost velocity on his sinker. Punching a locker, breaking his hand and being completely and utterly lost once he returned. The hit rate is going to stabilize somewhat, but how much is luck and how much is just erosion of skill? He’s 30, not a youngster that needs to figure things out. He needs to prove health and competence or there are plenty of arms that will push him out of a job.

Josh Roenicke, RHP: Roenicke is famous for being the son of former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Gary Roenicke and also being Ian Desmond’s brother-in-law. Roenicke the pitcher, however, is mediocre at best. He was brought in as an NRI and will provide depth in Syracuse most likely. He walks way too many (5.2 per nine in 62 IP last season) without the high K rate (just 6.5/9) that allows you live with it.

Erik Davis, RHP: Davis made his MLB debut last season at age 26, compiling a 1-0 record, 3.12 ERA and 1.269 WHIP in 8.2 innings, striking out 12 while walking just one. This was after going 3-7 with 15 saves, 3.10 ERA and 1.433 WHIP in AAA, so small sample caveats abound. Davis was slated to compete for a role in this year’s pen, but was placed on the 60-day D.L. with an ”elbow strain” on the same day the Nats traded for Jose Lobaton. It’s quite possible he never throws a pitch to Lobaton.

Christian Garcia, RHP: “If only Garcia could stay healthy…” Any Nats fan that knows more than just Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg will cite Garcia as their secret weapon. He’s got the stuff, he knows how to pitch, and he’s still young enough (27) that he could impact the MLB roster. Unfortunately, that part of staying healthy just keeps eluding Garcia. He’s already had two Tommy John’s while he was property of the Yankees and last season he was limited to 13.1 innings in the minors after suffering a torn wrist tendon, which triggered shoulder soreness and hamstring injuries. He owns four quality MLB pitches, he just needs to get on a mound to show them off. Problem is, he can’t.

Manny Delcarmen, RHP: Delcarmen, 32, hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2010 with the Rockies. Why is he here? Well, he’s always had good stuff and has had several full seasons of downright goodness at the big league level. In 07-08 with the Red Sox he was a quality righty in their pen and some thought he had closer written all over him. Problem is, his walk rate was always high and got higher the older he got and his K rate plummeted after he hit 27. When he should have been in the peak of his career, he busted. Read into that however you want. Last year in AAA, he went 3-3 with a 2.83 ERA and 1.222 WHIP in 54 innings, so there might be something left. At the triple-A level, anyway.

Aaron Barrett, RHP: Barrett was drafted four times: by the Dodgers in the 44th round of the ’06 draft, by the Twins in the 20th round in ’08, by Texas in the 27th round in ’09 and finally by the Nats in the 9th round in 2010 after his eligibility ended for the University of Mississippi. Barrett, at age 25, dominated AA last year for Harrisburg, going 1-1 with a 2.15 ERA and 1.093 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9 and outrageous 12.3 K/9. In fact, in 149.2 IP in his minor league career, Barrett owns a 12.0 K/9 rate. He does this all with an average fastball, but a slider that Baseball America deemed best in the Nats’ system. At 6’4″, 215 he has a big league build. He needs to pitch against players his own age this year but his arm is definitely intriguing.

Clay Hensley, RHP: Hensley is a slight (5’11″, 190) righty that for the past few seasons has been able to fool enough batters to keep getting chances in the big leagues. But at 33 now, he’s running out of gas. Last season for San Francisco in 50.2 IP he walked 5.3 per nine and his ERA (4.62) showed it. Coupled with a 5.19 ERA for Florida in ’12, Hensley’s hanging on to the end of his rope.

NATS: Happy Birthday, Tyler Clippard

HAPPY 29th BIRTHDAY TYLER CLIPPARD!

Washington Nationals righty reliever was born on 02/14/1985 in Lexington, Kentucky and now calls Tampa, Florida home.

Follow Tyler Clippard on Twitter (@Tyler Clippard) and make sure to wish him a happy birthday.

Tyler Clippard earned 30th save - Chicago Cubs v. Washington Nationals, 9/3/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard earned 30th save – Chicago Cubs v. Washington Nationals, 9/3/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

2013 NatsFest, 1/26/2013: Pitcher Tyler Clippard signing autographs (Photo by Lisa Milisa)

2013 NatsFest, 1/26/2013: Pitcher Tyler Clippard signing autographs (Photo by Lisa Milisa)

 

Tyler Clippard pitching at Nats Park, July 10, 2011 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Tyler Clippard gets another save - Atlanta Braves v. Washington Nationals, 8/21/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard gets another save – Atlanta Braves v. Washington Nationals, 8/21/2012. (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

 

Tyler Clippard #36 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Nats Nightly: Strasburg strong but Clippard coughs it up late in 3-2 lost to Phils

Dave Nichols of District Sports Page and Patrick Reddington of SBNation’s Federal Baseball discuss the Washington Nationals 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, knocking the Nats back to 7 1/2 games out of the wild card.

Washington Nationals Game 17 Review: Twice for Bryce – Harper goes deep to help lift Nats over Mets 7-6

Bryce Harper went 3-for-3 with two home runs and three RBIs as the Washington Nationals (10-7) topped the New York Mets (8-8) 7-6 at Citi Field Saturday afternoon.

The Nats banked on the long ball early on to give Gio Gonzalez (1-1) his first lift of the game on Ian Desmond’s first-pitch homer to left in the second inning. [Read more...]

NATS: Happy Birthday, Tyler Clippard

HAPPY 28th BIRTHDAY TYLER CLIPPARD!

Washington Nationals righty reliever was born on 02/14/1985 in Lexington, Kentucky and now calls Tampa, Florida home.

Follow Tyler Clippard on Twitter (@Tyler Clippard) and make sure to wish him a happy birthday.

Tyler Clippard pitching during Nationals home opener, 4/12/2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Tyler Clippard pitching during Nationals home opener, 4/12/2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

2013 NatsFest, 1/26/2013: Pitcher Tyler Clippard signing autographs (Photo by Lisa Milisa)

2013 NatsFest, 1/26/2013: Pitcher Tyler Clippard signing autographs (Photo by Lisa Milisa)

 

Tyler Clippard pitching at Nats Park, July 10, 2011 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Clippard #36 (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Washington Nationals 2013 Season Preview: The Bullpen

This week, District Sports Page will take a look at the players that should comprise the 2013 roster of the Washington Nationals. Following a record-setting season last year that saw the Nats finish first in the N.L. East and advance to the playoffs for the first time since the relocation, GM Mike Rizzo has tweaked the roster a bit and expectations have never been higher for the organization, which is expected to be a legitimate World Series contender this season.

Monday, we looked at the starting pitchers. Today, it’s the bullpen.

PROJECTED OPENING DAY BULLPEN: Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Ryan Mattheus, Craig Stammen, Zach Duke, Henry Rodriguez/Christian Garcia [Read more...]

2013 Washington Nationals NatsFest (with fan photos)

“We’re going to the World Series this year.” – Principal Owner Mark Lerner said during a “State of the Nationals” forum for season ticket holders at NatsFest.

The Washington Nationals held NatsFest on Saturday, January 26 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. By all accounts, it sounded like a big success with more than 7,000 fans (per @NationalsPR).

Fans got a chance to see new Nationals Denard Span and Dan Haren as well as several other Nats players and prospects, including Corey Brown, Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond, Ross Detwiler, Danny Espinosa, Christian Garcia, Gio Gonzalez, Brian Goodwin, Bryce Harper, Nathan Karns, Steve Lombardozzi, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Moore, Ryan Perry, Anthony Rendon, Will Rhymes, Matt Skole, Drew Storen, Kurt Suzuki, Chad Tracy, Jayson Werth and Jordan Zimmermann.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and Mark Lerner, one of the team’s Principal Owners, as well as team broadcasters Bob Carpenter, F.P. Santangelo, Charlie Slowes and Phil Wood were also in attendance. [Read more...]

Washington Nationals fans learning the price of getting good

In the last two days, the Washington Nationals have relegated two fan favorites to lesser roles on the team and discarded two others. It’s part of the unfortunate part of the business. Fans get attached to certain players for their personality or willingness to engage fans, then see those heroes leave the organization unceremoniously when a better or different or cheaper option comes along.

This winter, it’s all about maximizing the roster for a legitimate World Series run, as it should be. That doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hurt when a fan favorite is pushed out of a job or off the team altogether.

The acquisition of closer Rafael Soriano Tuesday pushes Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard each up one inning in the pecking order, if not placing one or the other squarely on the trading block. On Wednesday, the other shoe from re-signing Adam LaRoche fell: the Nats traded Michael Morse to the Seattle Mariners in a three-team deal with the Oakland A’s in a trade that had most of the fan bases for each team complaining they didn’t get enough in the deal. [Read more...]

NATS: 2013 NatsFest Details

Washington Nationals fans should check the website for updated information as all player appearances and activities are subject to change.

Ryan Zimmerman and fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Ryan Zimmerman and fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nationals fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Nationals fan at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo answering fan questions at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo answering fan questions at 2010 NatsFest (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

WASHINGTON NATIONALS ANNOUNCE 2013 NATSFEST DETAILS

Event to take place Saturday, January 26 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. at
Washington Convention Center

The Washington Nationals today released new details about 2013 NatsFest, taking place for the first time at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Saturday, January 26, 2013.

More than 25 Nationals players and prospects are expected to attend the fun-filled baseball festival, including but not limited to*: Corey Brown, Tyler Clippard, Ian Desmond, Ross Detwiler, Danny Espinosa, Christian Garcia, Gio Gonzalez, Brian Goodwin, Bryce Harper, Nathan Karns, Steve Lombardozzi, Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Moore, Michael Morse, Ryan Perry, Anthony Rendon, Will Rhymes, Matt Skole, Drew Storen, Kurt Suzuki, Chad Tracy, Jayson Werth and Jordan Zimmermann.

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and Mark Lerner, one of the team’s Principal Owners, as well as team broadcasters Bob Carpenter, F.P. Santangelo, Charlie Slowes and Phil Wood will also be in attendance. In addition, Nationals fans will have the first opportunity to meet two of the team’s latest additions, Dan Haren and Denard Span. Please note that all autograph vouchers are SOLD OUT; autograph voucher holders are encouraged to visit nationals.com/natsfest for important information.

Open to fans of all ages from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., NatsFest will offer a variety of activities including:
o Q & A sessions with players and coaches on topics including ‘Preparing for Games’ and ‘Life on the Road’

o Opportunities to take photos with players and team mascots

o A special Jr. Nats Kids Forum featuring Player Story Times and Kids Press Conferences

o The chance to learn about the team’s innovative virtual ticketing system

o Games, interactive events and surprises

The event will also feature:
o Live broadcast by 106.7 The Fan, the team’s official flagship radio station

o Opportunities to purchase the latest Nationals merchandise as well as game-used and autographed memorabilia

o Batting cages, inflatable games and 2012 trophy display

o D.J. Stylus Chris spinning music throughout the day

o Concessions for purchase

NatsFest will also offer fans the first opportunity to purchase individual and group tickets to see the Nationals take on the New York Yankees in a special preseason exhibition game on Friday, March 29 at 2:05 p.m. Tickets for NatsFest are currently on sale for Season Plan Holders at $15 for adults and $5 for children under the age of 12, and for the general public at $20 for adults and $10 for children under the age of 12 and can be purchased at nationals.com/natsfest.

Fans planning to utilize Metro’s Red Line to attend NatsFest are encouraged to add at least 20 minutes to their planned travel time due to scheduled weekend track maintenance. For directions and parking, visit the Convention Center website at www.dcconvention.com.

*All player appearances are subject to change

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