Apr
29

Is Tyler Clippard the one who got away?

By

The Yankees’ bullpen has cost them a few games over the last week or so, which really isn’t anything new in April. However, this year we were privy to an added bonus, some revisionist history pieces written about a trade the Yankees and Nationals consummated way back in December of 2007. That’s because over the last ten months or so, former Yankee Tyler Clippard has emerged as a bullpen force for the Nationals while the player he was traded for – Jon Albaladejo – toils away in Triple-A after being unable to make a positive impression in his many call-ups over the last two-plus seasons.

Photo Credit: Matt Slocum, AP

As I’m sure you remember, Clippard was a darling on the interwebs because of his gaudy minor league stats, and make no mistake, they were superb. He struck out 501 batters in 450.2 innings from 2004-2006, finishing among the top five in strikeouts per nine innings in all of minor league baseball each season. If you’ve followed me long enough, then you know that I was never a big T-Clip fan because the scouting report never matched the results, and I took a lot of heat for it. He relied on deception too much for my liking (look at this freaking delivery), and the stuff was merely good, not holy crap good. I acknowledged on more than one occasion that he was probably a back-end starter or reliever in the long run, and not for a team like the Yankees, which is pretty much what he is.

While Albaladejo was busy not missing bats during his many chances with the big league team (including two Opening Day roster assignments), Clippard struggled as a starter in Triple-A before the Nats made the decision to move him to the bullpen full time before last season. Without a doubt, Clippard has been tremendous for the Nationals since resurfacing as a reliever last June. He’s struck out 87 in 77 innings with just 43 hits allowed since, good for a rock solid 3.98 FIP. The ERA looks even better at 2.22, and he’s emerged as the team’s 8th inning setup man in recent weeks. However, there’s a little bit of luck fueling that performance.

Just as he was in the minors, Clippard is an extreme fly ball pitcher, getting nearly two outs in the air for every one he records on the ground (0.53 GB/FB ratio), and because of this he’s pretty homer prone, again just like he was in the minors. In those 77 innings since being called up, he’s given up nine long balls, or one for every 8.2 innings pitched or so. Furthermore, his batting average on balls in play during that time is … wait for it … an unsustainably low .204. Point two oh four! Clippard’s expected BABIP (xBABIP) based on the types of batted balls he gives up (line drives, fly balls, etc) over the same time is a still low .283, but it’s much more in the realm of normalcy. Essentially, he has allowed one fewer hit than expected out of every 11 balls put into play, so we’re talking about 16 hits that should have been charged to Clippard over those 77 innings that somehow ended up being turned into outs.

In addition to the BABIP luck, the percentage of runners that Clippard has stranded is a ridiculous 88.01%. The league average is right around 70-72%. If that were to ever regress back to the mean, his ERA would climb something like a run, a run and a quarter. Stranding runners is not a repeatable skill, though it is somewhat influenced by groundball rates because of the double play potential. However, we’ve already noted that Clippard is an extreme fly ball pitcher, so this does not compute.

Does this mean the Yankees are better off with Albaladejo than they would be with Clippard? No, of course not. They’d like to have him back just like the Mets would like to have Heath Bell back and the Brewers would like to have Nelson Cruz back. There’s no denying that Brian Cashman would like a do-over on that one, but let’s not act like the Yanks let a young John Smoltz get away here. Relievers are very volatile, and signs point to Clippard’s success having a lot more to do with straight up good great luck than true talent.

I’ve seen more than one person say recently that the Yankees screwed up by making the trade, but that’s incredibly easy to say nearly three years after the fact. They traded a surplus prospect with a less than stellar track record at Triple-A and above for a young reliever with a slightly better track record at the higher levels. The Yanks needed help for their beleaguered bullpen, the Nats needed anyone that offered some kind of promise. It really was a swap of spare parts, and Washington got the better of it. To claim the Yankees should have seen Clippard having such immense (luck fueled) success is weaksauce.

* * *

As an aside, take a quick gander at this sample of core peripheral stats dating back to last season…

Pitcher A is Clippard. Pitcher B is a reliever in the Yanks’ bullpen. His name rhymes with Ravid Dobertson. Considering the environment (league and division) each set was compiled in, who would you rather have?

Categories : Analysis

65 Comments»

  1. JohnC says:

    2 Words as far as Clippard success goes. “National League” Just ask Curt Schilling.

  2. The Three Amigos says:

    I would definitely rather have Ravid Doberson. Imagine the loudspeaker– “coming in, number 52 Ravid Doberson.” I would not want to face that guy.

  3. Honest question… Have there been multiple pieces written about the Clippard/Albaladejo trade? All I remember is that one bit by Sherman, which was like a third of a notes column.

    Also… I understand why people get annoyed when others look back and evaluate old trades, but I think sometimes that annoyance can go a bit overboard. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying, today, that Tyler Clippard has been a better pitcher, since the trade, than has Jon Albaladejo. Saying that doesn’t mean you’re killing Cashman for trading a mid-level pitching prospect for what looked like a decent relief prospect at the time. I totally get that trade, I didn’t kill it when it happened, and even though Clippard has outperformed Albaladejo, I’m not going to kill it now. It was a relatively minor deal, it hasn’t been a win for the Yanks, but I get why the deal was made and it doesn’t bother me. But, at the same time, Clippard HAS been better than Albaladejo. We CAN look back at trades, in hindsight, and grade the outcome. That’s not an indictment of the decision made at the time the trade was made, it’s a fair assessment and one that should be made.

  4. Greg G. says:

    I gotta say, Mike, a post downplaying Clippard is quite a shock coming from you. ;-)

    (j/k — I do agree with your post)

  5. CS Yankee says:

    Tyler had a true yankee name though…
    *thinks back to the Columbus Clippers*

    Water under the bridge though, so maybe the grade is a C- (or even a D), but realize that it was only a quiz worth 10 points.

    C-Grand, passing on Godzilla over OBP Jesus , and Javy are tests that will have a much larger impact than this little pop quiz.

    • Revisionist History, FTW!! Matsui signed with the Angels before, BEFORE, the Yankees made an offer. But, whatevs.

      • CS Yankee says:

        Uhh, don’t cap “before” as it appeared that they had no plans to bring him back. If I missed something here, please explain.

        They had a (several) reasonble offers to broken wing Damon but never addressed Matsui…or by not, did state their thoughts. He went on the cheap to the Angels.

        • You’re both wrong. I didn’t pass on Godzilla to sign the OBP Jesus, I passed on Godzilla the moment I traded for Curtis Granderson.

          Matsui and Johnson have absolutely nothing to do with one another. The fact that they both play DH is irrelevant. Matsui was eliminated from consideration when I traded for Granderson; Damon was eliminated from consideration when I signed Johnson. Please stop comparing Matsui and Johnson, they’re apples and oranges.

          Sincerely,
          Brian Cashman

        • Not to pile on in an “All Andys Attack”, but I’m pretty certain I read that Cashman told Matsui “we want to deal with the Damon situation, then we will speak to you”.

          Then the Angels made their offer, saying Matsui had to decide quickly, and he took the offer so as not to wind up without a team if things didn’t work out with the Yanks.

          I believe saying “it appeared that they had no plans to bring [Matsui] back” is a bit strong, and based on speculation. Do you have a link that is more than a columnist’s opinion?

          • CS Yankee says:

            Cashman told Matsui that the Damon talks would come first? If so, that might be the reason alone.

            I can’t think of any player that Cash & Co went really after that ended up elsewhere, can you?

            In hearing about a billion words in the Damon saga and really nothing about Matsui, how can it not “appear” that way?

          • My personal reading of

            “We have to deal with the Damon situation, then we’ll speak to you”

            is that that statement really means

            “You’re the best, Hideki. Now get lost, we’ve already replaced you. You know the back burner? You’re on the one behind that one. Don’t call me back until you’re ready to play for literal peanuts, or to let me know that you’ve received an offer from another club that you’re giving me the option to match. Just know that I’m not going to match it. Not at all. Your knees are a ticking time bomb. I’m not going to get caught holding the short fuse. You were a great champion. Kick rocks.”

            • CS Yankee says:

              Thanks for the backup (or seeing the same thing), these Andys2 play hard ball.

              • these Andys play hardball.

                Damn straight! ;-)

                Seriously, though, that’s what I remember reading, that Cash told Matsui he needed to deal with Damon first, and Matsui chose to grab the Angels offer before it was taken away.

                What that says about Cash’s priorities, and Matsui’s feelings about such, as TSJC pointed out, is another matter altogether. Though Tommie was a bit hyperbolic there.

                We can’t know whether the Porn King was insulted by this or not; but regardless, the original point stands, that “Cashman told Matsui to ‘get lost’”, is not a valid reading of the situation.

                Furthermore, your point that we knew of several offers to Damon but none to Matsui, rather strengthens my point, or at least fals to weaken it.

                /Just-tryin’-to-keep-things-straight’d

  6. Kevin says:

    I never liked this trade when it was made…first off, you commented on Clippard’s stuff, yeah it was average…but let’s compare that to the guy we got, Albaladejo. Clippard was always known for a solid curveball and offspeed stuff, and really, really good deception, and his fastball has only been a mph away from Albaladejo (89.8 to 91.2 mph via fan graphs).

    Also, Clippard is 3 years younger still, and had awesome success in the minor leagues. In 05-06 he had full seasons as a starter and had WHIPs of 1.04 each year, with 10.5 and 9.6 K/9 each year. Keep in mind as a 20 to 21 year old. You can’t argue with results when you have 450+ innings to sample from.

    Albaladejo on the other hand, has never had a year in the minors even comparable to Clippard, he was moved to the pen before he even left A+, before we traded him he posted a 2.97 ERA as a reliever in AA-AAA and as you said relievers can be quite volatile. He doesn’t strike out many batters and is prone to giving up hits. At most he was going to be an average relief pitcher.

    I never quite understood why we made this trade, it is not like we needed a 40 man spot opened up…

    • Mike Axisa says:

      It was the walks. Albaladejo’s BB/9 in the minors at the time of the deal was more than three full walks less than Clippard’s. Also, Clippard had a rough go of it in Triple-A, they probably got scared that his deception and stuff wasn’t going to work at the higher levels.

  7. AndrewYF says:

    Ah, the days of Tyler Clippard being a top prospect because the Yankees had very few legitimate arms in their system.

    Now we have like, 5 different Tyler Clippards fighting for a bullpen spot in the majors, and no one really thinks all that highly of them.

  8. YankeeScribe says:

    Clippard’s been helping my fantasy team

  9. Frank says:

    The one who got away? I think it might be Austin Jackson.

  10. Accent Shallow says:

    Clippard has the highest swinging strike percentage in the majors right now. Somehow, I doubt he’ll be able to maintain that.

  11. nathan says:

    Still remember the Yanks-Mets [2007?] game when Clippard started, didnt he have like two completely different arm angles and Joe Morgan couldnt digest that. I am stunned that Clippard has these good numbers, but given his flyball tendencies, would he have had issues @ Yankee stadium. I dont know if Albaladejo amounts to anything, but we didnt lose much in that trade.

  12. CS Yankee says:

    Plus why would Sharon Ozbourne downsize?

  13. I’ve seen more than one person say recently that the Yankees screwed up by making the trade, but that’s incredibly easy to say nearly three years after the fact.

    Nevermind that shit, I’m still pissed at Cashman for trading away Craig Dingman for Jorge De Paula. Dingman was AWESOME in his 5 appearances in May, 2004. That 3.00 ERA he put up that month would have come in really handy in the playoffs that year (if he could have sustained it, which he didn’t.)

    Cashman is an idiot.

  14. Jammy Jammers says:

    I think Andy Pettitte is the one that got away.

  15. Jake says:

    Can’t blame Cashman for Clippard. Some guys are going to get away.
    The only move I think everyone is pretty concerned about is his loyalty to Javy Vazquez.

    Not for what we gave up, but for the fact that he’s pitching, and every 5 days. Clearly, he’s weakest link on the staff, and this year, his contract year, he can’t even motivate himself to focus.

  16. themgmt says:

    I hate when success is categorically dismissed by BABIP. Not how its supposed to work.

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