The Ups and Downs of Aroldis Chapman [2017 Season Review]

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

In pure baseball terms, the sequence of Aroldis Chapman deals was brilliant. For the Yankees, that is. The Yankees bought low on Chapman two offseasons ago, getting him from the Reds for four prospects they don’t miss. They then traded him to the desperate to end their World Series drought Cubs for a player who is now arguably baseball’s best prospect (plus others!). Then the Yankees re-signed Chapman last offseason as a free agent. Didn’t even have to give up a draft pick.

Chapman’s second stint in pinstripes started when he signed a five-year contract worth $86M, the largest reliever contract in history in terms of both total dollars and average annual salary. A contract that large is always a risk, that’s just the way it is, though the case could be made Chapman was riskier than most. He endured a large workload last postseason and so one really knows how effective he’ll be when he inevitably starts to lose some velocity.

Year one of that five-year contract was very much a mixed bag. Okay in the beginning, legitimately terrible in the middle, and excellent late. Ultimately, Chapman did what the Yankees signed him to do. He helped get them to the postseason and he was a monster in October, closing out big games against great teams. Let’s review the first season of Chapman’s second stint in pinstripes.

An Early Season Injury

The first few weeks of the 2017 season were fairly routine for Chapman. He allowed one run on six hits and four walks in his first 12 games and 11.1 innings, striking out 18. Opponents hit .150/.227/.200 against him and he went 7-for-7 in save chances. One of those save chances was pretty adventurous — Chapman was called on to protect a three-run lead at Fenway Park on April 26th, and the inning went:

  • Andrew Benintendi six-pitch walk
  • Mookie Betts six-pitch double
  • Chris Young two-pitch run-scoring ground out
  • Hanley Ramirez seven-pitch walk (wild pitch moved Betts to third)
  • Jackie Bradley Jr. four-pitch strikeout
  • Josh Rutledge eight-pitch strikeout

There were a lot of long at-bats — eight pitches to strike out Josh Rutledge? really? —  and loud contact that game, though considering Chapman’s next four outings were basically flawless, the game at Fenway appeared to be a blip. Even the very best closers have a bad game now and then.

Chapman’s midseason troubles started on May 7th, against his former team. Remember that 18-inning game against the Cubs on Sunday Night Baseball? That game went to 18 innings because Chapman blew a three-run lead in the ninth. He allowed three hits, walked two, and plunked Anthony Rizzo to force in the tying run. Annoying! At least the Yankees came back to win, I guess.

Next time out — it was five days after the blown save at Wrigley, so Chapman had plenty of rest — Chapman allowed a run and got only two outs in a loss to the Astros. He needed 24 pitches to face five batters, retiring only two. Worst of all, the hitters looked mighty comfortable in the box against Chapman. Both the Cubs and Astros. They weren’t overwhelmed by his fastball. They seemingly fouled it off at will.

On May 14th, two days after the rough outing against the Astros, the Yankees placed Chapman on the disabled list with left rotator cuff tendinitis. He would miss at least a month. “I was trying to work through it. I was getting treatment. I believed it was going to go away with the treatment that I was getting,” said Chapman, acknowledging he’d been pitching at something less than 100% for a few weeks. Not great!

Chapman returned to the Yankees on June 18th after one rehab appearance, and Joe Girardi eased him back into things after the shoulder injury. That Dellin Betances was nails as the interim closer helped matters. Chapman’s first outing back came in the eighth inning of a game the Yankees were losing in Oakland. Next time out he pitched with a four-run lead in the ninth. The Yankees didn’t seem to be in much of a rush to return Aroldis to important innings.

Demoted

July featured a few hiccups for Chapman, including allowing two runs in a win over the Blue Jays on July 3rd and two more runs in a walk-off loss to the Red Sox on July 14th. He walked Benintendi on five pitches to force in the winning run. Pretty much the yuckiest way to lose a game.

On August 1st, Chapman was sitting on a 2.97 ERA (1.64 FIP) in 30.1 innings, though it sure didn’t feel like he was pitching all that well. Most notably, his 33.6% strikeout rate and 13.4% swing-and-miss rate were well below his career norms (41.4% and 17.2%, respectively). They were great numbers for most pitchers! But for Chapman, they were down noticeably.

aroldis-chapman-swing-and-miss-rate

The wheels came off in August. Chapman walked three, allowed a run, and struck out none in a save against the Red Sox on August 11th. The was the game in which Aaron Hicks threw Eduardo Nunez out at third base when he tried to advance on Benintendi’s sacrifice fly. Remember that?

Two days later Chapman allowed two runs and blew a save against the Red Sox. Rafael Devers took him deep to tie the game in the ninth, then Chapman stayed in to allow the game-losing run in the tenth. Two days after that, Chapman allowed another two runs in a save against the Mets. And three days after that, he allowed two runs in a loss to the Red Sox.

For the first time in his career, Chapman allowed a run in four straight outings and multiple runs in three straight outings. He also gave up home runs to two left-handed batters (Devers, Yonder Alonso) in the span of two weeks after allowing one homer to a left-handed batter from 2011-16. On August 19th, with his ERA sitting at 4.29 and his opponent’s batting line sitting at .235/.331/.338 through 35.2 innings, Chapman was demoted out of the closer’s role.

“I just thought for us to get him on track, maybe the best way would be to move him around a little bit until he gets going,” said Girardi while making no promises Chapman would eventually return to closer. “We might find something that works so well in certain situations we might keep it.”

The day after being demoted, Chapman entered a game against the Red Sox with the Yankees down two runs in the sixth inning, and he recorded four outs without incident. He got one out in the sixth inning with the Yankees down three runs to the Tigers on August 24th, in the brawl game. Chapman took the loss on August 25th when he allowed that home run to Alonso, an extra innings blast that gave the Mariners the win.

From August 26th through September 4th, a span of ten team games, Chapman pitched only once, and that was a scoreless inning against the Red Sox on September 1st. The Yankees were down three runs at the time. (Aroldis against the Red Sox in 2017: 8.2 IP, 8 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 11 BB, 12 K.) The Yankees played several lopsided games in that ten-game span, yet Chapman didn’t pitch. I thought that was odd. Girardi said he was trying to get Chapman back on track, yet he weren’t using him in the sort of games in which you usually try to get a reliever back on track. Huh.

Better Late Than Never

When Chapman returned to the closer’s role, it was almost out of necessity more than anything. Betances allowed a walk-off homer to Manny Machado on September 5th and his control problems were becoming extreme. Chad Green and David Robertson were too important in the middle innings, and Tommy Kahnle had not yet given Girardi a reason to use him in high-leverage spots. So, in mid-September, Chapman took over as closer again.

As it turned out, Chapman returned to the ninth inning with a new fastball grip. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild tweaked Chapman’s grip and got him to use more of a true four-seam grip rather than the slightly offset fastball grip he’d been using basically his entire career. “It’s been an improvement. The fastball is cutting less and I’m able to get more strikes with it right now,” said Chapman to Brendan Kuty.

The improvement was immediate. Velocity was never really a problem for Chapman, even when he was struggling, but his location was awful and there didn’t seem to be much life on the pitch. Hitters fouled off lots of fastballs. Check out the swing-and-miss rate on Chapman’s heater this season. This is whiffs-per-swing, not whiffs-per-total pitches.

  • April: 24.2%
  • May: 44.1% (3.1 innings before injury)
  • June: 17.8% (4.2 innings after injury)
  • July: 22.7%
  • August: 16.1%
  • September: 39.1%

Considering Chapman’s fastball whiffs-per-swing never dipped below 29.3% in any single month from 2013-16 — it never dipped below 32.8% in any full season from 2013-16 — seeing four months well below that mark in the first five months of 2017 was pretty darn scary. Then it bounced back in September. Could a new grip really explain the sudden improvement? I don’t see why not. Change the grip and the pitch will behave differently.

Chapman closed out his 2017 regular season with a scoreless September, allowing only three hits and two walks in 12 innings. He went 6-for-6 in save chances, struck out 17 in those 12 innings, and held opposing batters to a .077/.122/.133 line. All told, Chapman went 22-for-26 in save chances this year and finished with 3.22 ERA (2.56 FIP) and a 32.9% strikeout rate in 50.1 innings. The ERA, FIP, and strikeout rate were his worst marks since his rookie season in 2011.

The strong September carried over into October. Chapman allowed one run in six appearances and eight innings in the postseason — the one run was a big run, it was the walk-off run in ALCS Game Two, though Gary Sanchez deserves much of the blame for failing to catch the relay throw that would’ve cut Jose Altuve down at the plate by a mile — and there were some big outings in there:

  • 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K in the Wild Card Game (technically not a save situation since the Yankees had a four-run lead, but the season was on the line, so yeah)
  • 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K in ALDS Game Three (another elimination game)
  • 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K in ALDS Game Five (yet another elimination game)
  • 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K in ALCS Game Four

Two shutout innings against the Indians, the AL’s best team during the regular season, in Game Five to complete the comeback from down 0-2 in the ALDS is no joke. Even with a three-run lead in the ninth (it was a one-run lead in the eighth). That’s a Grown Ass Man save. That’s why the Yankees gave Chapman that record contract. To close out games like that.

Chapman became the first American League pitcher with a multi-inning save in a postseason series clincher since (who else?) Mariano Rivera. Mo did it in Game Six of the 2009 ALCS against the Angels.

And yet, I think Chapman’s most impressive postseason outing was Game Three of the ALDS, when he recorded five outs in an elimination game two days after throwing two innings in Game Two. Chapman was clearly fatigued but he gutted out the save in the 1-0 win to keep the season alive. His final postseason line: 8 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 16 K. The regular season was a bit of a slog at times, but Aroldis was great in October.

2018 Outlook

In all likelihood the downs in Chapman’s up and down season were the result of many things. A hangover effect from last season’s workload, the shoulder issue, mechanical (and grip) issues, so on and so forth. Very rarely is one thing to blame. Chapman again pitched a lot of intense innings this October, and the Yankees did play pretty deep into the year, so the hangover effect is something to watch again next season.

The fact Chapman rebounded late and finished very strong is comforting. If he’d struggled right through the end of the season, it would’ve been a red flag and he’d be a bit of a concern going into 2018. Now that he’s shown he can still dominate, I feel much better about things going forward. There are still four years on Chapman’s contract — he can opt out following the 2019 season — and any red flags in year one are more scary than usual. I’m glad he finished strong.

The Yankees signed Chapman to that five-year contract because they wanted a dominant closer in place when the team was ready to contend again. As it turns out, they were ready to contend in 2017. I don’t think many expected that. The Yankees are ahead of schedule. Chapman’s role doesn’t change though. He’s the closer and the guy the next manager will count on to close out big games. He did it late this year, and as long as he stays healthy, Chapman should be able to do it again next year.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 27th, 2017

Regular Season Record: 91-71 (858 RS, 660 RA, 100-62 pythag. record), second in ALE
Postseason Record: 7-6 (51 RS, 42 RA), won AL WC Game, won ALDS, lost ALCS

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Hall of Fame Season

2018hof-ballot

I love the smell of rehashed arguments in the morning. Welcome, folks, to another season of Hall of Fame voting. It’s that most wonderfully awful time of year again that I swear I’m going to quite every year. But, like Michael Corleone, every time I’m out, they pull me back in (that’s pretty much the only thing I know about The Godfather Part III). I think this happens because when I was first truly active about baseball on the internet, my first “cause” was the candidacy of Bert Blyleven. From there, it moved on to Mike Mussina and I can’t help but be drawn into this stuff year in and year out.

Some general thoughts, given the Joe Morgan letter and what not…First, the idea of purity in any generation or at any tie of baseball is complete and total garbage. Segregation, gambling, juiced balls, amphetamines, steroids, you name it–there has never been any sort of “pure” competition in baseball. To say that steroids are any worse than these things is specious at best. The Steroid Era, or whatever you want to call it, happened and we can’t ignore that, and neither can a museum about baseball. Not including players from that era is irresponsible at best and damaging to the history of the game at worst.

I’ll never have a real Hall of Fame ballot, but if I didn’t do this next part, this post wouldn’t be worth much, would it? First, I’m just gonna list the ten players on the above ballot I feel are most deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, regardless of circumstance.

Three locks: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Chipper Jones. Bonds and Clemens are two of the best player’s in the game’s history, hands down. Their numbers and accomplishments speak for themselves and don’t need input from me. Chipper was incredible, probably a bit underrated, even. There aren’t a lot of guys, let alone third basemen, who went .300/.400/.500 for their career and he’s one of them.

Two pitchers: Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling. Though I dislike the latter player off the field, it’s hard to deny he was one of the best pitchers in baseball during his career. Mussina, as I’m sure you all know, was a fantastic pitcher as well, and criminally underrated. These two deserve to be in.

Two first timers: Jim Thome and Scott Rolen. Scott Rolen was Adrian Beltre before Adrian Beltre became what we all know him as today. An incredible fielder and a great hitter. Rare would be a situation in which two third basemen were inducted at once, but if anyone deserves to be alongside Chipper Jones, it’s Rolen. They were the two best at their position in the game. Thome as a tater-mashing (612 career) OBP (.402 career) machine whom everyone liked. He’s in.

A lefty and two righties: It took a bit of convincing for me over the years–and I don’t know why–but I’m on board with the Larry Walker thing. He was an absolutely great hitter and it wasn’t just Coors. Even with spending a ton of time there, his career OPS+ is still 141 and his career wRC+ is 140. He was not just a product of his environment. Remember the .300/.400/.500 thing? It applies to Walker, as well as Edgar Martinez, one  of the best right handed hitters of his time and the best ever at his position. Another one of those? Manny Ramirez. Love him, hate him, whatever, he’s another .300/.400/.500 guy and he’s on the shortlist for best righty hitters ever.

No use for the podium this year. (Photo via WLWT Cincinnati)
(Photo via WLWT Cincinnati)

If I could add players to this ballot and supersede the arbitrary ten person limit, I’d also add Vladimir Guerrero, Andruw Jones, and Gary Sheffield. And, despite my hands off stance regarding steroids, I can see the argument in not voting for Manny since he was caught and suspended twice. The one guy I really want to see in but I’m not sure if he should be in is Johan Santana. There were few–if any–pitchers better than him from 2004-2010, but I just can’t fully convince myself that it was a long enough time for him to play, regardless of his absolute dominance. One thing in his favor is that he actually compares very favorably to Sandy Koufax, another pitcher who was all peak and little longevity. In fact, Johan even beats him in ERA+, 136-131. Something I’ll have to hypothetically wrestle with for my hypothetical ballot.

Regardless of what people may think, given their various positions and interests, the Hall of Fame is a great museum to the history of baseball. To tell the history of baseball, all the best players need to be included or else the Hall is lying to its patrons and customers. We can’t ignore an era or the accomplishments of certain players because we don’t like them or don’t like what they did. Doing so is intellectually dishonest and ignores the complexity of both baseball and life.

Thanksgiving Weekend Open Thread

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I’ve got some family obligations the next few days, so unless the Yankees make some news — I don’t expect that to happen, but you never know — posting is going to pretty light around here through the weekend.

I’ve got one link to pass along and it’s kinda old, but I wasn’t able to read it until this week, and it’s really great. Ben Lindbergh wrote about the Salina Stockade, the worst pro baseball team in the country this season. The ragtag independent league team, which featured former Yankees farmhands Daniel Aldrich and Sam Agnew-Wieland, went 18-82 this year. The story about how they got there is pretty amazing. Make sure you check it out.

Otherwise use this open thread to talk about anything and everything the next few days, as long as it’s not religion or politics. Get that outta here. Enjoy Thanksgiving, folks.

Gleyber Torres will compete for a roster spot next spring, and that’s a good thing even if he won’t win one

(Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Scranton Times-Tribune)

You know what’s pretty awesome? The Yankees have a great young core at the big league level in Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. That’s the unanimous 2017 AL Rookie of the Year and 2017 AL MVP runner-up, the third place finisher in the 2017 AL Cy Young voting, and the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up. All were All-Stars this season and none are older than 25. Pretty great.

Know what else is pretty awesome? The Yankees also have arguably the best prospect in the minors in their farm system. At some point next year Gleyber Torres, who MLB.com ranks as baseball’s No. 1 prospect, figures to join Judge, Sanchez, and Severino (and Greg Bird?) in that big league core. Heck, he might’ve joined them in the second half this season had he not hurt his non-throwing elbow in June. Healthy Torres maybe means no Todd Frazier trade. Hmmm.

Gleyber’s rehab from Tommy John surgery is going well — “(He’s) pretty close to 100%. He’d love to play some winter ball. We’re not going to let him,” said Brian Cashman to Mike Mazzeo last week — and he’s expected to be a full go for Spring Training. And, when Spring Training rolls around, Cashman said Torres will get an opportunity to compete for a big league job. Here’s what Cashman told Brendan Kuty last week:

Making the jump from Triple-A to MLB is tough enough. Making the jump from Triple-A to MLB when you missed the last half-season with a major elbow injury is even tougher. The Yankees will surely want to make sure Gleyber is back to normal after his surgery before turning him loose at the big league level. If there’s rust, they want him to work through it in the minors, where the games don’t count.

The second point is a secondary concern. The Yankees usually don’t obsess over service time. If they feel a player gives them the best chance to win, they tend to carry that player on the MLB roster. In Gleyber’s case, pushing back his free agency — two weeks in the minors in 2018 equals control of his age 27 season in 2024 — would be a byproduct of shaking off the post-Tommy John surgery rust. It could be enough of an incentive that the Yankees send Torres down on Opening Day juuust to make sure he’s all the way back, you know?

Now, that said, even if the odds are against Torres making the team out of Spring Training next year, there are reasons to let him compete for a job. One big reason, actually. Motivation. Motivation for Gleyber and motivation for the veterans. “It’s nice to have the young guys pushing up. It’s nice to have the older guys hear the footsteps,” said Cashman to Bryan Hoch last week. A little healthy Spring Training competition never hurt anyone.

It would seem Chase Headley, right now the starting third baseman, is the veteran most at risk of losing his job to Torres, but I suppose we can’t rule out Starlin Castro getting displaced. Third base is the more likely destination though. Headley will be entering the last season of his contract, and if he knows a talented kid is coming for job, it figures to make him push even harder. That’s a good thing!

I am skeptical Torres will truly have a chance to win a roster spot in Spring Training. The Yankees hold fake spring competitions all the time. Had he stayed healthy last season, oh sure, I’d 100% believe it. Clint Frazier having a chance to win a spot? I totally buy that. But Torres, after missing the last half of the season with a major injury? Eh. The Yankees always play it safe with injuries, especially injuries to important players, and Torres is important.

Giving Gleyber some motivation is a plus though, ditto letting Headley (and Castro?) know his job is not safe. Torres may not have a good chance to make the roster, but it is a chance, and that’s enough to let everyone know this won’t be a run of the mill Spring Training.

“Obviously,” Cashman said to Kuty, “whether it’s Gleyber Torres, whether it’s (Miguel) Andujar, whether it’s Clint Frazier, those guys are all serving notice on the more established players of, ‘Don’t sleep on us, because we’re trying to take what you got.’”

The Collapse of Tyler Clippard [2017 Season Review]

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

When you blog about baseball as much as I do, you need to keep a list of topics and notes handy. I can’t tell you how many great ideas I’ve come up with in the middle of the night only to forget them in the morning. I used to keep everything jotted down in a notebook. Now I use Google docs because I can access it anywhere on my phone. How did we ever live before the internet and smart phones?

Not everything on my list gets turned into a post. I’d say maybe 70% of the stuff I jot down gets turned into a post. Most of the stuff I don’t write up is just dumb. It sounds good in my head, the when I sit down to write it up, I realize how stupid it is. Some unwritten topics are assumptions that are wrong. Are the Yankees swinging more often in 3-0 counts? Turns out the answer was yes. Many assumptions are wrong though. Most are recency bias.

One of the worst things in the blogging game is having a great topic rendered moot because you wait too long to write it up. Every time we write up a Scouting The Market post, I make sure to get it on the site as soon as possible because I don’t want the player to get traded or the free agent to sign before it goes live. I’ve lost a few posts like that. Joe Blanton two years ago. Even Matt Holliday last year. (I was able to repurpose that into a thoughts post though.)

My biggest regret this season was waiting too long to turn the “the Yankees need to stop giving Tyler Clippard high-leverage innings before he starts blowing games” topic on my list into an actual post. It was on my list for weeks. Since the middle of April. The warning signs were all there. I just never wrote it up. Then bam, Clippard was giving up dingers and blowing games left and right. It would have been prescient. But I waited too long.

* * *

Clippard started the 2017 season well enough. He took a 1.64 ERA (3.07 FIP) into June and his 32.6% strikeout rate was quite strong. Opponents were hitting .156/.253/.247 against him. Clippard did blow two games in those two months, most notably turning a 5-4 lead into a 6-5 loss to the Orioles on April 7th, in the fourth game of the season, when Seth Smith took him yard.

Blowing two games in two months isn’t the end of the world. That’s about what I’d expect pretty much any reliever to do. Everyone has an off night now and then. Clippard was the third man in the bullpen behind Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, and when Chapman went on the disabled list with a shoulder problem in mid-May, Clippard took over eighth inning duty while Betances closed. Not ideal, but it could be worse, right?

That 1.64 ERA and .156/.253/.247 batting line hid a troubling trend, however. Clippard’s infield pop-ups were continuing to turn into fly balls. He’s always been an extreme weak pop-up pitcher. Allowing batters to hit the ball in the air isn’t the problem when it barely leaves the infield. At his best, Clippard’s infield pop-up rate was near 20%. Just last season it was 25.3%. There’s a reason he has a career .239 BABIP. All those pop-ups are easy outs.

In April and May this season, Clippard’s pop-up rate was 13.6%, down from 25.3% last year and 18.5% from 2013-16. Fewer pop-ups and the same number of ground balls equals more legitimate fly balls and line drives. And, when combined with his lowest soft contact rate (20.0%) in years, the result was a lot of deep fly balls. In April and May, they were going for outs. That would not continue forever in the Year of the Home Run.

* * *

Clippard’s troubles started almost immediately in June. In his second outing of the month, he allowed a game-losing eighth inning home run to Josh Donaldson in Toronto. It was as annoying as it was predictable. Annoyingly predictable.

That loss, I felt, was on Joe Girardi more than Clippard. Yeah, Clippard gave up the homer, but he shouldn’t have even been in that situation in the first place. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher and the Blue Jays were sending Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Kendrys Morales to the plate in the eighth inning of a tie game. Basically their three best home run hitters. Betances, who was still in his first half FU mode at the time, should’ve been in the game, but closers are for closin’.

Anyway, Clippard blew another game a week later, that one against the Angels. Two days after that he allowed a run against the Athletics. What came next was the coup de grace. The end of Clippard’s time as a high-leverage reliever. Or even a medium leverage reliever. Across three appearances from June 20th through June 24th, Clippard did this: 1.1 IP, 8 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 HR. Three runs, one out against the Angels on June 20th. Two runs, no outs against the Angels on June 21st. Four runs, three outs against the Rangers on June 24th.

Clippard going into that three-game stretch: 2.22 ERA and a .160/.257/.300 opponent’s line in 28.1 innings. Clippard coming out of that three-game stretch: 4.85 ERA and a .214/.307/.446 opponent’s line in 29.2 innings. It went south quick. It wasn’t just all the hard contact either. Clippard had nothing to put hitters away. His trademark changeup had become a batting practice fastball. Walks went up and swings and misses went down.

tyler-clippard-walks-and-whiffs

Clippard allowed four runs in 1.2 innings against the Brewers on July 7th, in a game Girardi just let him wear it in a mop-up situation. He threw two scoreless innings after the All-Star break, one with the Yankees down one in the eighth inning and one with the Yankees up three in the seventh. Girardi needed to use Clippard in the seventh that day because it was the first game of a doubleheader and the Yankees and Red Sox played 16 innings the day before. The bullpen was running on fumes. Following that outing, Clippard was sitting on a 4.95 ERA (5.00 FIP) in 36.1 innings.

* * *

For various reasons, the super bullpen the Yankees are always trying to build had not come to fruition. Chapman was struggling, Betances started walking everyone at midseason, Jonathan Holder couldn’t seize a job, and Clippard had proven unreliable. Fortunately Chad Green stepped up and prevented the relief corps from being a total disaster, but yeah, the bullpen was a bit of a sore spot at midseason. Help was needed.

On July 19th, two weeks before the trade deadline, the Yankees sought to strengthen their bullpen by acquiring two pitchers who were among the top ten relievers in baseball up to that point: David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. Two former Yankees. Well, former Yankees prospect in Kahnle’s case. The Yankees got the White Sox to throw Todd Frazier in as well. Former first round Blake Rutherford was the headliner going to Chicago.

Also included in that trade was Clippard. He was included to offset salary and nothing more. The rebuilding White Sox weren’t thinking Clippard could put them over the top and into the postseason. They took him on to offset salary, and their hope was he’d perform better in their uniform, and they could flip him later. And you know what? That’s exactly what happened.

In three weeks and change with the ChiSox, Clippard pitched to a 1.80 ERA (2.26 FIP) in ten innings. How about that? Chicago cashed him in as a trade chip and sent him to the Astros for, well, cash. If you’re a hard tanking team, not having to pay Clippard is better than having to pay Clippard. And with Houston, Clippard pitched to a 6.43 ERA (5.09 FIP) in 14 innings. He was not on their postseason roster in any round. Clippard’s season in a nutshell:

tyler-clippard-era-fip

Good enough early on, a total disaster in the middle, a dead cat bounce with the White Sox, and more ugliness at the end. Clippard finished the 2017 season with a 4.77 ERA (4.57 FIP) in 60.1 innings. And with a World Series ring! Once a champ, always a champ. Good for Clippard.

* * *

When the Yankees first traded Clippard away all those years ago, they did so thinking they’d upgraded their bullpen by acquiring Jonathan Albaladejo. That didn’t work out so well. It didn’t work out at all. When they reacquired Clippard last year, they did so to maintain some semblance of respectability after selling at the trade deadline. And by and large, it worked. Clippard was basically free and and he pitched well enough last year.

This year things completely fell apart for Clippard, which was the direction things had been trending for a few years now. The outs weren’t as easy to get as they were in his prime, the ball was leaving the yard a little more often, and all those weak pop-ups were becoming few and far between. The second time the Yankees traded Clippard away, they did it for a clear bullpen upgrade. Alas, he was only a throw-in in the trade, not the centerpiece. The Yankees had to trade away Rutherford, last year’s first rounder, partly because Clippard imploded.

There is no 2018 outlook for Clippard because the Yankees aren’t going to bring him back. I mean, I suppose they could since there is an open bullpen spot, but nah. That ship has sailed. It’s not fair to pin not winning the AL East on him, but damn, the Yankees fell short by two games and Clippard was charged with five blown saves (in the seventh and eighth innings) and took five losses in his half-season with the Yankees. He did plenty of damage before being traded away.