This offseason has already seen five relievers, including Darren O’Day, Joakim Soria, Ryan Madson, Antonio Bastardo, and Tony Sipp, sign multi-year contracts worth more than $6 million per year, making it a remarkably profitable winter for relievers who don’t pitch the ninth inning. On Monday, the list added another name, as Tyler Clippard inked a two-year deal worth $12.25 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks, according to Ken Rosenthal on Twitter.
After seven seasons with the Washington Nationals, Clippard began 2015 with Oakland, appearing in 36 games and striking out 38 batters in 38.1 innings with a 1.190 WHIP. His high walk numbers (4.9 BB/9 with Oakland) led to an inflated FIP of 3.96, but a low BABIP and HR rate kept his ERA down at 2.79. After a July 27 trade to the New York Mets, Clippard’s walk rate improved, but he struck out more than a batter-and-a-half fewer per inning than he did in Oakland (8.84 vs. 7.24) and his home run rate nearly doubled from 0.70 to 1.39 HR/9. Fortunately, Clippard maintained a high strand rate and low BABIP, and his ERA in 32.1 innings with New York was a respectable 3.06, despite an anxiety-inducing 4.65 FIP.
Clippard’s career ERA of 2.88 is significantly lower than his 3.72 career FIP, and after nine big-league seasons and over 500+ relief innings, it may be time to ask if Clippard’s style of pitching lends itself to defying FIP. However, Clippard’s K/9 and BB/9 both ticked in the wrong direction in 2015, which raises concerns about his future. Clippard also posted a 21.2 percent ground ball rate in 2015, second-lowest of his career, following a season in which that number was 36.9 percent – still below average, but easily the highest of his career. It’s no surprise that in that season, Clippard’s ERA was a measly 2.18, which indicates that Clippard should focus on inducing more ground balls in 2016, especially if his strikeout rate continues to decline.
Entering his age-31 season, Clippard’s age isn’t a huge concern just yet, and the structure of Clippard’s contract is relatively team-friendly. Hopefully, Clippard can regain some of the strikeout ability and roll a few more ground balls out of the D-Backs’ bullpen in 2016 and provide a reliable bridge to closer Brad Ziegler.