Tyler Clippard is a Risk Worth Taking Right Now for the Diamondbacks

The Arizona Diamondbacks have been wanting to add a reliever to the backend of the pen since the offseason began, and that goal was finally accomplished yesterday.

After rumors picked up, and talks progressed over several days, the D-backs and free-agent reliever Tyler Clippard agreed on a two-year deal worth $12.25 million.

Clippard was one of a handful of really talented players that hadn’t signed for the 2016 season, and most people really don’t know why.  The market has finally begun to open up, and players that we expected to agree to terms with a club back in December or January are getting paid right before pitchers and catchers report.

On the surface Clippard seems like a perfect fit for the D-backs. Despite having a down year in 2015 thanks to inconsistent strikeout and walk rates, he maintained an elite strand rate, and low BABIP to finish with a 2.92 ERA overall (2.79 ERA and a 3.96 FIP with the Oakland Athletics, and a 3.06 ERA and a 4.56 FIP with the New York Mets).

Clippard features a 91-93 mph fastball, and a nasty changeup which is his primary out pitch. He throws the changeup 12 to 15 mph slower than his fastball, but he hides the ball, and maintains the same arm speed to fool batters. In watching tape of Clippard pitch, I noticed he does a great job hiding the baseball in his glove before going into the windup making it even harder for hitters to pick the pitch up.

The D-backs have struggled to find a primary setup man in the past three seasons, constantly switching between David Hernandez, Daniel Hudson, and several others in the eighth inning.

That won’t be a problem this year. Clippard has proven to be one of the best setup men in baseball over his career, compiling a 2.88 ERA with 612 strikeouts in 562 innings.

Despite struggling in last year’s postseason for the Mets, the D-backs know what there going to get out of Clippard: consistency with the occasional slump, and durability. Clippard is the only pitcher to appear in at least 69 major-league games over the past six seasons, and he is open to pitching in whatever late inning role the D-backs need help with at the time.

Clippard always seems to induce a ton of low to medium contact, and despite giving up the highest percentage of fly balls (56.6 percent) of any pitcher that has thrown at least 300 innings since 2002, he has a respectable HR/FB ratio, and has maintained a low BABIP. Clippard’s ability to produce a higher than league average soft-contact percentage and his ability to prevent hard contact allows him to keep the ball in the yard despite giving up his fair share of fly balls. His low line-drive percentage also has a lot to do with it.

Chase Field has normally not been kind to fly ball pitchers, but inducing a lot of soft and medium contact means the outfielders will be busy, and the D-backs have one of the best outfields in the game. In that sense it’s a perfect fit.

While I am concerned with his declining velocity as he ages for three consecutive years which could lead to more hard contact, a declining strikeout rate, and a increasing walk rate, a two-year deal won’t hurt this team, and will only make the bullpen that much better for that window of time that this team wants to win. Plus, Clippard’s unorthodox mechanics should make his deceptive stuff seem a lot harder for hitters.

Risks are certainly involved but the contract both in terms of years and money is reasonable, and he alone makes it reasonable to give this bullpen an A grade. Nobody was subtracted from last season to this year, and they added an impact reliever with experience in the late innings.

I love this move and I look forward to watching Clippard in the eighth and Ziegler in the ninth. These two completely different styles of pitching should keep hitters dazed and confused, which of course is the whole goal when trying to hold on to a lead late in the game.




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