Much has been ado about the last two outings of current Nationals closer, Tyler Clippard, and his propensity for ladling up the late inning long ball, lunch lady style. Put into the role during Drew Storen’s extended stay on the DL, the bespectacled wonder has done an admirable job as the fill-in while Storen has rehabbed a bum elbow for nearly all of 2012. The return of the ‘other’ 1st round draft pick of the Nats in 2009 has Twitter a-twitter over who will man the 9th for the first place Nats. Will the overall success of Clippard in the closer role be enough to convince manager Davey Johnson to stay put with Clip, or will having Storen back on the roster mark the return of Clip to 8th inning set up duties, where his dominance of that inning was worthy of a 2011 All-Star selection?
Two home runs in two back to back save opportunities aside, I feel that the rush to bring Storen in to close might be an ill advised move, and that the witch hunt for Clippard to be banished to the 8th is unwarranted.
While numbers tend to lie on match.com profiles, in baseball, they rarely ever do, so let’s have a look at what Tyler has done in the closers role, as compared both to Storen’s fantastic 2011 tour of duty, and of other closers in 2012.
So far in 2012, compared to 2011, Tyler has done a great job of exceeding expectations, as seen with his FIP/xFIP numbers. His WAR, as compared to 2011, is also indicative of a solid showing this year. He is also striking out more batters this year as compared to last, while also having half as many fly balls go out as home runs, as compared to last year – even in spite of the shaky outings of late. We do see an uptick in walks, as well as BABIP; however, his 0.235 BABIP of 2012 is still lower than his career mark of 0.241.
Let’s look a little closer at Clippard’s numbers, in his role as the Nats ninth inning stopper:
|in Sv Situ||27||5.2||1||2.7||12||0.160||0.225||0.298||0.523||0.214|
Compare these numbers to his overall 2012 season, both a closer and setup man, as well as his 2011 All Star season. Clippard is more than doing the job closing out wins for the NL East leading Nationals. In fact, he is doing just as well, if not better than last year’s career year. How outstanding is the season Clippard is having as a closer, as compared to his closing peers? Let’s have a look…
For this exercise, I used baseball-reference.com’s Play Index query tool, to find comparable closers, using Tyler’s stats as the bar to surpass. The stats I used to compare Tyler, as full time closer, against other closers were…
ERA+ > 164
SO/9 > 12
Batting Average Against </= 0.160
Saves >/= 15
Well, it’s pretty damning. Damning for Clippard to be an elite closer thus far in the embryonic stages of his life as a closer. To put up numbers that can only be bested by 3 other closers this year, and bests the seasons of many longstanding luminaries of the ninth inning world is a damn good season, back to back gopherball games be damned.
So, now the million dollar question. Yes, we have a great fill in closer in Clippard, but does he stay there once Storen returns to full capacity? While the final answer is up to the braintrust of Mike Rizzo, and Davey Johnson, let me throw some Storen numbers at you to compare to Clip’s, and let you play armchair manager.
Here are Drew’s numbers from his fantastic 2011 season:
|in Sv Situ||51||6.7||1.2||2.4||8.6||0.203||0.260||0.359||0.619||0.235|
Elite closer status, elite numbers. However, Storen’s 2011 trails Clip’s 2012 closer output in H/9, SO/9, BAA, BABIP, OPS, and OBP. He does have the upper hand when it comes to home runs, doing a much better job of minimizing the long ball, compared to Clip thus far. He also had a better save percentage: 90% (with 5 blown saves), compared to Tyler’s 88% (two blown saves).
Any other MLB team would love to have Storen or Clippard as their closer. It is an embarrassment of riches to have Storen, the likes of Clippard, as well as Sean Burnett, and Ryan Mattheus – both in their own rights having dominant seasons – in the bullpen, keeping Nats starters in the W column.
However, as we can see, Tyler is more than deserving of maintaining his role as the closer, even as Storen returns to the mound. While creating a conundrum in terms of status, and number of innings to divvy up amongst some very deserving pitchers, it is a refreshing change from Nationals teams of the past, and bodes well for a successful run not only towards the NL East division crown, but also a lengthy run in the playoffs.
In the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, we learned that we should ABC: Always Be Closing.
For the Nats, should it Always Be Clippard?