Now that the Nats have clinched a berth into the playoffs there are a lot of debates that can be had about who should be on the playoff roster and how that roster should be used. One of the hotly debated topics is going to be the post-season closer. Tyler Clippard is a great reliever. In 2011 he was, along with Jonny Venters, one of the best set-up men in baseball. Moving into the closers role this season he hasn’t been as good as he was in 2011, but he has still been good.
The thing with Tyler Clippard though is he is a finesse pitcher. That sounds like a weird way to describe a pitcher with one of the best fastballs in baseball, but that fastball only averages 92.7 MPH in 2012 compared to Drew Storen at 94.5. Clippard is not a fire balling pitcher and he strikes batters out using deception. Clippard alternates between his fastball up in the zone and his change-up down in the zone rarely mixing in a breaking ball. The real negative on Clippard is that when he gets ahead in the count he can become predictable and fall into a pattern of alternating between the fastball high and a change-up low.
Clippard often ends up with high pitch counts and goes deep into the count because of his nature to be predictable and because he isn’t blowing any pitches by batters. When Clippard does get a swing and a miss it is because a batter is fooled. None of this makes Clippard a bad pitcher. He has done quite well since having moved to the bullpen, but in what a team is looking for in a closer Storen is more that guy.
Storen has some abilities that Clippard lacks and while Clippard was overall a better pitcher in 2011 Storen was better for the closers role. The simple reason is that when Storen is on he is throwing pure heat mixed in with a hard breaking slider and a sinker along with an occasional change-up. Storen has more pitches than he normally needs to throw in an outing meaning that if he really wants to he can mix in a pitch that the batter may not know is even available to Storen.
Look at last night’s outing as an example of what Storen is capable of. In the ninth inning he had to face the Dodgers three best hitters in Kemp, Gonzalez, and Ramirez. Storen struck out the side, and not only that he made quick and tidy work of them. It was one of the most dominating performances the Nats have seen by a closer all season long.
Clippard can be dominating and can strikeout the side, but most of the time he isn’t going to be. He is going to exist somewhere where it is tough for the opposing team to get runs, but they are going to end up with chances to get runs. In his last ten appearances Clippard has allowed base runners in seven of them. More often than not those base runners didn’t score, but Clippard was not as untouchable as a team in the post-season would like their closer to be.
The Nationals do not have a bad option when it comes to Storen vs. Clippard. They could end up playing match-ups with the two as Clippard is better against left-handers than Storen while Storen is better at taking advantage of the better hitters in the league due to his wider array of pitches. As far as how to use them in the pos-season this is only a debate because Storen got hurt and Clippard has performed so well in his absence. If Storen had been healthy all season there wouldn’t be a doubt that he is the closer of the team or if Clippard hadn’t filled in as well people would be dying for Storen to take over.
Both happened though and now there is a debate, but as far as the post-season goes the best thing to do is to ride the hot hand, and with his ability to flat out dominate hitters Drew Storen should be the Washington Nationals 2012 post-season closer.