The Strange Career of Tyler Clippard

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Only one man has spent more time in a Nationals uniform than Tyler Clippard since 2008: Ryan Zimmerman.  Since coming to DC from New York in 2007, Tyler Clippard has contributed 6.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), including a remarkable 3.4 WAR in 2011 when Clippard made the all-star team and was the 13th most valuable pitcher in the National League (according to Baseball Reference).  That season, he was also the most valuable reliever in the NL.

In 2011, Clippard made 72 relief appearance, giving up 18 earned runs for a 1.83 ERA.  He struck out 104 batters and only allowed 74 baserunners in 88.3 innings.  It was a true breakout season.

Clippard was drafted and began his career with the Yankees.  He made his debut as a starting pitcher on May 20, 2007, allowing one run over six innings to the Mets at Shea Stadium.  Clippard was traded in the offseason, however, thereby forfeiting an awesome nickname (see above).

The Nationals traded pitcher Jonathan Albaladejo for Clippard in December 2007.   The trade was an unqualified win the Nats.  Albaladejo only pitched 59.1 barely above replacement level innings for the Yankees over three seasons.  Compared to the Clippard’s 6.9 WAR, it might be the biggest ripoff in Nats history.  Albaladejo is no longer in baseball.

Clippard, meanwhile, put up solid seasons in 2009 and 2010 for some terrible Nationals teams (1.4 and 1.6 WAR).  During 2011’s breakout, he was not only the best reliever in the National League, he was also one of the cheapest, making a salary barely above league minimum.

But since 2011, as Clippard’s salary has risen, his production has dropped.  Last season, he regressed and put up a 3.72 ERA in 72.6 innings. His 0.4 WAR was a career low.  This season has been more of the same.  Clippard, in other words, looks more like an average reliever instead of the all-star we saw in 2011.

Where does he go from here?  He is not a free agent until 2016, meaning he’ll probably stick around, albeit with pay hefty pay raises.  But Clippard is nowhere near the value he was in 2011.  His rising salaries even make it likely the Nats would cut ties if his performance dips.  Mike Rizzo has shown no hesitation to let expensive relievers walk out the door.

Clippard has truly had an interesting career.  A ninth round pick in 2003, he far surpassed his expectations (only two other players from his draft round even made the majors–and neither came close to Clippard’s production).  But his 2011 season is is beginning to look like an outlier.  Here are his strikout to walk ratios in his career:

2009 – 2.09

2010 – 2.73

2011 – 4.00

2012 – 2.90

2013 – 1.14 (thru April 28)

There was a time two years ago when Clippard was elite.  In fact, that reputation is a part of the Nationals heightened expectations in 2013.  With every inning thrown, however, he’s looking more and more like just another guy.

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