Career Profile: Tyler Clippard, RHP, Washington Nationals
Per reader request, here is a Career Profile for Washington Nationals relief pitcher and former New York Yankees prospect Tyler Clippard.
Tyler Clippard was drafted by the New York Yankees in the ninth round in 2003, from high school in Trinity, Florida. He could have gone several rounds higher, but he had been kicked off his high school team after being arrested for DUI. He signed for a discounted $75,000, then pitched very well in rookie ball, posting a 2.89 ERA in 44 innings with a sharp 56/5 K/BB ratio. He showed fine command of an 88-92 MPH fastball and a strong curve. I noted his rookie ball performance in the 2004 book and gave him a Grade C+, writing that he should be watched very closely.
Clippard moved up to Battle Creek in 2004 and went 10-10, 3.44 in 25 starts, with a 145/32 K/BB in 149 innings and 153 hits allowed. His velocity actually dropped compared to '03, down to 86-91 MPH, but his curveball looked very good and he improved his slider and changeup. I still gave him a C+ rating in the '05 book, but didn't want to go higher given the number of hits he gave up.
Promoted to High-A Tampa in '05, Clippard went 10-9, 3.18 with a 169/34 K/BB in 147 innings, with just 118 hits allowed. The strong improvement in his K/IP and H/IP ratios was traced to a velocity boost up to 89-93, touching 94 at times, as well as further progress with his curveball, slider, and changeup. The main issue was a very strong fly ball rate and concerns that he could be gopher-vulnerable at higher levels. I gave him a Grade B- in the '06 book, and compared him to Brad Radke.
Continuing his one-level-at-a-time pace, Clippard moved up to Double-A Trenton for '06 and didn't skip a beat, posting a 3.35 ERA with a 175/55 K/BB in 166 innings with just 118 hits allowed. He threw a no-hitter and led the Eastern League in strikeouts, despite the fact that his fastball lost some steam again and was back down to 88-90 most of the time.
Some scouts questioned his mechanics, and opinions were quite mixed on him. Some saw him as a future number three starter, but others felt he would be just a marginal bullpen guy. I wrote that I thought he "can be very good, consistently above average" and gave him a Grade B in the '07 book.
He hit a speed bump in '07. His velocity dipped a bit more, down to 86-90, and his command wobbled in Triple-A, with a 55/35 K/BB in 69 innings. He made six starts for the Yankees and while he went 3-1, his 6.33 ERA and weak 18/17 K/BB in 27 innings seemed to seal his fate with the organization. He was traded to the Nationals in December. I still felt he could be a fine number four or five starter and gave him a Grade C+, but was worried about the deterioration in both the numbers and scouting reports.
Clippard returned to Triple-A in 2008 and made 27 starts for Columbus in the Nationals system, going 6-13, 4.66 with a 125/66 K/BB in 143 innings, 129 hits allowed. His curveball and changeup still drew good reviews, but his velocity was very inconsistent, anywhere from 87 to 94 MPH, and his command wasn't especially sharp. Although I gave him a Grade C in the '09 book, I hadn't given up yet, writing that he was still young and "could emerge as a useful fifth starter or long reliever." But I also wrote he could "hang around in Triple-A for the next ten years," and that similar pitchers have developed either way. I noted "any sign of a breakthrough will come first in his K/BB and K/IP marks."
The Nationals moved Clippard to the bullpen in 2009 and the results were quite good: his K/IP shot up, his velocity became more consistent, and he posted a 0.92 ERA in 39 Triple-A innings. He's spent the last two and a half years in the Nationals bullpen with very strong results, including a 2.00 ERA in 45 innings this year, with a 57/15 K/BB.
In 233 major league innings so far, Clippard has a 3.20 ERA, 129 ERA+, 4.09 FIP, 4.05 xFIP, 262/112 K/BB ratio, 171 hits allowed, 1.6 WAR.
Clippard has developed into a very fine middle reliever. Although he had a four-pitch arsenal as a starter, in the bullpen he's relied mainly on his fastball and changeup, just mixing in a few sliders and curves now and then. His velocity has been creeping upward with relief use and has been in the 90-95 range this year, averaging 92.7.
He has established himself as a reliable reliever at this point. The questions now: will he take a larger role and get a chance to close eventually? Will he get a shot at returning to the rotation at some point? I can't answer those questions; it will be interesting to see what Davey Johnson thinks.
All told, despite his up-and-down scouting reports, Clippard was consistently effective in the minors until he faced a firm challenge in Triple-A. He passed the test and adapted.