The Yankees' bullpen enigma: Tyler Clippard

The Yankees return home this week and have a much needed off day on Monday to recover from their dreadful West Coast road trip.  During the road trip, which saw the Yankees drop the final six games and lose their four game lead over the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, the underside of this team was revealed: the middle relief.  The Yankees are fortunate to return East today with Aroldis Chapman back on the active roster, as his presence adds a considerable amount of depth to the bullpen.  However, during this recent stretch prior to his return in which the bullpen seemingly blew every single lead the Yankees’ offense handed them, there was one culprit bigger than any other, and his name is Tyler Clippard.

Photo Credit: Frank Gunn/AP

Acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks last July as a late-innings arm in the wake of the Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman trades, Clippard performed admirably in the eighth inning role ahead of  closer Dellin Betances.  Going into this season, the Yankees had every right to expect him to repeat his performance, this time in the seventh inning, in front Betances and Chapman.  A three headed monster that was supposed to be as lockdown as any bullpen in baseball and all but assure Yankees victories in games they led after the sixth inning.

On the surface or to the casual fan who hasn’t seen him pitch on a regular basis, Clippard is having a solid season.  In 31 appearances so far this year (28.1 IP), Clippard has thrown to a 2.22 ERA (204 ERA+) with just 16 hits allowed and 34 strikeouts.  Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll note he has a 1-3 record, has walked 12 men, and the most concerning stat of all, he ranks fourth in all of Major League Baseball with four blown saves already in 2017.  Simply put, he is anything but the elite lockdown bullpen arm the Yankees expect him to be.

Photo Credit: Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports

If we go back to the Yankees’ 3-2 loss against Toronto on June 4th, Clippard has appeared in six games and pitched to a 5.06 ERA with a 1-1 record and two blown saves.  In those appearances, he has surrendered two home runs and allowed his only inherited runner to score.  A quick look at his game-by-game log over these past six games:

Jun 4: Entered in the bottom of the eighth of a 2-2 game and surrendered the game-winning home run to Josh Donaldson in a 3-2 Blue Jays victory.

Jun 9: Pitched a clean one-two-three top of the eighth in an 8-2 Yankees win over Baltimore.

Jun 12: Tabbed with a blown save after allowing an RBI double to Cameron Maybin after entering in the bottom of the seventh of a 3-2 game against the Angels. Went on to get the win after Aaron Judge’s HR in the top of the eighth.

Jun 13: Blew another save against the Angels, surrendering a game-tying HR to Eric Young, Jr. in an eventual 3-2 Angels win.

Photo Credit: Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG

Jun 15: Entered in the bottom of the eighth in a 5-5 game, faced three batters, allowing two to reach, and was replaced by Dellin Betances who allowed an inherited runner to score giving Oakland a 6-5 lead. They would eventually win in extra innings 8-7 on Khris Davis’ bloop single to shallow right. Would have taken the loss if the Yankees hadn’t tied the game on Gary Sanchez’s RBI single in the top of the ninth.

Jun 18: Allowed just a walk, but nothing else in a scoreless bottom of the seventh against Oakland in a 4-3 Yankees defeat.

You can even take that a step further and note that Joe Girardi, seemingly losing his trust in Clippard, turned to Jonathan Holder on Saturday night (June 16th) in the eighth inning with the Yankees leading 6-5. Holder, expectedly, imploded, allowing two runs in the inning and the Athletics won 7-6.

If there’s any takeaway from all that, I noted that Clippard has been at his best in the lowest of leverage situations. His only scoreless appearances were in a game the Yankees were leading by six, and another when they were already behind when he entered.  Per Baseball Reference’s Win Probabily statistics, Clippard has accounted for a -0.6 WPA (Win Probability Added) as well as a -1.1 Clutch metric.  Simply put, he is not excelling in the high leverage situations he is being brought into.

Will this all turn around in the coming weeks? Perhaps. Keep in mind that Clippard still has very good peripherals (0.988 WHIP, 10.8 K/9, 81.2% strand rate) and that his track record speaks in his defense.  Maybe this is just a rough patch and he’ll return to dominance now that he will return to the lower leverage seventh inning role.  I would like to believe that this will be the case, but I just can’t say for sure.

With the trade deadline starting to creep into the picture, and the Yankees still in the thick of a playoff chase, Brian Cashman owes it to himself to explore some additional bullpen arms.  I opined for a Kelvin Herrera trade a few weeks back, but with the Royals just 3.5 games out of first place as of this morning, I don’t see them dealing their closer.  Perhaps a team like Oakland would be looking to move either Ryan Madson or Sean Doolittle for the right price?  Maybe the Yankees roll the dice on hard throwing free-agent Kevin Jepsen?  The Yankees’ middle relief is very clearly the biggest concern of this team right now and we can only hope that, in the event no mores are made, Aroldis Chapman’s return can stabilize this struggling unit.  If not, this team may continue to let winnable games slip from their grasp.

Article by: Andrew Natalizio


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