Sunday Notes: Tyler Clippard Sees a Save-Opportunity Disconnect

In all likelihood, Tyler Clippard’s numbers are better than you realize. In 696 career relief appearances encompassing 752 innings, the 33-year-old Toronto Blue Jays right-hander has a 3.17 ERA. Moreover, he’s allowed just 6.5 hits per nine innings, and his strikeout rate is a healthy 10.0. Add in durability — 72 outings annually since 2010 — and Clippard has quietly been one of baseball’s better relievers.

He also has 68 saves on his resume, and the fact that nearly half of them came in 2012 helps add to his under-the-radar status. It also helps explain the size of his bank account.

“My biggest jump in salary was the year I had 32 saves, and that was essentially the only reason,” explained Clippard, who was with the Washington Nationals at the time. “My overall body of work was pretty good, but numbers-wise it wasn’t one of my better seasons. I had a bad stretch where I had something like a 10.00 ERA, so I ended the year with a (3.72 ERA). But because I got all those saves, I received the big salary jump in salary arbitration.”

Circumstances proceeded to derail the righty’s earning power. The Nationals signed free-agent closer Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $22M contract, relegating Clippard to a set-up role. While Soriano was saving games, Clippard was being paid less than half that amount while logging a 2.29 ERA and allowing 84 hits in 141 innings.

A trade to Oakland put Clippard back into a closer’s role, but that opportunity proved to be short-lived. Seventeen saves into his 2015 season, the A’s swapped him to the Mets, where Jeurys Familia owned the ninth inning. The following year he was sharing a bullpen bench with Aroldis Chapman.

Chapman signed a five-year, $86M contract with the Yankees prior to the 2017 season. Clippard has been paid less than $35M since breaking into the big leagues in 2007.

“I think that’s something that needs to be addressed,” said Clippard, who admittedly isn’t a Chapman-in-his prime, nor would he claim to be. “There’s a disconnect between high-leverage holds and the save stat. The discrepancy in the dollar amounts that guys get really stands out.

Dellin Betances has gone through it with the Yankees. He’s put up big-time numbers, but he doesn’t have the saves, therefore he’s paid less — way less — than guys who have lesser numbers but have got gotten opportunities to get saves. I’m not saying saves aren’t important — they certainly are — but it all comes down to opportunities. What does that mean monetarily?”

Clippard hit free agency for the first time following the 2015 season. He took a $2.2M pay cut.

“I’ve been through the free-agent process twice, and I feel that I’ve been undervalued through that process,” admitted Clippard. “I barely got a job this past offseason. For somebody with my track record, that’s very frustrating. Even in 2015, coming off a pretty good year… I definitely went in thinking I was going to do better than I eventually did.”

Truth be told — and Clippard recognizes this — the save-opportunity disconnect hasn’t been the only fly in his personal ointment. While the lion’s share of his numbers are stellar, he has been homer-prone. The 89 home runs he’s allowed since the since start the of the 2009 season are the most of any reliever.

And then there’s perception. In an era where bullpens feature high-octane heaters, the veteran hurler has generally lived in the low 90s.

“It’s human nature for people to fall in love with what they see,” said Clippard. “Whether that’s velocity, whether it’s… throughout my career I’ve been an extreme fly-ball pitcher, and I feel like a lot of people don’t like that. Maybe that’s part of why I haven’t gotten some of the things I thought I maybe should? I don’t know.

“I know what a lot of my numbers are. I know there have been home runs. I’ve lived it. All I can do is go out there and play and see what happens. At the same time, I hope some of that stuff evens itself out. There’s more to being a valuable reliever than getting saves.”

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A.J. Hinch was asked about Jose Altuve when the Astros were in Boston in early September. More specifically, he was asked if the undersized all-star plays with a chip on his shoulder.

“He plays with an edge,” answered Hinch. “Bregman plays with a little bit of an edge like that. Pedroia plays with an edge like that. Different things motivate different players. I think Jose not getting an opportunity the first time he tried out will always be something he carries with him. I don’t know if I’d call it a chip so much as I’d call it sort of internal motivational clock.”

Altuve won the American League MVP award last season. He’s not contending for that honor this year, but one of his teammates, the aforementioned Alex Bregman, is. Houston’s skipper was asked if he could make a case for the hot-hitting third baseman.

“He’s making it for himself,” Hinch responded. “These major awards at the end of the year… you really are kind of splitting hairs among elite performers. I think Alex has certainly put himself right up there with anybody you want to name. His performance, his durability, playing on both sides of the ball. I see that J.D. Martinez is playing right field today, so he gets some defensive innings. You can’t really say anything against other players, though. They’re doing elite things too. But our guy is making a strong case.”

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Lorenzo Cain is in the conversation for NL MVP, and one reason is improved plate discipline. The Milwaukee Brewers outfielder is establishing career highs with an 11.7% walk rate and a .398 OBP.

How has the 32-year-old former Kansas City Royal managed to rein in what were once free-swinging ways?

“It’s just reps and maturity, man,” Cain told me earlier this summer. “I’m just continuing to figure things out. Everything across the board is better. That includes doing a better job of getting good pitches to hit and laying off pitches out of the zone.”

The numbers back that up. Cain has swung at 24.6% pitches out of the strike zone, which is also a personal best. Ditto his .308 batting average, which ranks fifth in the senior circuit, as well as his .362 wOBA. Not that he pays particularly close attention to such things.

“I just play,” explained Cain. “I try to not get too wrapped up in this baseball world. I just try to live my life, day by day, and play the game.”

It was nearly a different game. Growing up, Cain “wasn’t big on baseball.” His preferred sport was basketball, and he seriously considered hardwood offers from a handful of “junior colleges down in Alabama and Mississippi.” Recognizing that his height and speed translated better to the diamond, he’s instead chasing the playoffs — and getting plaudits for his play — in Milwaukee.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Happy Felsch went 11 for 27 against Sad Sam Jones.

Pee Wee Reese went 15 for 31 against Schoolboy Rowe.

High Pockets Kelly went 18 for 30 against Phil Collins.

Riggs Stephenson went 20 for 49 against Eppa Rixey.

Taffy Wright went 29 for 53 against Elden Auker.

——

Logan Morrison had an interesting take when I asked him about pitchers with deceptive deliveries. In his opinion, they’re not all legal.

“There are a lot of guys out there that balk,” the Twins first baseman/DH told me. “But they don’t get called for balks, because balks aren’t enforced. They’re good at bending the rules. They don’t stop. They’ll do this in their deliveries. They’ll do that. They’re good at deceiving the batter and the runner, which is a balk.”

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NEWSY STUFF

Mike Fast, who has been an integral part of the Houston Astros front office since 2012, has decided to leave the organization and seek opportunities elsewhere once his contract is up at the end of October. A former author at Baseball Prospectus, Fast has spent the last three years as Houston’s director of research and development.

On Thursday, Francisco Arcia became the first player in baseball’s modern era to catch, pitch and homer in the same game. Earlier this season he became the first Angels position player to pitch since 1993.

Per MLB’s Mike Teevan, the National League will finish with a better inter-league record than the American League for the first time since 2003, and the fifth time overall. Inter-league play began in 1997.

Bobb Vergiels, the public-address announcer at Comerica Park, will be working his final game today. The 66-year-old is retiring after 15 years on the job.

Lee Stange, who pitched for the Twins, Indians, Red Sox, and White Sox from 1961-1970, died this week at age 81. “Stinger” went 12-5, 2.62 with the Twins in 1965, and made a World Series appearance with the Red Sox in 1967. He later served as Boston’s pitching coach.

The 49th annual SABR convention will be held from June 26-30, 2019 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego. The Padres will he hosting the St. Louis Cardinals that weekend.

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J.D. Martinez has an outside shot at winning the Triple Crown in the American League, a feat last accomplished by Miguel Cabrera in 2012, and before that by Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. The last is a historical figure by now. “Yaz” played his final game 35 years ago… and yes, time flies.

“Time not only flies, it catches up to all of us. Cabrera is now 35 years old, and his body is no longer as cooperative as it once was. The Detroit Tigers slugger struggled through an injury-marred 2016 season, and this year he played in just 38 games before going on the shelf for the duration. He’ll be back — his contract runs through 2023 with vesting options to follow — but it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be what he once was.

How good was Cabrera in his prime? With Triple Crowns in mind, Cabrera led all players in batting average, home runs, and RBIs in the five-season stretch spanning 2009-2013. Prior to his sub-par 2016 campaign, he boasted a .321/.399/.562 slash line, with 446 home runs in 9,001 plate appearances. Those are Hall of Fame numbers.

Injuries undermine careers. The aging process isn’t so great either.

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NON-MLB NOTABLES

Per Baseball America, Tampa Bay Rays affiliates combined to have the best winning percentage (.591) in minor league baseball. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim affiliates combined to have the worst winning percentage (.430).

Minor League Baseball drew 40,450,337 fans this season, with seven teams setting franchise records for single-season attendance in their current ballparks. The Dayton Dragons’ streak of consecutive sellouts — the longest in professional sports history — is now at 1,316 games.

The Greensboro Grasshoppers of the low-A South Atlantic League have announced a two-year player development contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Grasshoppers had been a Miami Marlins affiliate since 2003.

Dayan Viciedo is slashing .348/.420/.558 with 25 home runs for NPB’s Chunichi Dragons. The 29-year-old outfielder played for the Chicago White Sox from 2010-2014.

———

More often than not, I’ve learned about the charitable efforts profiled in this column from a media guide or a media relations director. A notable exception occurred earlier this month. Leaving Fenway Park after a game against the Astros, I encountered baseball photographer Kelly O’Connor, adorned in a Josh Reddick Foundation t-shirt. The following day I approached the Astros outfielder to find out some particulars.

“It’s basically for my hometown,” explained Reddick, who hails from Guyton, Georgia. “We’re not spreading out like a big organization would. We’re helping every aspect that we can back home. We help out with the schools, police, fire, animal shelters. There’s not one set place that it goes to; we donate the money to whoever has the most need for it.”

The foundation hosts an annual home run derby, and the next one will take place in a brand new facility. Reddick donated close to a million dollars to help build an all-turf baseball field, wheel-chair accessible with stadium seating, that celebrated its grand opening this summer.

“It’s nice to see everybody, from normal everyday kids playing baseball, to special-needs kids, enjoying it,” Reddick told me. “I’ve had the desire to do something like this ever since I was in high school. There is no incentive outside of wanting to give back. There is no reason anyone should want to do this for the notoriety. It’s enough for me to just see the smiles on those kids’ faces.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Mike Fiers survived a car crash, and fought long odds to make it to the big leagues. Susan Slusser has the details at The San Francisco Chronicle.

Over at The Denver Post, Patrick Saunders gave us Bud Black: A day in the life of the Rockies’ manager in a pennant race.”

Omar Vizquel was named Carolina League manager of the year after leading the White Sox’ Class A affiliate to an 84-54 record in his first managerial season. Daryl Van Schouwen has the story at The Chicago Sun-Times.

Is Paul Goldschmidt’s time with the Diamondbacks near an end? Nick Piecoro explored that question at The Arizona Republic.

Don Welke, who spent more than 50 years in baseball and was most recently the VP of scouting operations for the San Diego Padres, died this week at the age of 85. Tony Paul wrote about him at The Detroit News.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Atlanta Braves and Oakland A’s had each played 155 games and allowed 638 runs. The Braves have allowed 49 unearned runs, the A’s have allowed 48 unearned runs.

Victor Martinez will finish his career having hit .340/.412/.536 with 21 home runs versus the Chicago White Sox at US Cellular Field.

Joe Mauer is 27 for 51 with a .529/.590/.667 OPS in 14 career games against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ron Gardenhire has 1,131 wins and 1,131 losses as a big league manager.

On this date in 2003, the Detroit Tigers had a record of 38-118 and were winless in their last 10 games. With infamy looming — the 1962 Mets went 40-120 — the Alan Trammell-led tabbies won five of their last six to finish 43-119.

On this date in 1967, the White Sox were in fourth place in the American League, one game behind the first-place Twins, and half a game behind the Red Sox and Tigers, who were tied for second.

On this date in 1969, John Miller of the Los Angeles Dodgers homered in his final big-league at bat. Three years earlier, playing for the New York Yankees, he homered in his first big-league at bat. They were the only home runs of his career.

On September 22, 1954, Brooklyn Dodgers southpaw Karl Spooner made his big-league debut and threw a three-hit shutout against the New York Giants. He fanned 15 batters. Four days later, he threw a four-hit shutout against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and fanned a dozen batters. Spooner then injured his shoulder the following spring and went on to pitch just 98 more MLB innings.

On September 25, 1977, Red Sox right-hander Reggie Cleveland allowed 18 hits, and fanned just one batter, in a complete-game win at Tiger Stadium. Boston bested Detroit by a count of 12-5.

In 1973, Detroit Tigers southpaw John Hiller pitched 125 relief innings and had a record of 10-5 to go with 38 saves and a 1.44 ERA. In one of his losses he allowed a lone run in eight-and-a-third innings. In another he allowed a lone run in five-and-two-thirds innings.

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Tyler Clippard Sees a Save-Opportunity Disconnect by David Laurila!

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