2016 Statistics: 69 G, 63 IP, 3.57 ERA, 4.21 FIP, 1.27 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 (MLB)
29 G, 25 1⁄3 IP, 2.49 ERA, 4.05 FIP, 1.22 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 (NYY)
2017 Roster Status: Owed $6.15 million through 2017
Nine years ago, the Yankees were going through a very rough stretch where seemingly all their starters were injured. So they made the decision to call up a skinny right-hander from Triple-A Scranton who had only made a handful of appearances above Double-A. After a strong debut against the Mets, he took his turns in the rotation for about a month with poor results (6.33 ERA) before returning to the minors. In the off-season, he was flipped to the Nationals for a reliever who showed a little more potential.
Yet here it is, the year 2016 and Tyler Clippard is still pitching while Jonathan Albaladejo is a distant memory. Despite the fan outcry, GM Brian Cashman hasn’t been haunted by many players dealt away over the past decade, but Clippard is the exception. Albaladejo never amounted to anything worth a damn, and once converted to the bullpen in ‘09, Clippard became a mainstay for the Nationals as they rose from cellar-dwellers to annual playoff contenders.
Clippard made the NL All-Star team twice and pitched to a 2.68 ERA and 1.05 WHIP over 414 games in Washington before he was dealt to Oakland prior to the 2015 season. The past two years have been a whirlwind for him, as he spent time with the A’s, Mets, and Diamondbacks before finally coming full circle and returning to the team that drafted him in 2003.
The Yankees had traded both Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman at the deadline, but since the team was not completely out of the race yet, Cashman elected to make one small “buy” move to aid the depleted bullpen. So on July 31st, Clippard came to the Yankees in exchange for minor league pitcher Vicente Campos, who showed some promise after several injury-plagued seasons but ultimately ended up getting hurt again. Although it was a little curious at the time, it made some sense since Clippard could potentially help the 2017 bullpen, too.
Now Clippard has always been a fly-ball pitcher, but he has gradually become a bit more hittable and homer-prone over the past few years. His shaky results with the Mets down the stretch and in the 2015 post-season were partially what lowered his price tag to a mere two-year contract, anyway. That trend continued with the Diamondbacks, so while the 31-year-old did have the relatively known reliability that most of the young Yankees relief arms lacked, it was a bit of a risk taking that kind of reliever and putting him in Yankee Stadium.
It all worked out though. Clippard kept the hits and homers down, allowing him to post a razor sharp 0.47 ERA and .477 OPS against over him first month and a half back in pinstripes (21 games). During that stretch, the combination of Clippard and fellow second-stint Yankee Adam Warren was just as good as Chapman and Miller, thriving on his ability to produce weak contact without overpowering hitters.
Clippard then proceeded to have an abysmal week at the worst time, as the hard-charging Yankees desperately tried to stay alive. Like Warren and Dellin Betances though, Clippard was no match for the Boston and Toronto hitters, who pummeled the weary crew, and the Yankees faded.
Naturally, some hasty fans decided that Clippard was a bum and had to go, but in reality, it was just a few bad games at the end of a long season. If the struggles lasted more than a week, there might be a valid complaint. However, relievers work in such small samples that it’s not a big deal. Even the best have bad weeks every now and then.
Going into 2017, the Yankees’ bullpen is much stronger with Clippard than without him. He will be a free agent after next season, and even in post-All-Star form, he has a 128 ERA+ in 134 innings since the start of 2015. With the current lineup of relievers in flux, the Yankees would welcome an addition like Clippard any day of the week. It’s good to have him out there.