If there's one strength of the 2015 New York Yankees, it's the bullpen. The Fearsome Fivesome of Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson and Adam Warren is a force to be reckoned with. Entering the second half on Friday, Yankee relievers have combined for 3.6 fWAR, which is just a tenth of a win behind the Dodgers for second place in the bigs. That's pretty darn good, especially once you consider the negative value brought on by our old friends Esmil Rogers and David Carpenter. The Yankees have themselves a legitimate weapon in their bullpen, and as the Royals demonstrated last year, that plays up in the playoffs.
This all brings us to Tyler Clippard. The Athletics are bad and are probably going to sell. I took a gander at A's starter Scott Kazmir yesterday as a possible trade target. Like his teammate, Clippard is playing on an expiring contract, so he would be a rental if he were to be acquired. The right-hander has pitched fairly well this year with a 2.43 ERA and he's struck out 22.4% of opposing batters over 37 innings. That sounds great! However, he's walked 4.38 per nine innings, which is worse than Justin Wilson, and FIP says he's pitched more like a 3.78 ERA kind of guy. The A's have quietly been a top 10 team with 16 defensive runs saved, despite the presence of Marcus Semien, making Clippard's .202 BABIP unlikely to continue if he's dealt.
The projections for Clippard moving forward are favorable. FanGraphs' blend of the Steamer and ZiPS system say that Clippard's strikeout rate should go back up to 9.49 K/9, his walks down to 3.64 BB/9, and his FIP down slightly to 3.69. The Yankees wouldn't be acquiring Clippard to close, obviously, so that would play as a setup man. Clippard would theoretically pitch the seventh inning, Betances the eighth, and Miller the ninth. He would also likely bump Bryan Mitchell back down to Triple-A or force a DFA of Chris Capuano, while Warren, Shreve and Wilson operate as insanely good middle relief options.
Of course, one must assess the level of need that the Yankees have in acquiring Clippard. The bullpen is already excellent, so why spend resources to make it even better? Clippard isn't even the best reliever that will be available on the market this month–that honor could belong to Aroldis Chapman. The resources used to acquire Clippard could surely be spent getting another bat, or a starting pitcher that isn't named CC Sabathia. Why upgrade the bullpen?
The reason you trade for Tyler Clippard is because you can trade for Tyler Clippard. The bullpen is already great, so why not shore it up and make it even better? The Yankees wouldn't have to give up much to acquire Clippard as a package of C-grade prospects, or maybe a B-grade and a C-grade, should get the job done. It won't break the bank, and your favorite prospect is still in the organization. Unless your favorite prospect is someone like James Pazos or Tyler Wade–no guarantees there.
The downside is that you can only improve the bullpen so much by adding Clippard. Theoretically, there's a finite amount of value a group of relievers can produce. Imagine that theoretical limit to be a basin of water. Filling the basin to the very brim is the equivalent of having the best bullpen possible. The Yankees' basin is definitely more than halfway full. Let's say it's 70% full. That's fantastic. How much does the water level rise when Clippard suits up as a Yankee? Not very much. Remember, Clippard would be bumping someone else out of a job. So let's say it's Mitchell that's the odd man out. Mitchell has been pretty good as a short reliever, and he also has the capacity to eat a few innings here and there. Clippard is most likely a better pitcher than Mitchell for the rest of the season. So he matches Mitchell's level of production (the basin's current fullness), and then exceeds it, which moves the water line up. How much better than Bryan Mitchell is Tyler Clippard?
Let's say Mitchell sticks with the Yankees for the rest of the year in a Clippard-less world. He's produced 0.2 fWAR in 9.1 innings, and his peripherals are pretty good. It's a very small sample size so the data is very unstable. I'd wager in that world that Mitchell gets 30 or so innings of work if he's used purely as a reliever, possibly more if he gets a spot start or two. Maybe the league figures him out, maybe his bad walk rate from the minors returns and his 1.93 BB/9 regresses. Let's say he's worth 0.5 fWAR. Clippard is projected to be worth 0.3 fWAR from here until the end of the year. My projection is completely arbitrary and should not be taken as gospel, or a sign that trading for Tyler Clippard is a fool's errand. But it makes you think, are you merely replacing Reliever X with a player of similar value? If the Yankees truly do want to add to their insane bullpen, should they just go balls to the wall and swoop on Craig Kimbrel?
In a vacuum, trading for Tyler Clippard is a fun idea. However, Clippard may not add enough excess value for the Yankees to justify the move.
Nicolas Stellini is a staff writer at Pinstripe Alley, where he writes about the Yankees and covers the Double-A Trenton Thunder. His national coverage can be found at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.