Sunday, May 9, 2010

Clippard's Workload

After today, Tyler Clippard now has 16 relief appearances and 23.2 innings pitched on the season. There are pitchers in the league with more relief appearances (the Mets' Fernando Nieve leads the league with a whopping 20), but no other pitcher has thrown as many relief innings. Of all the pitchers with 16 or more relief appearances this season, only Robinson Tejeda of the Royals and Matt Capps are averaging more than an inning per appearance. And with only two low-leverage appearances, Clippard is pitching in almost exclusively higher pressure situations.

Make no mistake, Clippard has gotten very good outcomes, making it hard to blame Riggleman for riding the hot hand. He's striking out 31% of batters faced (more than Neftali Feliz or Mariano Rivera, to cherry-pick two examples), which allows him to overcome his 54% flyball rate and 12% walk rate.

Of course, before we get too Clippard-crazy (too late, I know), we have to remember that he has been the beneficiary of some excellent luck, too. The .218 BABIP against has allowed him to keep his WHIP below 1.00, despite all those walks. And he's going to have to endure a pretty long stretch of beatings before his minuscule 3.9% home run-to-flyball rate regresses back to the league average (just ask Brad Lidge about his 3.9% HR/FB rate in 2008). His 3.90 xFIP is a better indication of his true performance level than his 0.76 ERA or 6 wins. And even with all that luck, he's actually allowed 10 of 18 inherited runners to score, a really pretty terrible 55.6% rate (league-average is 32%).

But the main point of this post isn't to dump on Clippard--it's to worry about him. Especially with Brian Bruney showing exactly why he was left off the Yankees' playoff roster for the first two rounds (and then used exactly once in the World Series, allowing 2 runs and recording one out), Clippard is crucial for the Nationals ongoing respectability. And right now, he's on pace for 123.1 innings. Obviously he's not going to throw that many innings, but you have to wonder whether even a month at this pace will take a toll.

Relief pitcher usage is a poorly researched area. Sample sizes are inherently really small, and relievers are so erratic from year to year anyway that it's hard to separate out the effects of usage from luck and skill. Still, we all watched Luis Ayala, Jon Rauch, Chad Cordero, and Saul Rivera fall apart racking up a ton of relief innings between 2005 and 2007.

Again, I don't blame Riggleman for riding the hot hand or trying to lock in every win he can while his team is playing well. The problem could solve itself if the team goes cold for a week or two. But pretty soon something's gotta give. If the team does keep producing leads to protect, either someone else needs to step up or Rizzo's going to need to make a move.


ckstevenson said...

Clippard has several blown holds/saves, and evidently has a dramatically higher K/BB ratio with no one on than with runner's one (I can't recall if he pitches from the wind-up at all).

Any way to separate his BABIP with runners on is much worse than without?

Whatever the stats say, ride the hot arm while you can and hope we can find someone else once he cools off and regresses...

Steven said...

.160 BABIP with runners on.

mwyche said...

Clippard is being used a lot but could him being a former starter help him to hold up longer than your average reliever...

Section 222 said...

Steven you put your finger on something that no one that I know of who is writing about Clippard has discussed -- that Riggleman is trying to rack up wins while he can. I don't blame him for that at all. Maybe he could have left Burnett in for one more batter today, but who's he going to turn to to face Hanley with one or two on and none out in the top of the 8th leading by one run? Tyler Walker? No. Bruney? Hell no. So you're right, there are two alternatives -- someone steps up or Rizzo finds us another reliable reliever. Actually, wait, there's a third alternative -- the Nats can start hitting so that it's not 5-1 or 6-1 in the top of the 8th. The overuse of Clippard is directly tied to the Nats almost never winning a blowout game. Give the relievers a lead, and we can take our chances with Bruney or Batista and give Clip & Save a rest on a night other than when we're losing.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a big problem with how Clippard is being used at this point. Today's game Riggles was trying to do the right thing. He wants Burnett to be his LOOGY who can pitch to some righties as well when he looks good. He gave up a single and that was it. Burnett has not shown the emotional resiliency, control, or K ability to keep jams to a minimum and get out of trouble. I think he really wanted to use Clippard for just the 8th today but it didn't work out because of Burnett's issues.

Now it seems we try Slaten in this role as well. If overusing Clippard is going to get us wins, we've got to do that though because by June we know that we'll have Storen coming to take up some of the slack. The overuse issue is a bit less of a problem for Clippard because we are really just asking for him to get us to Clip, Store, and Save come June.

Anonymous said...

"Actually, wait, there's a third alternative -- the Nats can start hitting so that it's not 5-1 or 6-1 in the top of the 8th."

Here's perhaps the one area where those with better research capabilities could probably take Riggles to task. We're a team that's aggressive on the basepaths. Some of Nyjer Morgan's caught stealings may be in front of the HR that a distracted pitcher makes to get us a blowout.

It seems to me that we've been a team that likes the Sac Bunt. Some of those Sac Bunts are going to get us out of big innings.

And we are a team that has a loyalty toward building a team concept by giving veterans precedence and giving everyone starts from time to time. Desmond had a good (lucky) day at the plate today in the 8th spot in front of the pitcher. As Pudge regresses to mean will we swap him with Desmond in the 6th/8th slots? Will we risk injuring Guzman's pride by batting Desmond 2nd? Some of his offensive moves are good for strategy and good for wins but may not be best for the long run statistical approach to maximum runs that gets you a couple more blowouts.

We are kind of on a Mariners style crusade to stump old Pythagoras this year it seems.

In general, I like the Riggler but I'd be interested on your thoughts on the cumulative affect of his managerial style on total runs that could create more low leverage innings to build trust in weaker elements of the bullpen and spare Clip and Save.

John O'Connor said...

I assume the Slaten move was designed to address Clippard's workload in some ways. Slaten can be the LOOGY, which opens up Burnett to be the 7th inning guy, which then hopefully makes Clippard a one-inning pitcher. Then, maybe in a month we see Storen who might be another guy who's usable in high-leverage situations.

The real problem is that virtually every game lately has presented high-leverage situations for the bullpen, and nobody other than Clippard, Capps, and to some extent Burnett have shown any reliability in those roles.

MIke Liszewski said...

I don't know, it's kind of refreshing to see Rigggleman blow out a young relief pitcher's arm for a change.

ckstevenson said...

@Steven - Any chance you can do a position by position comparison of the 2005 Nats to the 2010 version? Maybe even a statistical comparison?

I'd be interested in knowing if the Nats have a better shot at maintaining a near .500 record compared to the 2005 team, if the rub is imminently going to be pulled out from under us, or if we even have a shot at staying above .500 based on how we compare to that team.


Anonymous said...

120 innings? Just about right for a starter? ;) Clippard isn't supposed to be doing "setup" and that stats appear to indicate he is not all that good with ROB and RISP? Thus the large number of wins to his credit?The claim is that he works best with no men on from the beginning.

"Setup" will likely be Storen's job when he arrives. I suspect that Mr. Slaten will end up replacing Batista who has be relegated to "Batista-ville" to write poetry along with Clippard once someone, anyone establishes they can handle to setup role.

That may mean not just Storen, but Peralta needs to be brought up. And something done with Bruney, Batista, and Burnett?