Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tyler Clippard: Least Deserving Nationals All-Star Ever?

Over the years the Nationals have had some pretty sad representatives in the All-Star Game.

Dmitri Young in 2007 was probably the worst--an average offensive first baseman and an embarrassingly bad fielder who in total posted 1.5 wins above replacement for the season, or half what Danny Espinosa's already done this year.

A case could also be made for Cristian Guzman in 2008. He made it because he had a fluky .337 BABIP that put him among the league leaders in hits, but he was a below-average fielder and the 5th best shortstop in his own division that year, behind Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, Hanley Ramirez, and Yunel Escobar.

But Tyler Clippard really might be the weakest Nationals all-star ever, and the shame of it is that the team has played legitimate .500 ball over the first 60% or so of the year and really truly had a couple deserving choices.

I don't mean this as a big knock on Clippard. He's a very, very nice relief pitcher. Jim Bowden deserves almost as much credit as he gives himself for acquiring him in exchange for Jonathan Albaladejo.

Still, the reason he's a relief pitcher is because he wasn't good enough to start. So even though Clippard has been very good out of the bullpen over the last season and a half, and we as Nationals fans love our begoggled vulture, we still kinda gotta admit that he's at least not as good as the 50-60 or so solid starting pitchers in the NL. Wanna say he's one of the ten best relievers in the NL? Fine, I could probably go along with that. But that doesn't qualify for the all-star game.

Just looking at the Nationals roster, does anyone really believe that Clippard is better than Jordan Zimmermann? What would Zimmermann's K:BB rate be if he could go all-out and unload his fastball one inning at a time and benefit from favorable match-ups?

Or consider Espinosa, who has been the best second baseman in the NL not named Rickie Weeks. Both Espinosa or Zimmermann would have been solid choices on the merits, without any one-per-team quota.

(And I know some folks wanna make the case for Mike Morse, and he's clearly had a smoking-hot couple months, but his season is just a bit too fluky to really get too riled up about.)

Even the other starting pitchers, none of whom obviously belong in the All-Star Game either, might have a better case than Clippard. Has Clippard been more valuable in his 51 innings than Livan Hernandez has been in 121? Or John Lannan in 108 or Jason Marquis in 106? Or consider this: what would Clippard's numbers look like if he was asked to throw that many innings?

Anyway, it's nice for Tyler Clippard to get the recognition, but it's too bad that in a season when the Nationals really do have some stars to showcase and a good team story to highlight, that the goofy all-star selection process turned the Nationals once again into a punch-line, this time about the no-name reliever who got the win without retiring a single hitter.


XaK Bausch said...

Come on. You know it's Matt Capps. At least Clippard is a good relief pitcher.

Capps rolled into the 2010 ASG with 39.2 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.412 WHIP, 7.5 K/9. His WAR was around .5 and had a -.745 WPA.

Steven said...

If you are going to look at this in a sort of WAR view (which you don't explicitly say but is kind of implied) than no Clip should not have made it. But then really no relief pitcher makes it. Personally, I like that all types of players make it (including middle relievers).

Also, it's not like Clippard is just some failed starter who got sent to the bullpen so he has some value. He has turned into a dominant pitcher in that role.

And yeah, the worst is either Capps or Guz.

Steven said...

Well, you can get into the tired old debate about what qualifies someone as an all-star. Should it be true star quality? Like, whether a player is well-known? Should it be the guys who have had the best half season?

If it was me, I would dramatically scale back the number of RPs in the game, for more or less the reason you say. But I think if you narrowed to let's say 2-3 RPs you could have a credible group of pitchers who really are great pitchers who happen to be used in a relief role, rather than washed out starters who are enjoying a hot 50 innings.

Basil said...

Clippard or Capps on the "Who the hell is he, and why is he an All-Star?" scale.

On merit, Capps, I'd say. Although he wasn't a bad choice per se, given the history of "It's a bad team, so let's just select the closer with some saves" picks.

ff said...

Tyler Clippard finished #1 out of all pitchers starters and relievers in the NL and AL in WPA which is the best stat to judge relief pitchers who pitch high leverage innings. He was a deserving all-star.

Steven said...

WPA is at best 50% player performance, and the rest is managerial usage. If you're looking at two pitchers used in identical leveraged situations, it will till you which pitchers got the best outcomes from those situations. WPA/LI adjusts for leverage, and Clippard is #7 in that category. Still very good, but not #1. And of course all of this is subject to massive small sample size variation.

Using your method, the AS pitchers would have included big names like Eric O'Flaherty and Antonio Bastardo. Mariano Rivera would have been left home.

Anonymous said...

"What would Zimmermann's K:BB rate be if he could go all-out and unload his fastball one inning at a time and benefit from favorable match-ups?"

That's a fascinating question. Both the differential and the ratio would be staggering since he flat-out refuses to walk people.

Doug said...

Clippard might have done his job better than anyone on the Nats in the first half of 2011. I agree that the job of a relief pitcher is not one of the most important jobs on any team, especially a team that isn't contending, so Zimmermann, Espinosa, Morse, and probably others have been more valuable. But there is still an argument that doing your job better than anyone else does his job merits getting picked. Also, if you believe that the goal is to win the All-Star Game, then Clippard might have been the best choice.

By the way, why has there been no talk of trading Clippard? All the focus is on Marquis, Coffey, and Nix. Among relievers, Coffey should bring something in return, but Clippard would bring more. I'd hate to lose him, but he is, after all, only a relief pitcher, so he's worth more to the contenders than to the Nats. And although he hasn't been closing, he's been just as good as Capps was last year and reasonably should bring just as much in return as Capps. How could the Nats pass that up?