- Rating: 4.90
- Age: 27
- 2020 Stats: 12 games pitched, 5 starts, 43.1 IP, 4.36 ERA, 106 ERA+, 40 SO, 21 BB, 0.6 bWAR
- 2020 Salary: league minimum
- 2021 Status: under team control, 1.120 years of service time
Behold my favorite replacement level player on the 2020 Arizona Diamondbacks, Taylor Clarke. While most of the pitching staff, bullpen and starters alike, brought with them an overwhelming sense of dread upon entering the game this season, Taylor arguably performed better than most would have expected. Behind Merrill Kelly he would be my top choice for most improved player on the D’backs this past season.
Clarke had his first introduction to MLB hitters in the 2019 season and struggled at times. He was eventually moved from the rotation to the bullpen, and it appeared as if his days as a starter at the MLB level were possibly behind him. He finished the 2019 season with a 5.31 ERA and was below replacement level in value. However, he was far more effective as a reliever with an ERA over two runs lower than as a starter, so that was his most likely path to an extended stay at the MLB level.
He made his way onto the roster as a long relief arm out of the bullpen in the COVID shortened season. Clarke saw usage in that role right out of the gate thanks to the immediate struggles of Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, and Luke Weaver. The first such “save us from this misery” Taylor Clarke moments came on July 27th in the fourth game of this season. Clarke came on in relief of Weaver who had faltered dramatically in the fourth inning giving up five of the six total runs allowed in the game. Fernando Tatis was on third with only one out. Clarke intentionally walked Manny Machado to setup an eventual inning ending double play. From there, he threw three more scoreless innings allowing no hits and striking out three.
Clarke remained in the long relief role until the end of August when injuries to Madison Bumgarner and Merrill Kelly necessitated moving him back into the starting rotation. Much like 2019 he was far better as a reliever than as a starter with one and a half run difference in his ERA. He finished the season pitching the fourth most innings on the team ahead of both Madison Bumgarner and Robbie Ray, and tied Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly for the most wins with three.
His best game of the season was on August 30th against the San Francisco Giants, his second start of the season. He pitched five innings allowing only a solo home run to Alex Dickerson in the first. Clarke was stingy for the rest of the game granting only one additional base runner via the walk while striking out seven, tying a career high. Unfortunately, as the D’backs season went they were unable to provide him with any run support whatsoever resulting in a 4-1 loss.
Despite his improved results this past season, it only became more obvious that his most likely path to success at the MLB level remains as a middle reliever out of the bullpen, but he could be quite successful in that role. Below are his career splits as a starter vs. as a reliever:
Taylor will undoubtedly will see MLB action again next season, but whether most of those appearances come as a reliever or starter will depend on the effectiveness of the existing rotation. Mike Hazen has made no moves to alter the existing pitching staff, and future moves are likely to be minor in nature. This means that eventually he will have some spot starts when the inevitable injuries strike.