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2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews, #29: Taylor Clarke

And now also the third pick from the 2015 draft has left the club.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Arizona Diamondbacks
Thank you, Taylor.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
  • Rating: 4.00
  • Age: 28
  • 2021 Stats: 43 G, 43.1 IP, 4.98 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 1.523 WHIP, 39:14 K/BB, 86 ERA+, 0.1 bWar
  • 2021 Earnings: pre-arbitration ($514,365 according to Spotrac)
  • 2022 Status: released on November 30 and signed a 1 year/$975,000 contract with Kansas City on December 1.

Introduction

I don’t believe that Taylor Clarke needs much of an introduction, so I will limit this paragraph to a couple of links and quotes.

He was picked in the third round in the 2015 amateur draft and James Attwood wrote back then:

There is some concern that Clarke will be unable to either develop his change-up enough, or that his endurance may fail him. If either of those things happen, Clarke is a bullpen talent at the big league level. If he is able to find some more lively innings in his arm and is also able to improve his change-up, Clarke projects as a middle-of-the-rotation talent.

In what was a very weak farm system, Clarke would stand out as one of the better prospects with a chance of becoming an MLB regular because of his good control, as Michael McDermott pointed out in this nice Q&A in 2017 with Clarke for the AZSnakePit.

After a steady rise through the minors he would reach Triple A in 2018 and in 2019 he’d make his debut at the big league level. James Attwood would write in his 2019 player review:

While Clarke’s time as a starter in 2019 was a mixed bag, his time as a reliever provided the team with some reason to be hopeful about his future.

His exact status for the (shortened) 2020 season wasn’t quite clear and the team again threw him out as both a starter and reliever. Keegan Thompson wrote in the 2020 player review:

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.

2021 review

At least if we look at the way Taylor Clarke was used in the 2021 season, it looks like the club decided that Taylor Clarke would be used exclusively as a reliever this season. He made the opening day roster but had a rough start to the beginning of the season: in the first 8 outings he would have just twice a scoreless outing. He wasn’t always helped either by his team mates, like the homerun Kevin Ginkel would give up in a game against the Oakland A’s, tagging Clarke for 2 additional runs on the 1 he already had.

But after a rough month of April, and unlike the Diamondbacks themselves, Taylor would become a rather reliable factor in the Arizona bullpen, which led me to write an article about his performance: the reliable reliever. Makakilo would follow that article up with a different point of view that lead to a similar conclusion.

Mid June Taylor Clarke would have a 3.74 ERA (3.23 FIP), 4 holds, a win and a blown save. Not too shabby in the authentic hell that was the Diamondbacks reliever corps.

On June 15, a day after a scoreless outing against the San Francisco Giants, Clarke was placed on the 10-day IL with a strained teres major muscle in his right shoulder.

The Virginia native returned from the IL after almost two months, on August 5, and pitched immediately the same day in a game against the San Francisco Giants. Merrill Kelly had given the D-Backs 8 innings and a 4-0 lead. Clarke started the 9th inning and gave up 3 hits and a run on 13 pitches. He was taken off the mound and was tagged with two more runs thanks to his partners and the D-Backs would eventually lose 5-4.

Over August Clarke would pitch to a 7.27 ERA and a 2.08 WHIP. Something looked terribly off. After giving up 5 runs (3 earned) over two games against Seattle in September, with both games giving Clarke the loss, the Diamondbacks decided to option him to Reno where he would end the season.

Clarke in 2021 basically wrote off his curveball and pitch exclusively with his slider, change-up and fastball. All of his pitches increased in velocity, but his fastball, on average, lost spin rate.

It looks like the shoulder injury Clarke suffered in June has impacted his fastball. It is the only pitch that has lost spin and has become extremely hittable. On average his LD% in 2021 rose to around 25% and I am sure that the spike is explained in big part by his fast ball “success” in August: although his fastball wasn’t great before the injury, after the injury it became completely useless.

Before:

After:

How to fix that might be quite complex and nowadays I sometimes get the feeling that shoulder injuries are more problematic than arm injuries. But that is what major league coaching staffs are for and not arm chair general managers like me.

However it may be, it didn’t do much favour to the evaluation of Taylor Clarke by the Diamondbacks by the end of the season, but it wasn’t the main reason why Clarke was let go by the team.

Clarke apparently made the Super Two cutoff in 2021 and as such became arbitration eligible. That was the main trigger for the Diamondbacks to non-tender the player on November 30, making him a free agent.

2022 outlook

After being scuffled by the Diamondbacks Clarke wasn’t going to come back. Just one day after being non-tendered he signed a major league contract with the Kansas City Royals. Kansas City obviously sees value in Taylor Clarke and room for improvement or get him back on track.

The Diamondbacks meanwhile will try out similar profiles like Taylor Widener or who else might pop up as long and middle relief options.

After the departure of Taylor Clarke, the Diamondbacks have now officially said goodbye to their first 3 picks of the 2015 draft (Dansby Swanson, Alex Young and Taylor Clarke).