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2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews, #28: Tyler Clippard

Clippard’s second time with the D-Backs began with a hope, but ended with an injury, a thud, and a buyout.

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Seattle Mariners v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • Rating: 4.06
  • Age: 37 by Opening Day (*fingers crossed*)
  • 2021 Stats: 1-1, 3.20 ERA, 1.303 WHIP, 25.1 IP, 135 ERA+
  • 2021 Earnings: $1.75 million with $500K buyout
  • 2022 Status: Unrestricted free agent

Here’s a newsflash that will surprise exactly none of our readers: the Arizona Diamondbacks’ bullpen was bad in 2021. And I mean, bad in a way that can’t properly be expressed. There’s no mincing of words or ways to soften the truth that as a group, they were a serious drag on an already weakened roster. In almost every major category, the D-Backs pitching staff ranked as the worst in the NL, and the lowly Baltimore Orioles are the only reason they weren’t last in those categories in all of baseball. Which is the baseball equivalent of saying, “At least we aren’t as bad as INSERT YOUR LEAST FAVORITE STATE HERE.” The pitching staff for the D-Backs gave up the second-most hits (1480), the second-worst BAA (.267), and the second-worst SLG (.468) to name just a few.

I preface this review with such depressing context because Tyler Clippard represents one of the few respectable contributors from a group that by and large ranged from forgettable to downright putrid. For those who may have forgotten (for shame!), this was actually Clippard’s second stint with the D-Backs. Unfortunately, his first stint was just as equally solid, but unremarkable, as his second one. In 2016, he managed a 2-3 record with the D-Backs on a mild 4.30 ERA and an ugly 1.301 WHIP over 37.2 IP before he was shipped off to the Yankees for Vicente Campos - a player who was most recently released by the Pirates in 2019. Of course, his two stints here only constitute a small proportion of his overall MLB tour as Clippard has played for an exhausting 10 teams in his 16-year career - and counting!

In 2021 however, Clippard got clipped (*wink* *wink*) by the injury bug and was limited to a paltry 26 appearances for the whole year as he suffered through two separate visits on the IL and a couple rehab stints along the way. When he wasn’t sitting on the IL, Clippard posted his usual run-prevention, although that should be caveated pretty heavily as the dramatic differential between his ERA (3.20) and FIP (4.71) suggests some of it may have come down to luck rather than anything else. In the same vein, FanGraphs actually gave Clippard an expected ERA of an unsightly 5.96 for 2021, which lends even more weight and credence to the theory that Clippard was a recipient of good fortune. To say the least, these results didn’t exactly match the expectations placed on him when he was signed back in February as covered by Jack and who was actually mildly hopeful for better results in 2021 than 2016.

As Jack astutely noted in his article above, Clippard is one of the quintessential fly ball relief pitchers - an oddity considering the exponential growth in home runs and the near-obsession with exit velocity and launch angle that is endemic to today’s MLB. And while Clippard maintained that clip (sorry, I had to) in 2021, some of his peripherals dipped in expected - and worrying - ways. Clippard has never been a power pitcher - his fastball topped out around 93 MPH earlier in his career - but the velocity on it has continued to tick down in each successive year. This downward trend presents relatively obvious problems: as the velocity on his fastball continues to decrease, it makes the velocity differential between it and his off-speed pitches lower in turn, which then results in the hitters’ ability to identify and hit those pitches easier.

Indeed, as if on cue with this downward trend in velocity, the percentage of hard hit balls and barrel percentage against Clippard jumped to whole new levels in 2021. In his career, he mostly managed to keep those percentages in the upper 20s and mid-single digits respectively, but they both jumped to 38% for hard hit balls and a hideous 12% for barrels. And just to add insult to injury, Clippard’s other bread-and-butter - strikeouts - also dipped to a new career low since his first two years in the league at a paltry 19% for the year while simultaneously allowing his walk percentage to jump all the way to 10% on the season. Clearly, and unfortunately, hitters are catching up to his pitches and are unfooled by any of the tricks he has up his impressive sleeves or intimidating goggles.

Honestly, Hazen’s decision to decline the mutual option on Clippard’s contract was likely one of the easier decisions this offseason - despite the waffling that he offered earlier in the offseason. And while we’ll never know definitively which side was the one that actually declined the option, I have a sneaking suspicion that Clippard is not in any hurry to come back to the desert given two lackluster years here. Who knows, maybe he’d prefer to go back to the American League where he actually found more success outside of his peak performances with the Nationals back in the day. For the D-Backs however, we can simply hope that they are able to find someone - either internally or externally - that offers the same level of contribution that Clippard does in his impressively long-lived career. I wish him the best and hope that he makes it to 15 total teams for his career if for no other reason than to say that he played for half the league.