Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Evolution of a closer

US Presswire photo
Tyler Clippard recorded his 28th save last night.
It was May 22 when Davey Johnson handed Tyler Clippard the ball for the bottom of the ninth inning of what became a 5-2 Nationals victory in Philadelphia, thus designating the right-hander his team's closer for the foreseeable future.

Exactly three months later, it's hard to dispute Johnson's decision. When Clippard finished off the Braves last night at Nationals Park, he secured his 28th save in 31 tries since getting the job.

Think about that: 28 saves in three months. That's one-half of the season. Over a full 162-game slate, he would finish with 56 saves. That would rank third all-time behind only Francisco Rodriguez (62 saves in 2008) and Bobby Thigpen (57 saves in 1990).

"I feel good," Clippard said with a shrug last night. "I don't really think it's any different than it had been in the past. I've been used a lot, and I'm used to it. So it's been good."

Clippard may be used to pitching a lot, but he's not necessarily used to pitching in so many high-stress situations. Sure he had to put out plenty of fires as the Nationals' top setup man the last two seasons, but ultimately he was handing the baton to another reliever for the ninth inning.

Then there's also the small matter of pitching in a pennant race for the first time. That ramps up the intensity just a bit, does it not?

"The energy in the stadium has definitely changed throughout the course of the year," he said. "More fans are showing up. They're more into the game, every pitch. Especially in the ninth. Especially against Atlanta. So yeah, you can feel the energy. For me, it's more of the same. I try to take every outing and approach it the same way. I don't feel any different. My nerves are good. So for me it's the same. But you can definitely sense the energy in the stadium."

Clippard hasn't exactly mowed down the opposition every time he's taken the mound. He's been prone to create a few jams for himself, as he did last night in letting the Braves' first two batters reach base in the ninth and bring the tying run to the plate.

But with only a couple of exceptions, he's gotten the job done. Opponents are hitting a scant .145 against him, and he's striking out 10.75 batters per nine innings.

"I mean, he's been outstanding," Johnson said. "We've had to change roles a couple times during the year because of the injury to [Drew] Storen and Henry [Rodriguez] has had some problems. ... The year he had last year was an unbelievable year. And he's doing the same thing closing."

57 comments:

NatsJack in Florida said...

It was so good to see TClip throw his slider on his second pitch last nite. All he has to do is show them it's in his arsenal to make his othet 2 pitches that much more effective.

JaneB said...

I have a friend who owns a tee-shirt her husband made that says, "In Clipp I trust." I keep thinking I need one, too. Danny and Holden on 106.7 were making fun of his warm-up music, but I love it. Ready or not, here he comes...

So, next year, one of the two of them (Clip or Store) probably won't be with us. As Storen regains his form and confidence, baseball business minds will find a way to get them BOTH a full-time closer job, which means one goes elsewhere. So in addition to enjoying the heck out of this glorious run, I intend to enjoy the heck out of having both of them in the end of the game.

MAN have we come a long way from those 6-7-8-9 innings of the past, where it would like watching a guaranteed freeway collision every night.
GYFNG!

Positively Half St. said...

For the first time, the Baseball Prospectus power ranking simulations give the Nats a 100% chance of making the playoffs. That is, they ran 1000 or so simulations of the rest of the season, and the Nats made the playoffs every time. No, that is no guarantee, but it sure is fun to see.

+1/2St.

MikeinDC said...

Hats off to Clip for growing into the role and being a great closer. He's a diff player than 2 months ago.

But I've never seen a guy whose success if more hinged on the count. If he's up (0-1, 0-2, 1-2) lights out! If he's behind, hang on because the next pitch, change or heater, is going to get ripped hard.

Closing out games doesn't just depend on Clip, it depends on him getting ahead in the count.

pRAA with the ISO said...

So, next year, one of the two of them (Clip or Store) probably won't be with us. As Storen regains his form and confidence, baseball business minds will find a way to get them BOTH a full-time closer job, which means one goes elsewhere.

Storen isn't going anywhere, unless they trade him. And why would they do that? He hasn't even hit arbitration yet.

As for Tightrope Clippard, he's not going anywhere either. He's got a couple of arbitration years left. His closer stint this year will get him a healthy raise from his current $1.6M, which the Nats will gladly pay.

Both of them will want to close, and one of them will get to. Probably they'll start the season with Clipp, but if he falls off the tightrope too often Storen will take over. That could even happen before this season is over. But no matter what, there won't be a "closer controversy" here for at least another 2 or 3 years.

Laddie Blah Blah said...

Don't forget Davey gave closer roles to both Lidge and Henry before giving Clip a chance. The Nats might be 10 games ahead by now and 35 games over .500 if he had made the decision to go with Clip earlier in the season.

Many here would have done it long before Davey actually did. Same goes for using Desi and Danny at the top of the order.

Give him credit for correcting those mistakes, but he made them.

sjb said...

To amplify further, BP now gives the Nats a 93% chance of winning the division and a 7% chance of getting a wild card--and this year of course there's a BIG difference between the two. (BTW, the Braves are given a 7% chance of winning the division and a 77.4% chance of getting the wild card.

pRAA with the ISO said...

Positively Half St. said...
For the first time, the Baseball Prospectus power ranking simulations give the Nats a 100% chance of making the playoffs.


They're still counting the second wild card spot as "making the playoffs." But it's not. To really make the playoffs, a team needs to win that wild card game. No team is going to fly a flag in its ballpark saying "2012 Wild Card Loser." So that 100% chance needs to be reduced accordingly.

MicheleS said...

Thanks for this Mark, It's good to recognize the contributions of the ENTIRE TEAM! I know some media types are on SS Watch, so I am so glad we have NI to discuss something else.

Clipp likes to make things exciting (as my stomach can attest), but he gets the job done.

Tcostant said...

Big Raise meet Tyler Clipper in 2013.

Positively Half St. said...

pRAA- Yeah, good point. The play-in game doesn't feel quite so impressive, but I would have gladly taken it before the year began.

+1/2St.

Candide said...

(Got new-posted after putting this up.)

baseballswami said...We have really gotten here before 3 of the pitchers are actually ready. Think about that. I am scratching my head yet again.

Among the regular starters, Jackson is the grizzled veteran, at 28. All the rest are 26, except for Strasburg, the baby, who's only 23.

In other words, this pitching staff has not yet matured, and they're already the best in baseball. As great as this season has been, think of the possibilities next year holds, if Strasburg makes the same kind of 2nd-year-after-TJ leap that Znn has, and Detwiler gets his first year as a full-time starter.

Gotta wipe the drool off my keyboard...

sjm308 said...

Agree with pRAA on both counts on this post.
We have control of both pitchers for at least two more years, they like each other, room with each other so that won't be an issue. Both will want to close but with Davey, I am pretty sure both will get defined roles and success of the team outways individual success in my opinion and hopefully theirs.

Coming into this year, I would have been ecstatic to think we would even be the 2nd wild card team. Now, not so much.

As per previous post - thanks to all for the comments and ammunition. Can't wait to get to the gym today!

Oh man, Kevin Sheehan (idiot) is now talking about shutting down Strasburg now! What a total fool. He did not even discuss baseball in the spring. Admitted he never played catch with his sons. Admits to loving the Redskins and Maryland basketball and thats it. If I did call sports radio I would just love to shove that kind of ignorance right back at him.

Go Nats!!

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

@Positively,
You are so right. Before the season, I threw all caution out the door and predicted 84 wins, which I thought was wildly and nuttily optimistic (much like me!). Turns out I'm light.

And I would have given anything to be in the play-in game. Now, the play-in game seems perfect for the likes of the Pirates and Barves.

Meanwhile, we set up a postseason rotation of J-Zimm, Gio, EJax and Det (if we need him). If not, Det takes his chocolate chip cookes (eat, young man, eat up) to the bullpen and gives Davey another option out there.

Play-in game? We don't need no stinkin' play-in game.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Kevin Sheehan (idiot):

Redundant.

Candide said...

This may sound like heresy, but I don't recall ever seeing a rule that said you can't have two lights-out closers.

Once upon a time, you didn't have any closers. Walter Johnson started 666 games in his career, and finished 531 of them. He also pitched relief in another 136 games. The role of the relief pitcher has evolved over the decades. If you want to see some bizarre starts/relief appearance stats, have a look at Firpo Marberry.

So if you have a team that routinely has the lead in the ninth inning, and you have two guys who can slam the door, why not have them tag-team closer duties? You, the manager, wouldn't have to worry about juggling your closer's workload so as not to overwork him. What are the arguments against tag-team closers?

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

NatsJack, BINGO !!!

A DC Wonk said...

(also a repeat on account of getting new-posted):

Thanks! Great NYT article on Stras' shutdown.

Best line in the article:

The way to win a title is to reach the playoffs as often as you can and hope everything breaks right one time. That is the Nationals’ master plan.

Because the playoffs are a crapshoot.

It occurs to me: the "old school" way of "you never know when you might be back for postseason" was a lot more valid when there were many fewer teams in the playoffs. And real old-timers ;-) remember when only one or two teams per league made the post-season.

So (message to all the critics who are not on this blog): given the Nats' talent, given their youth (players are in their prime years during ages 27-32, how much of the core of the Nats is age 27 or younger!), given Stras pitching full seasons starting in 2013, given how much of their talent is under team control for years -- is there any rational fan on the planet who thinks that the odds are good that the Nats do _not_ make the playoffs, ever, in the next couple of years? That in none of the next few years they can't manage to be in the top 5 of 15* teams?

Case closed, as far as I am concerned.

(Although it was closed for me already a year ago vis-a-vis JZ, and I didn't even know about the so-called Verducci effect back then)

(*15, uggh, just how stupid is it to have two leagues with an odd number of teams!!)

Candide said...

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...If not, Det takes his chocolate chip cookes (eat, young man, eat up) to the bullpen and gives Davey another option out there.

Det is too skinny, needs to bulk up on some muscle, not fat. Protein shakes, Met-RX, and squats on the Smith machine are what he needs - not cookies.

If it comes to it, I can be his chocolate-chip cookie-eating surrogate. No charge.

A DC Wonk said...

This may sound like heresy, but I don't recall ever seeing a rule that said you can't have two lights-out closers.

It ain't heresy to Davey!!

His 1986 Mets had two closers: Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco. Each finished 40 or more games, and they had 22 and 21 saves, respectively.

Joe Seamhead said...

When I was a kid I seem to remember they referred to the 9th inning guys as "firemen," and they gave out the Fireman of the Year award. Do they still have that?

MicheleS said...

So now we have an idea why the Yankees/Sox and other big market teams were pissed at us with the Werth Contract:

Swisher

We drove the prices up for all the players.

A DC Wonk said...

So, here's the question that I've had for a while:

If you're "supposed" to ramp up at most 20% per year (innings pitched) . . . what about JZ?

I am assuming that the Nats will not shut him down. But last year was his highest -- 161 IP. Right now he's at 156 IP. He's got, what, 7 more starts? 8? At, say, 6 IP per start, he's around 200. Then post season. Do we worry about his arm in the future?

Or: would the medical experts say: at age 26 he doesn't have to worry about that anymore

Anyone?

(Please: I'm not asking *if* he should be shut down -- I'm asking about future effects, etc.)

MicheleS said...

Wonk.. I think it would be that he is over 25. I think that is when they figure he is done growing and has figured out his mechanics. But that is just me.

A DC Wonk said...

Wikipedia says that The Sporting News' "Fireman of the Year" award was changed in 2001 to "Reliever of the Year Award."

WikiP also says: "Rolaids Relief Man Award is an annual Major League Baseball (MLB) award given since the 1976 MLB season to the top relief pitchers of the regular season, one in the American League (AL) and one in the National League (NL)."

(There is also a "Fireman of the Year" given by the Japan baseball league)

(Thanks, google! ;-)

Joe Seamhead said...

Sunshine Bobby Carpenter 12:10 said:
We don't need no stinkin'play-in game.
______________________________
From Mar. 1st when Mark Z asked if the expanded format would help the Nats:


Joe Seamhead said...

How does this benefit the Nationals? We'll have the division wrapped up. We're not playing for a stinking wild card spot. This might end up helping the Phillies to back in.
March 01, 2012 7:14 AM

[ok, I was wrong about it helping the Phillies]

JaneB said...

Wow! I'm thrilled that the prevailing wisdom here is that we can keep both these guys. That truly makes me happy. I guess I was thinking in the Mariano mold. And when we win a lot of games, we will need lots of closing. Thanks for this change in perspective, y'all.

pRAA with the ISO said...

What are the arguments against tag-team closers?

It's the trivial case of "closer by committee." Look up the arguments against that, and there you are.

From a practical standpoint, closer is the only bullpen spot that has a strictly defined role. Closers pitch the ninth inning at home if the game is tied or it's a save situation, and pitch the ninth or any later inning if it's a save situation on the road. Other bullpen roles are much looser. Pitchers like to know their role so they can prepare for it both physically and mentally as the game progresses, using whatever routines they like to use. So yes, if a manager had two guys who are capable of closing he could tag team them. But then instead of telling one of them "you da man" so he could know what he needed to do every night to get ready, he'd have to tell one guy "you da man tonight" and the other one "you da man tomorrow, unless da man tonight doesn't get in, in which case you da man the next day." Before long that gets confusing and hard to implement, both for the manager and the pitchers. How many times have we heard Davey talk about having an A and B bullpen, and how few times have we actually seen it play out like that?

The thing is, though, except for the likes of Mariano Rivera closer is a short shelf life position anyway. If you have both Storen and Clippard who can do it, eventually the one you choose will falter and the other one will take over until he falters and the first one takes over again. As they often say, these are the kind of problems you like to have.

Joe Seamhead said...

I'm not so sure that the NL East will even have one of the wild card teams. If the Braves fade much more they will fold up their tents. The NL Central Division may end up with two teams making up the wild cards.

natsfan1a said...

I, too, am willing to take one for the team as regards the eating of chocolate chip cookies. :-)

Candide said...

Det is too skinny, needs to bulk up on some muscle, not fat. Protein shakes, Met-RX, and squats on the Smith machine are what he needs - not cookies.

If it comes to it, I can be his chocolate-chip cookie-eating surrogate. No charge.
August 22, 2012 12:19 PM

Joe Seamhead said...

Thanks, DC Wonk! I was kind of geezing on the Fireman Award thing. Glad my memory cells still do kick in once in a while.

Positively Half St. said...

MicheleS-

I understand that Swisher wants a Jayson Werth contract, but I have a feeling that Carl Crawford helped knock those kinds of contracts back a bit.

+1/2St.

natsfan1a said...

The Chief won the Rolaids Relief award in 2005.

Melissa Rabey said...

I'm not so sure that the NL East will even have one of the wild card teams. If the Braves fade much more they will fold up their tents. The NL Central Division may end up with two teams making up the wild cards.

Joe's comment made me go look--and wow, it is getting tight in the NL. Right now, it's Atlanta and Pittsburgh, but St. Louis and LA are each only a half game back. With LA only being a game and a half back of San Fran in the NL West, you could almost put the Giants into the Wild Cards conversation, too. It's not as interesting as the AL Wild Card discussion, but it's still a lot of fun speculating.

And meanwhile, the Nats just keep on pounding. I love it. :-)

natsfan1a said...

Oh, yeah, link.

natsfan1a said...

While it *is* on the four-letter network site, I like this page for playoff possibilities.

alm said...

Wonk - great point about the 86 Mets. As a ex-Mets fan I remember 86 and the 2 closers well.

The Reds won the WS with the nasty boys - Dibbs, Charlton and Myers. Dibbs had 11, Myers 31 and Charlto had 2. 2 other relievers has a few (4 and 2) also.

Am I sensing a pattern here? Lets not trade either.

Candide said...

MicheleS, I addressed your parking problem here. Don't know if that's a solution or not...

A DC Wonk said...

What is it about the particular number of $126m?

Jayson Werth, Vernon Wells, and Barry Zito each signed for $126m

Speaking of large contracts:

to repeat what I said back spring -- but time with a picture -- see http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1136684-25-biggest-franchise-killing-contracts-in-baseball-history/page/25. It's a pic of Prince Fielder, notated with:

Nine years, $214M
Does that body look like it will last nine years?

You _gotta_ see the pic!

And I *still* can't believe some folks here so viciously criticized Rizzo for not matching that.

And, a tangent to my tangent -- did you know that Bobby Bonilla gets $1.1M/year from the Mets (starting last year) until 2036?!! (He'll be age 73 then).

pRAA with the ISO said...

A DC Wonk said...
So, here's the question that I've had for a while:

If you're "supposed" to ramp up at most 20% per year (innings pitched) . . . what about JZ?


This is the "Verducci Effect" you're talking about. Rizzo has been very clear that the JZimm and Stras shutdowns are based on the rehab recommendations of the Tommy John surgeon Dr. Yocum. They have nothing to do with the Verducci Effect.

Or: would the medical experts say: at age 26 he doesn't have to worry about that anymore

Tom Verducci, the guy who postulated the Verducci Effect from his own empirical observations, is not a medical expert. He's a sportswriter.


A DC Wonk said...

King Feliz: the start of his first post-perfecto game:

Leadoff guy gets a single on an 0-2 pitch . . . but he was still Felix last night: 7-2/3, 7 H, 1 ER.

A DC Wonk said...

Tom Verducci, the guy who postulated the Verducci Effect from his own empirical observations, is not a medical expert. He's a sportswriter.

Well, duh. I read Sports Illustrated, too. What does that have to do with anything? Lots of things are named after the first person to notice them (and get publicity about it).

(BTW, news flash: Tommy John isn't a doctor.)

Ghost Of Steve M. said...

Wonk, in regards to Prince, it's irrational exuberance.

baseballswami said...

Wonk - Even though ZNN is not as young, they ARE concerned about his percent jump in innings. That's why Davey has refused to let him go more than 6 innings, even when his counts were low and he was lights out. They are not putting a number on him, but they are aware of it. 160 last year - 200 would be 25 percent. Think back to how long ago Davey started limiting him to 6. Davey has even said that he doesn't want ZNN spent by October. Look what the Braves organization did to their 2 young bullpen guys last year. They were fried by the end of the season. Our rotation is fantastic but we still have 3 of the 5 who are not fully "ripe".

Joe Seamhead said...

Magic number for Nats is now 33.
http://www.mlbmagicnumbers.com/magicnumber/Nationals/index.html

pRAA with the ISO said...

A DC Wonk said...
Tom Verducci, the guy who postulated the Verducci Effect from his own empirical observations, is not a medical expert. He's a sportswriter.

Well, duh. I read Sports Illustrated, too. What does that have to do with anything?


The point is this: they are basing the Strasburg shutdown on medical opinion. The Verducci Effect is not medical opinion. Sorry you had trouble figuring that out.

upperdeck4 said...

@pRAA with the ISO: The Verducci Effect is not medical opinion.
____
It's also been debunked.

upperdeck4 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MicheleS said...

Candide, Joe S.. Thanks for the parking info!

Laddie Blah Blah said...

Michelle

"We drove the prices up for all the players."

The irony is that it is Rizzo who now refuses to pay the going rate that he helped set. No to CJ Wilson, no to Mark Buehrle, no to Prince Fielder. He did sign Ryan to a long-term deal, but it was below-market, and reasonable.

The Mets are stuck with Jason Bay and Johan Santana, the Bosox with Carl Crawford, the Tigers with Prince Fielder, the Angels with Pujols (and CJ Wilson), the Phillies with Cole Hamels, and on and on and on. Werth seems like a steal compared to some of those.

Rizzo takes calculated risks with damaged goods, like CMW, Ryan Matheus, Lucas Giolito, Anthony Rendon, et. al., paying for high reward prospects at low risk prices. Sometimes it works (Matheus) and sometimes it doesn't (CMW). But it is smarter than anything anyone else out there is doing, and it is paying off.

And now look who's got the best record in baseball, with one of the youngest teams, as well as one of the lowest payrolls.

In a way, I can't wait for the off-season, just to see what Rizzo will do this winter. He does not stand pat, and will be looking to improve the team for the long haul, as he always does.

Swift Eagle said...

Bartolo Colgne busted for PEDs???

What was it, Anabolic Cheesecake?

MicheleS said...

Swift.. I wonder if Bartolo got it off Melky's website!!!!

A DC Wonk said...

Verducci at least goes out on a limb and names names every spring of pitchers who might get injured because of this.

This year he named 14 pitchers.

By the end of June six were already hurt:

Hurt: 6 (Daniel Hudson, Jeremy Hellickson, Derek Holland, Jaime Garcia, Michael Pineda, Eric Surkamp)

In minors: 2 (Chris Schwinden, Zach Stewart)

ERA +0.50 than previous year: 5 (Dylan Axelrod, Yovani Gallardo, Mike Leake, Nathan Eovaldi, Liam Hendriks)

Pitching well: 1 (Matt Harrison) (the oldest one, turned 26 this year).

==============

I don't have the strength or time to see how they are all doing now.

MicheleS said...

Wonk on referring to the $126M. I think it has to do with a percieved Middle/Small Market team making that offer and not just the big boys. Remember, not many (other than boston fans) were screaming about the Crawford contract. They always use Jayson's contract as a point of reference.

Laddie.. good call on Rizzo, it will be an interesting offseason.

MicheleS said...

On the bright side, Colon knocks SS off the headlines

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

Joe Seamhead said...

I'm not so sure that the NL East will even have one of the wild card teams. If the Braves fade much more they will fold up their tents. The NL Central Division may end up with two teams making up the wild cards.
August 22, 2012 12:38 PM

Nice call on the Nats and WC back in March. And I agree with the Barves. I just don't like their team. Hudson is fine (after the first inning), rest of their starters don't impress me, bullpen is fine, but "Duh-Uggla" at 2B is running on fumes, and there really isn't a position player I would take over the Nats starters. Bourn would make a nice fourth OF for us, but it would take away playing time from the Shark. I'd take their catcher, though.

Plus, if the Barves start losing in September, they're going to have wicked, acid-like flashbacks to 2011. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.

Going for 32 games over .500 tonight. I may be a complete basket case by the time I hit Half Street (the place, not the person). Got the 83-year-old mother-in-law in tow. It's going to be difficult not to convince her that her daughter married a complete nut job. Ah, she probably already knows that, come to think of it.

GYFNG!!

upperdeck4 said...

@DCWonk; Because I don't believe in the Verducci Effect I looked at your pitchers;
Hudson--Tommy John
Hellickson--Starting
Holland--Starting
Garcia--Starting
Pineda--Out
Surkamp--Tommy John
Schwinden--Pitching
Stewart--Pitching Pawtucket 3.81 ERA
Axelrod--7-4 2.97 ERA
Gallardo--2011 3.52 ERA 2012 3.92 ERA
Leake-- 2011 ERA 3.86 ERA 2012 4.59 ERA
Eovaldi-- 2011 ERA 3.63 2012 4.03 ERA
Hendriks-- 2011 ERA 6.17 2012 7.04 ERA

I don't see that Verducci, from this sample, has predicted anything with much success.

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