Tyler Clippard is making them miss
Tyler Clippard may not gain much notice outside of Washington, but he should based on one incredible fact: Clippard has made hitters swing and miss more than any other pitcher in the major leagues.
Batters have dared swing at a pitch from Tyler Clippard 102 times this season, and 40 of those whiffed. That 39.2 percent rate is highest rate in the major leagues among all pitchers, relievers or starters. The league average is 22 percent. (John Lannan, the lowest on the Nationals, is 8.6.)
Clippard has become a weapon for the Nationals, surprisingly one of the most overpowering pitchers in the majors. On Friday night, he oppressed the Dodgers in the seventh and eighth inning, allowing one hit and striking out four. He lowered his ERA to 0.66, upped his team-best strikeout total to 18 and lowered his WHIP to 0.80.
How does Clippard blow so many hitters away? He does not light up the radar gun; the fastest pitch he threw Friday was a 93-mph fastball. His herky-jerky motion gives hitters a unique look at all four of his pitches. Clippard most fools hitters with a four-seam fastball and his changeup. He can throw his changeup in either count, which makes hitters chase high, riding heaters.
"When he throws a fastball, it looks like a changeup," said catcher Wil Nieves, who caught Clippard on Friday. "But instead of going down, it just stays straight. Hitters, they don't see rotation. They cannot recognize his changeup. His delivery plus that nasty changeup that he has, a combination like that makes the hitters crazy. I've never seen so many pitchers swinging at the high pitch like they do to him. It's unbelievable."
Nieves caught Clippard in 2007, when they played together with the Yankees and Clippard started six games as a rookie. "He was a little bit wild," Nieves said. "He always had that good changeup, curveball. Now he's throwing everything for strikes."
"I really think I've thrown the same way my whole career," Clippard said. "I think I've matured mentally, knowing what to do out there in certain situations, to pitch to my strengths. I've always been a strikeout guy. I've always been able to elevate. It's just a matter of maturing as a player and commanding my fastball a little better. It's a maturation process, getting physically stronger and mentally stronger. It all just snowballs from there."
Clippard's success in the bullpen has sparked a question: Should he go back to starting? Clippard believes he could start, but he had no opinion - "It doesn't matter, really," he said. "That's kind of up to the organization." The other day, Manager Jim Riggleman said his brother asked him why Clippard wasn't starting. The reason: He's just too valuable as a durable, dominating set-up man.
Plus, Clippard may benefit from his bullpen role. Opposing hitters get only one look at his unique wind-up, which bears at least a resemblance to Tim Linceum's delivery. They also have less opportunity to discern his fastball from his changeup. Said Clippard: "If they were to see me two or three times in a game, they might have a little better understanding of what I wanted to do to them."
As of right now, he's doing pretty much whatever he wants.
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