A glance at Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard‘s numbers will certainly impress. He has appeared in 16 games and has thrown 23.2 innings, allowing just two runs during that span. It looks like the low run totals might be more than flukey. Though his BABIP sits at an unsustainably low .220, he has his share of strikeouts, 29, so perhaps he can continue pitching well out of the bullpen even when more batted balls drop in for hits. Yet there’s something deceptive about Clippard’s numbers.
A 0.76 ERA suggests that Clippard has done his job preventing runs, but that’s not exactly the case. While he has allowed only two runs of his own — a triple and sac fly in one case, a homer in the other — he has done a poor job of preventing inherited runners from scoring. In fact, pitchers must hate it when Jim Riggleman lifts them in favor of Clippard when there are men on base. He has allowed 56 percent of his inherited runners to score so far.
In his last three games, in fact, he has allowed at least one inherited runner to score. His record in those games: 3-0. Clippard actually leads the NL in wins, which seems odd, even at this point in the season, from a reliever. Four of those, however, have come after he has blown a lead. You can’t pitch your way into a save situation, but with a little help from your offense you can easily pitch yourself into a win.
Other than striking out plenty of hitters, Clippard does something else well. He does not allow the runners he himself puts on base to score. His strand rate is a ridiculous 97.6 percent, which is third in the NL among pitchers with at least 20 IP. The highest strand rate for any NL pitcher with more than 70 IP last season was 85.2 percent. He has also kept the ball in the park this season despite allowing a 55 percent fly ball rate. While flukes in this regard happen, it’s unlikely that he’ll sustain his 3.6% HR/FB ratio.
The new Meltdown/Shutdown system does favor Clippard, crediting him with 10 shutdowns to just one meltdown. This, however, can be misleading. The statistic depends on WPA. There have been situations this year where Clippard has blown the lead, has had his offense retake it, and then has come out to pitch the next inning. That’s going to reduce his number of meltdowns, because recording outs in later innings, in which he has the lead, will help improve his WPA.
Clippard does have a few things going for him. His FIP is excellent at 2.96 and his xFIP is even decent at 4.03. That shows that he’s a bit lucky on the home runs, but even so he’d still be an effective reliever. His high strikeout rate, too, bodes well for the rest of his season. There are enough warning signs, though, from his high walk rate to his penchant for allowing inherited runners to score to his unsustainable ability to leave men stranded, that suggest that he might soon sport a stat line that more resembles his peripheral performance.