With Drew Storen attempting to return at the All-Star break, manager Davey Johnson stated he is opting for a “closer by committee” approach to the ninth inning in Washington. Tyler Clippard received his first ninth inning save opportunity of the year, and closed it down by retiring each batter faced with one strikeout.
Clippard stated that he really wants the closer job, and he may be given the opportunity over the next few weeks. Johnson wants to keep Clippard in his set-up role, which does offer a solid amount of leverage, but the ninth inning in general is the highest leverage situations and Clippard may prove to be the most consistent option late in games. Sean Burnett and Craig Stammen may also get opportunities, but there is something to be said for Clippard getting the first shot after Johnson announced the closer by committee strategy.
Over the past two seasons, Clippard has 52 shutdowns to 13 meltdowns. That is a solid ratio for a late inning reliever, and his 3.17 FIP last season along with his 1.91 FIP this year point to him being a legitimate ninth inning candidate. Walks have become an issue once again for Clippard after reducing them significantly last season, as his rate has jumped up to over 10% after falling below 8% for the first time last year. Even so, his very high strikeout rate of 28.2% easily mitigates the walk issues he has and his better than average ERA, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA all point to him being able to hold down the role. The issue could be in holding down competition.
Burnett and Stammen both have lower ERAs this year, which should lead to Johnson mixing and matching the roles. I expect Stammen receives the least amount of opportunities closing games, as the righty/lefty match ups may be Johnson’s main strategy and Stammen may only be used in those roles on days in which Clippard has thrown many innings. It is certainly a shaky situation, but if there is one to gamble on, Clippard getting the first chance made him that pitcher.
Clippard’s reliability as a reliever will, in my opinion, be the reason for him getting the most late inning chances until Storen returns. He has a 2.08 ERA over the past two seasons and 108.1 innings pitched, compared to Burnett’s 3.25 ERA over 69.1 innings. Stammen has only recently been moved to the bullpen, so Johnson likely values Clippard’s late inning acumen. This is certainly a mucky situation, but side go after Clippard if you are chasing short term saves.