Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Subtraction by Addition?

To the chagrin of many Nationals fans, the Mets traded for former National, now former Oakland Athletic, Tyler Clippard. The Mets gave up a young, tall, and lanky pitcher from their minor league system who has yet to impress much in his professional career, but is only 20 and has the potential to be a big league starter. Of course, the rumor mill had been running wild with speculation as to where Clippard would end up, with the Nationals said to be in the running. So is the acquisition of Clippard the Nationals’ loss and Mets’ gain?

The Mets are clearly a flawed team, but bullpen isn’t their biggest flaw. By ERA, the Mets’ starting pitchers have the 4th lowest ERA in the NL. That number figures to get even better in the second half of the season as the Mets will get more starts out of future ace Noah Syndergaard and fewer out of replacement level Dillon Gee. It would be hard to upgrade the Mets starting rotation, so they clearly were not in pursuit of any of the big name starters on the market. However, the Mets rank last in the NL in runs scored. They are four spots behind the closest team in playoff contention, the Cubs, who they also trail in the Wild Card standings. Compare that to the performance of the Mets bullpen, which has the third lowest ERA in the majors, and this trade makes less sense. If the Mets really wanted to get some bang for their buck, they have a lot of holes on offense they could have filled rather than reinforce their bullpen.Tyler Clippard and his 3 career hits won't help them score more runs.

Now, it’s not as if Clippard won’t help the Mets. By FIP, the Mets bullpen is more middle of the pack, ranking 6th lowest in the NL, but closer to the last place Braves than the first place Marlins. Jeurys Familia has done well as the closer for the Mets, following the suspension of Jennry Mejia earlier in the season. Bobby Parnell is back from his Tommy John surgery, but has yet to round into form. Parnell figures to improve as he gets more and more reps and further and further removed from his surgery. Jenry Mejia was a solid reliever last year and this year, although he won’t be eligible for the post season due to his suspension this year for PEDs. Additionally, the Mets have the ability to pull another phenom pitching prospect, Rafael Montero, into the bullpen, but he has to prove he’s healthy following a rotator cuff injury earlier in the season.

Slotting Clippard into the Mets’ bullpen, he figures to be the setup man in front of Familia, stealing innings from Mejia (especially if the Mets were to make the playoffs where Mejia is ineligible) and Parnell. That will obviously bump Parnell and Mejia down a slot, allowing them to take innings away from the back of the bullpen. With the quality of the Mets’ starting rotation, though, those relievers figure to get only minimal innings. Clippard, while still a solid reliever, hasn’t been as dominant in 2015 as he was during his time as a National. His strikeout rate is down close to 20% after sitting around 30% with the Nationals. His walk rate is also trending in the wrong direction as he’s walked 13% of batters faced, the first time his walk rate has been in the double digits since 2010. He hasn’t been fooling batters to swing at his pitches this year as batters have swung and missed on Clippard's offerings at their lowest rate since 2012. His 2.79 ERA looks good on the surface, but his 3.89 FIP and 5.31 xFIP paint a different picture.

It’s debatable whether or not the Nationals truly need a bullpen arm. Their pitching strength lies in the Nationals’ starters and Drew Storen closing games out in the ninth inning. The team could certainly piece together 3-6 outs between Aaron Barret, Matt Thorton, and Casey Janssen. That formula hasn’t worked consistently so far this season, though. The Mets addition of Clippard may have improved their chances more by keeping Clippard out of the Nationals’ bullpen than by any improvement they will see in their own team. I still expect Mike Rizzo to make a move for a bullpen arm, but not of the proven closer type. Expect him to find a lesser deal, or even wait until after the waiver deadline like he has in the past. While it will be hard to watch Clippard pitch against the Nationals, and doubly so as he does it in the employment of the Mets, this deal doesn’t tip the scales much in the favor of the Mets.

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