30 Players in 30 Days: Tyler Clippard
Tyler Clippard is a golfer by day and pitcher by night. He doesn’t get to golf as often as he would like during the season–he is lucky if he can get a round or two in each month–but every time helps. Golf is his medication during the laborious 162-game season. For how wildly different the two sports are, there are a few core similarities between them, most notably the mental aspect. For as cliché as it is to use the phrase “mental toughness,” the mental side of the game is an integral part of both sports. It is that same I-will-conquer-this-mountain mindset that Clippard employs in golf and baseball to get out of sticky situations–be it a sand trap or a bases loaded jam. He gets his competitive juices flowing on the golf course during the offseason and it carries over to the diamond in the spring.
Clippard had a sensational start to the season and led the Majors with seven wins on May 14 but he started to struggle in June: he went 0-3 with a 10.80 ERA (10 IP/ 12 ER) with seven walks and a .432 BAA in 11 appearances from June 17 until the All-Star break.
The All-Star break couldn’t have come at a better time for Clippard. He was ready to forget about the previous month. He wanted a new start–the back nine and a fresh set of holes. In his first bullpen session after the break, Pitching Coach Steve McCatty informed him that he was throwing too hard. His fastball jumped from the low 90’s to 95 but the increased power didn’t translate into success–for what he gained in speed, he lost in control. It is the same give and take relationship in his golf game.
“I can hit it a little further,” Clippard said, “but hitting it a little further means every now and then the ball’s going to go a little left or a little right when your swing speed’s faster and things like that.”
He changed his approach after the bullpen session and got back to square one but more importantly back to being under control. In the process, he became one the Nats’ most reliable relievers in the second half of the season, posting a 2.75 ERA (39.1 IP/ 12 ER) with 54 strikeouts and a .182 BAA. He allowed just three runs in 24 appearances in August and September.
Clippard lead all MLB relievers and Nationals pitchers with 11 wins. He was second amongst MLB relievers in innings pitched (91.0) and strikeouts (112), trailing only Carlos Marmol of the Cubs. Clippard became the first DC-based pitcher to notch 100 strikeouts in relief and he is the first NL relief pitcher to record a double-digit win total since Todd Jones combined on 11 wins for the Reds and Phillies in 2004.
“His change-up is very good,” Pitching Coach Steve McCatty said. “It’s hard to stay on it. It looks like a fastball and then what he does so well is after he slows you down enough, he throws 91-92 mph. But when you have that kind of change-up, it makes the 91 mph fastball look like 98 mph.”
Deception and determination is his style in golf and in baseball. There is always a batter to get out and a bunker to get out of but Clippard isn’t fazed by either task. In fact, he seeks them out.
In the “year of the pitcher” the Freakonomics blogs tries to find who stole all the runs in Major League Baseball. It is worth checking out.