Mets Buy Low and High on Tyler Clippard

I don’t remember where I saw it, but I read the other day about some baseball executive who doesn’t like the idea of paying July prices for relievers. If it isn’t actually true, it at least seems true that relievers get the biggest mark-up come deadline time. Which might seem silly, given how few innings relievers throw. But then, teams keep paying. Maybe they’re on to something, or maybe it’s an inefficiency, but in our reality, we see relievers get prospects. The Mets just traded prospect Casey Meisner for reliever and free-agent-to-be Tyler Clippard.

Something you note about the Mets: they’re in second place in their own division, trailing the Nationals by two games. Something else you note about the Mets: they’re 3.5 back of the second wild-card slot, and the Cubs are also a game in front of them. Because the Mets aren’t even in playoff position, it’s easy to see things staying this way, the Mets ultimately giving up a prospect for practically nothing. But the Mets have been working to make the team better now, and, there’s something about relievers and important games.

Hell, you know why maybe the Mets would’ve seen this as important? Consider a half-inning from the middle of last week:


In part because Terry Collins didn’t get to Jeurys Familia quick enough, Bobby Parnell gave away an important game to the Nationals. Parnell’s been good before, but he’s not his old self, and the Mets bullpen is thin. It’s a bullpen that projected poorly. It’s a bullpen that had a place for another arm. Clippard adds depth to the group, depth that, had it been present last week, might’ve shifted the divisional landscape.

But let’s not look backward. Just looking ahead, think about the utility of a good reliever. He becomes vitally important in any one-game playoff, and in a playoff series, innings can be arranged so as to maximize playing time for good pitchers. In October, a good reliever pitches more than he would in the season, and that boosts his value. The Mets aren’t exactly building what the Royals had, but every little bit helps. Every late-inning alternative to Bobby Parnell helps.

An important question: how good is Clippard, actually? Instead of assuming a good reliever, you need to investigate the reliever himself. And, there’s no doubting Clippard’s track record. He’s been a highly-successful reliever before, for a while, and though you can talk all you want about the peripherals, Clippard has bested those indicators. He’s weird; you probably know that. Super extreme fly-ball guy. Since 2002, 358 different pitchers have thrown at least 500 innings. Clippard’s ERA- is 21 points lower than his FIP-, the third-biggest difference in the pool. His ERA- is 29 points lower than his xFIP-, the single biggest difference in the pool. Think of him a little like a relieving Chris Young, if that helps. But more successful. Clippard has missed bats and kept fly balls in the yard.

It’s just that this year has raised some questions. Clippard has turned a few of his strikeouts into walks. Which is only okay if it isn’t predictive. All the stuff is fine. But Clippard has taken a step back in overall strike rate, and first-pitch-strike rate. There are 251 pitchers who’ve thrown at least 30 innings each of the last two seasons. Clippard has the fourth-biggest drop in strikes, and the fourth-biggest drop in first-pitch strikes. Who knows how much that means? If it’s just a slump, it’s nothing. But it could be Clippard getting closer to falling off the knife-edge ridge he’s long been traversing. A worse Tyler Clippard might not help the bullpen at all.

For now, he gets the benefit of the doubt. Which brings us to Casey Meisner. Meisner, who the Mets have shipped to the A’s. He’s not enough of a prospect for this to be a disaster, but he’s enough for disagreement. He’s 20 years old, and six-foot-everything. An excerpt from Kiley:

With just incremental adjustments the next few years, Meisner is an inventory arm that could be a back-end starter, but he’s only 20, so the chance for Oakland winning a projection gamble and getting a mid-rotation guy is still alive.

Kiley sees a potential future, but not a particularly noisy one. On the other hand, an excerpt from Keith Law:

If healthy, at worst he could be a Chris Young type with a better breaking ball, and at best he could become a No. 2 starter as he still has a lot of room for growth — both physical and mental.

Law believes more in the upside. So, in his opinion, this is too much to give up. Kiley and Keith are specialists, and I am not, so I defer to them on their evaluations, but just for the sake of some perspective, Meisner isn’t yet a top-100 asset. He’s made all of six starts in High-A, and he hasn’t been great. If it tends to be the best prospects who become the best values, things level out as you get further from No. 1. Meisner is quite a bit separated, and he’s faced relatively low-level competition. One way you can think about it: a prospect in the upper levels has a chance to be good. A prospect like Meisner has a chance to have a chance to be good. More achievements are necessary before Meisner is doing anything noteworthy in the major leagues.

He’s a real return, a promising return, a return the Mets might one day regret, but right now they don’t want any more regrets in 2015. And if they have their druthers, they won’t have another last Wednesday.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Billy Beane
8 years ago

Who do I give handshake duties to now?

The Eck
8 years ago
Reply to  Billy Beane

Me, you turd.