Tyler Clippard got top billing in this column nine months ago. A Toronto Blue Jay at the time, he boasted a 3.17 ERA, and had allowed just 6.5 hits per nine innings over 696 career appearances. Thanks in part to a lack of save opportunities, he was one of the most-underrated relievers in the game.
Twisting a familiar phrase, the more things remain the same, the more they change. Clippard is now a Cleveland Indian, and while he’s still gobbling up outs — his 3.05 ERA and 5.2 H/9 are proof in the pudding — he’s getting them in a new way. At age 34, having lost an inch or two off his fastball, the under-the-radar righty has pulled an old pitch out of his back pocket.
“Toward the end of last season, I started to incorporate a two-seamer,” said Clippard, who’d scrapped the pitch after transitioning to the bullpen in 2009. The new role wasn’t the primary driver, though. As he explained, “I mostly got rid of it because it wasn’t necessarily sinking. I thought, ‘If it’s not sinking, why should I throw it?’”
A decade later, a reason for throwing it emerged.
“Traditionally, I’ve been a fly-ball pitcher and have given up home runs,” said Clippard, who has surrendered 99 of them at baseball’s highest level. “In the overall scheme of things, I have’t been too concerned about that. There was a year, 2011, when I gave up 11 home runs — which is a lot for a reliever — but I had a 1.83 [ERA]. I can give up home runs and still be fine. At the same time, if I can keep the ball in the ballpark a little bit more, that’s obviously going to benefit me.”
Hence the reintroduction of a two-seamer… this despite the fact that it isn’t diving any more now than it did a decade ago.
“It’s not your traditional sinking two-seamer,” admitted Clippard, who is throwing it 20% of the time. “It’s not like I’m generating a great deal of ground balls with that particular pitch. What it’s doing is giving me arm-side command. And that’s huge. If I can get a righty to respect inside, it makes everything else better. It makes my changeup and splitter better. It makes the breaking balls that I throw better.”
With the caveat that cause-and-effect can’t always be accurately gauged, Clippard’s gopher-prevention numbers are undeniably better. He’s been taken deep just once in 20 appearances, covering 20-and-two-third innings. Given this year’s juiced baseball — he’s doing his best to ignore the obvious — that’s an impressive feat.
Can the success — the power-suppression and overall effectiveness alike — be expected to continue? Clippard believes that it can, largely because he’s accepted the need for change.
“I’m evolving,” Clippard stated. “You have to in this game. The adjustments have made a big difference so far, and hopefully the theme continues. Hopefully at the end of the year my numbers will be at the upper echelon of where they’ve been in my career.”
George Springer’s return from the Injured List is nigh. Currently on a rehab assignment with the Corpus Christi Hooks, the slugger is reportedly expected back in the Houston Astros lineup as soon as Tuesday. His bat has been missed. The top dogs in the AL West have scored just 19 runs over their last seven games, all which have ended in losses.
Springer’s numbers were healthy as a horse when he landed on the shelf with a bum hamstring four-plus weeks ago. In 216 plate appearances, he had 17 home runs to go with a .308/.389/.643 slash line.
The hitting approach he employs to put up those numbers?
“See the ball, hit the ball,” is what the University of Connecticut product told me right before going on the IL. “That’s it. I don’t want to do anything more than that. This game is hard enough already, so I try to make it as simple as I can. That’s kind of how I’ve always hit. When all else fails, I just go back to ‘See ball, hit ball.’”
Springer is a personable sort. He’s also, by all accounts — excuse the French — not much of a bullshitter. That said, the level of simplicity he claimed was almost certainly overstated. When you’re an accomplished batsman on a team that employs cutting-edge hitting instructors… yeah, there’s more to it than that. Regardless, the Astros are anxious to have him back.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Kyle Snyder relied on an array of pitches over the course of his playing career. He threw two- and four-seam fastballs, an overhand curveball, a changeup, and a cutter that he could “turn into a slider with a little more tilt to right-handed hitters.’ For awhile, he even threw a splitter.
“I kind of covered the board in terms of pitch types.” acknowledged Snyder, who is now the pitching coach for the Tampa Bay Rays. “Given all the injuries I had, especially in the early portion of my career, I had to reinvent myself at different times. The changeup was probably my best pitch coming out of college, and my curveball was probably my best pitch once I got to the big leagues. My velocity dropped considerably with the injuries, so I had to rely on other pitches.”
He’s no longer plying his craft on a mound, but the 41-year-old still works on fine-tuning the majority of those offerings. He does so with the knowledge that it might help the hurlers he tutors.
“I tinker all the time,” admitted Snyder. “It’s as though I’m still playing; I just don’t have to go out there and perform. There are all these things we’re able to do when it comes to ‘engineering’ pitches — whatever term you want to use — and if I can feel something, maybe I can help our pitchers that way, I play catch before almost every game.”
Snyder last pitched in a professional contest in 2009. What is his best pitch all these years later?
“You’d have to ask the guys, but probably my curveball,” said Snyder. “It’s still my best pitch. I don’t know that I could throw it in the mid-70s anymore — I know I couldn’t, actually — but I can still spin it.”
Left on the cutting-room floor from Friday’s interview with Phil Regan was my asking about his reputation for throwing a lot of spitballs during his playing career. Regan laughed and said the following:
“I had a really good sinker. I did get accusations about a spitball, but what I actually threw was a pitch with no seams; my sinker had no seams. But the spitball… Mickey Stanley and I used to play catch, and he had a great one. And he was an outfielder. Everybody did stuff. They threw knuckleballs. They tried everything. They still try everything.”
The Blue Jays are playing in Boston this weekend, and Toronto broadcaster Dan Schulman shared a fun anecdote during yesterday’s media scrum with manager Charlie Montoyo. He did so after the subject turned to playing balls off the Green Monster.
“George Bell was playing left field,” recalled Schulman. “I’m not sure of the year — ’87 or ’88 —but he goes back to make a play on the ball. He thinks it’s going to go off the wall, so then he runs something like 15 feet back in, toward the infield, to play the bounce. It lands on the warning track. George was something else, man.”
Playing the position for Toronto on Friday was a 25-year-old converted infielder out of Cuba. He encountered no such issues with Fenway Park’s famous landmark.
“How about my left fielder playing that wall, huh?,” Montoyo said of Lourdes Gurriel Jr. “He must be a pool player, because he knows all the angles.”
Khalil Lee, a 20-year-old outfielder in the Kansas City system, has 30 steals in 35 attempts with the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals. The 2016 third-round pick entered the season No. 6 on our Royals Top Prospects list.
Jorge Mateo, a 23-year-old (as of today) shortstop in the Oakland system, has an MiLB-best 12 triples with the Triple-A Las Vegas Navigators. The No.5-ranked player on our A’s Top Prospects list is slashing .325/.358/.553.
Brainer Bonaci, a 16-year-old shortstop in the Boston system, has 27 hits in 70 at bats with the Red Sox’ Dominican Summer League entry. The switch-hitter was signed out of Venezuela last summer.
Luisangel Acuna, a 17-year-old shortstop in the Texas system, has 28 hits in 68 at bats with the Rangers’ Dominican Summer League entry. The younger brother of Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. was signed out of Venezuela last summer.
Blake Workman, a 21-year-old right-hander in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, has a 1.87 ERA in 33-and-two-thirds innings with the low-A Kane County Cougars. The Cal State-Fullerton product has fanned 44, and issued just one walk.
There was an interesting official-scoring call in last Saturday’s Red Sox-Orioles game. Boston had runners on the corners with two out, and a full count on the batter. As Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy came to the set position, the runner on first, Jackie Bradley Jr., broke for second. Bundy stood there, holding the baseball.
Bradley reached second, and proceeded to round the bag by a step or two. It was only then that Bundy went into his motion and delivered the pitch, which was ruled ball four.
The official scorer at Camden Yards did not award Bradley Jr. a stolen base. Asked for an explanation by a member of the Red Sox media relations department — this is commonly done, so that the info can be passed along to the player(s) whose stats are affected — he was unable to offer one.
According to a different official scorer I’ve since spoken to, the scoring of the play was correct. He explained that once the pitcher is on the rubber, it remains one continuous play until either the pitch is completed — in this case, resulting in ball four — or he steps off the rubber. Thus, no stolen base for the player who, for all intents and purposes, stole a base.
On June 23, 1917, Babe Ruth was ejected by the home plate umpire after walking the first batter of the game. The Red Sox left-hander was replaced by right-hander Ernie Shore, who proceeded to retire all 26 Washington Senators he faced (the inherited runner was thrown out attempting to steal).
The ejection itself wasn’t of the run-of-the-mill variety. This is how it was described in Shore’s SABR BioProject entry:
“After heated jawing, Ruth blew up on Owens’ ball four call and charged with fists flying. Shore loyally maintained decades later that Ruth hadn’t actually struck Owens, but the Bambino admitted in his autobiography, ‘I really socked him—right on the jaw…They’d put you in jail today for hitting an umpire.’”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Karan Patel became the first player of Indian origin to be drafted by an MLB team when the The Chicago White Sox took him 200th overall earlier this month. Arani Basu wrote about the 22-year-old pitcher (and cricketer) at Times of India.
The Athletic’s Rob Biertempfel did a Q&A with Jason Bay, who last weekend was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
Paul Danzer talked to West Coast League commissioner (and baseball author extraordinaire) Rob Neyer for The Portland (OR) Tribune.
Over at Words Above Replacement, Bill Thompson shared his thoughts on who to follow for news about baseball in Australia, Japan, and other foreign outposts.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Matt Carpenter is 25 for 50 in his career with the bases loaded.
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen has six hits, including three home runs, in 14 career at bats against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Luis Aparicio had 11,230 plate appearance and 10,230 at bats.
On this date in 1971, Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Rick Wise homered twice while throwing a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds.
On June 26, 1970, the Baltimore Orioles had the following four-batter sequences against the Washington Senators: In the fifth inning, Dave McNally walked, Don Buford singled, Paul Blair walked, and Frank Robinson hit a grand slam. In the sixth inning, McNally walked, Buford singled, Blair walked, and Robinson hit a grand slam.
Mel Ott walked exactly 100 times in each of the 1932, 1939, 1940, and 1941 seasons. He struck out 50 times in both 1939 and 1940.
Phenomenal Smith went 25-30 for the Baltimore Orioles in 1887.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.