Tyler Clippard on Pitching (The Follow-Up Interview)

One month ago, Tyler Clippard discussed Beating BABIP and the Limits of FIP in these very pages. He cited his ability to create plane as a big part of his success. The Yankees reliever effectively induces weak contact with a 91-mph riding fastball and a combination of changeups and splitters.

Clippard always has insight to offer, so I followed up on our earlier conversation when New York returned to Boston a few weeks ago. The subjects at hand were pitch usage and effectively changing eye levels.


Clippard on if pitchers should throw their “best” pitch a higher percentage of the time than they do: “That’s a good question. I mean… I’m always trying to mix it up and have really good variance on what I’m throwing. That way hitters can’t sit on one pitch. If you are throwing your best pitch, regardless of how good it is, over 60% of the time, I feel like you’re giving the hitter a better chance. Granted, that pitch might be one of the best pitches in baseball — it’s tough for the hitters to hit, even if they know it’s coming — but to me, it just works against what pitching is.

“I think you want to throw off timing. You want to try to make sure they don’t know what’s coming. If you’re throwing a pitch over 60% of the time, you almost know what’s coming. That’s not 100%, but it’s a pitch they’re going to see a fairly high ratio of the time.

“If a hitter is sitting on something, he’s probably going to be able to recognize it out of your hand. He can eliminate stuff. When hitters start to be able to eliminate, that’s when you get in trouble. Now, those guys — the ones who will dominate with one pitch — are rare. You have Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, who have two of the best breaking balls in baseball. They can pretty much tell hitters it’s coming and still have success. But most guys aren’t Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. They have to mix in their other stuff to be really successful.

“There are times where a pitch is really working and… I’ve actually thought about doing that — having an outing where I just throw all splitties and see what happens. It’s a pitch I feel is pretty nasty at times. But at the same time, if you can’t throw it for strikes, it’s pointless to throw it. What if they stop swinging at it? You have to throw everything in order to get them to chase it.”

On effectively changing eye levels: “Sitting up or down… I don’t see how hitters can do that. In and out, yes. I mean, guys eliminate pitches. But if you show them the ability to do both, which is something you have to do to be successful, it’s tough for them, especially with two-strike counts. What are they going to do? Take a strikeout looking? I don’t think they want to do that.

“From my experience, it’s tough for hitters to sit in one and cover both, consistently. A good example of guys who can is Jose Altuve and Dustin Pedroia. They’re real good high-ball hitters. But they’re such a rare case. Very rarely do you see that, where a hitter can cover real good up and real good down.

“I don’t know what it is. It’s just that their swing paths allow them to get to that pitch. They have quick hands. They’re shorter guys and they might see more of those pitches, up in the zone. I don’t know. But they have the ability to cover that better than most people.

“You have to be smart and hopefully get them into a count where you can expand higher than you normally would. There are some guys where you can elevate between belt and belly button, which is borderline top of the strike zone. With those guys, you have to go almost chest to head level. And sometimes they can fight those off, too. All you can do is work both up and down, try to keep them off balance by changing speeds, and get the ball in the right spots. You have to pitch.”

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.

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Hank G.
Hank G.

I always appreciated Mr. Clippard when he was with the Nats, and was sorry to see him leave. It appears that he really thinks about pitching and how to approach batters, and unless this article was highly edited, can explain his pitching process in a lucid, articulate manner.

Perhaps he should consider keeping a diary for next season, with the idea of writing a book. Not necessarily the Ball Four type of exposé, but more along the lines of the thoughtful diaries published by Jim Brosnan in the early 1960s (The Long Season and Pennant Race). I would really enjoy seeing another book in that vein.