Washington Nationals: Is Tyler Clippard Injured?

WASHINGTON - APRIL 08: Tyler Clippard #36 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park on April 8, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

On his Nats Insider blog Wednesday, Mark Zuckerman asked the question "What's wrong with Tyler Clippard?" He made this observation:

From Opening Day through June 22, Clippard allowed 47 opposing batters to reach base in 45 2/3 innings. But in six appearances since then, he's allowed a staggering 18 batters to reach in only 5 2/3 innings. He's also allowed 10 runs (seven earned), raising his ERA from 1.58 to 2.63

Other than injury, what could cause Clippard to struggle like this? I looked at the Pitch F/X data, and was shocked by what I saw. According to Pitch F/X, Tyler Clippard has not thrown a curve ball since May 19th.

Breakdown by Pitch Type

Using Zuckerman's dates, I broke down Clippard's pitches by type. Through June 22nd, Clippard threw 744 pitches. I threw out 3 intentional balls, reducing the pitch sample to 741 pitches. Here's the breakdown with total pitches in ():

Through June 22, 2010:

  • 52.77 % Fastball (308)
  • 28.42% Change (211)
  • 12.15% Slider (90)
  • 5.26% Curve (39)
  • 1.75% Cutter (13)

In his last 6 outings Clippard threw 132 pitches - removing pitch outs and intentional balls, he threw 119 pitches.

June 23rd Through July 8th, 2010:

  • 50.42% Fastball (60)
  • 26.05% Change (31)
  • 10.92% Slider (13)
  • 0.00% Curve (0)
  • 12.61% Cutter (15)

You can see that Clippard has been trying to get some movement by throwing the cut fastball significantly more than he did to start the year. In fact, he has thrown more cutters in these last 2 weeks than he did in the first 2 1/2 months. The problem is that the cutter doesn't really offer that much of a change in velocity. The average Clippard fastball lights the gun at 92.23 MPH. His cutter clocks in at 87.09 MPH. By comparison, when Clippard was throwing his curve, the average speed was 75.99 MPH.

Less Movement on Everything

One other great feature of Pitch F/X - it computes and stores the largest deviation of movement from a straight line trajectory (in inches) for each pitch. It also computes and stores the direction of the deviation. So, a perfectly straight pitch has a deviation of 0 - the greater the deviation, the greater the movement.

Looking at the Clippard's deviation on a pitch type basis, I noticed that the difference between the lowest and highest deviations have substantially narrowed since June 23rd.

Change Up

Prior to June 23rd, Clippard's change up dropped anywhere from 3.8 to 8 inches - a 4.2 inch delta. In his last 6 outings, Clippard's change up has dropped anywhere from 5 to 7.8 inches - a 2.8 inch delta. That extra inch and a half doesn't seem like much, but it appears to have been enough to keep hitters off balance.

Slider

Even more amazing is the change in Clippard's slider. At the beginning of the year, Clippard's slider moved 4.2 to 14.4 inches, a 10.2 inch delta. Since June 23rd, the slider has moved 11.3 to 14 inches, a 3.7 inch delta. For whatever reason, early in the season Clippard was able to throw sliders with a huge variance in break. He hasn't been able to do that in the last couple of weeks.

What's Going On?

What's going on? That's the million dollar question. Obviously, Clippard and/or the Nats coaching staff have changed Clippard's approach to pitching over the last few weeks. His pitches don't break like they did early in the season. He has stopped throwing his curve ball. Given the early season success, I'd be shocked if Clippard changed his approach for any reason other than injury. Hopefully it is nothing more than overuse. Maybe a few games off sandwiched around the All-Star break will heal whatever ails him. The Nats don't need another pitcher on the DL.

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