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August 21, 2017

Transaction Analysis

Clips and Hatch

by Bryan Grosnick


IN THIS ISSUE

American League

HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Tyler Clippard and cash from Chicago White Sox in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. [8/13]

An extreme gopher of a pitcher with a career 30 percent fly-ball rate makes Clippard something of a scary prospect—for fans, not just opposing hitters—in the late innings. After years of success and heavy usage in Washington, his stock has slowly slipped to the point where despite often being used in the late innings, Clippy has come to be known as a lead-blower and dinger-allower who probably shouldn’t be anchoring a bullpen.

This is, sadly, probably true. However, the Astros don’t need a closer or a true relief ace fireman, and if you adjust your expectations accordingly, you might find that Clippard is a perfectly acceptable bullpen piece for a team that very much needs one. Over the last two-and-a-half years, Clippard’s cFIP—BP’s measure that best approximates “true talent” level of performance based on strikeouts, walks, and homers—has been over 100, which means that he has been worse than average. He’s been worth about 1.3 WARP over that time, basically because he doesn’t give up very many hits and maintains a very low BABIP (just .239 over his career).

So here’s what you get when you look at Clippard in the aggregate: few balls in play that go for hits, but more than enough that clear the fence. Now, when he’s on a roll and keeping the ball in the yard while getting his usual whiffs, he’s a godsend, kind of like how he was for the White Sox after switching teams in the Todd Frazier deal: 10 innings, a 1.80 ERA, and a 3.30 DRA to back it up. When he’s not on a roll, well, that’s what you saw in New York prior to the trade: 36 innings and a 4.95 ERA to go with his 4.15 DRA, plus 11 "meltdowns."

In Houston, the safe bet is that he’ll fall somewhere between those two outcomes, posting one bad game (read: dingers) for every four or five good ones (read: strikeouts), and leaving his team hoping the other shoe won’t drop. This isn’t the kind of pitching staff upgrade that fans of the Astros were hoping for this deadline season. With their best chance in quite a long time at the World Series in the offing, Houston’s fans must not be thrilled with the idea of the highly-flammable Clippard facing off against an important rival in a late-and-close situation during the playoffs. Fortunately, with arms like Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, and Francis Martes on hand, he won’t be the first guy off the pine when things get dicey.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
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Acquired RHP Chris Hatcher from Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for international bonus pool money. [8/15]

For a brief while, it looked like the Dodgers might’ve fleeced the Marlins of a potential closer in the Dee Gordon trade. That’s how good Hatcher looked in 2014 and 2015 after settling in after his conversion to the mound. Since then? All downhill. The right-hander has seen his velocity shrink from its peak back in 2015, dealt with injuries, and kind of cratered in 2016.

There’s reason to believe that he can still get swings and misses, and his control has reverted to his usual three-walks-per-nine self after a year of missing the plate in 2016, but hitters seem to be bonking the daylights out of his slider now and he’s giving up enough hard contact to be something of a performance risk going forward. With that said, you can see why the A’s are giving him a chance. Hatcher’s the type of reliever who looks one adjustment away from settling in as a late-inning option, and with the guys currently in the Oakland ‘pen, he may get that shot even if he doesn’t make any adjustment at all.

He has enough late-inning experience to allow manager Bob Melvin to feel okay using him at the end of games, and he could be a worthwhile complement to grounder-grinder Blake Treinen as a low-cost, medium-upside late-game pairing. The Dodgers had an embarrassment of riches in their bullpen after this year’s trade deadline, and the A’s might have scooped up a useful piece for low cost. Then again, Hatcher’s profile—low-cost, medium-ceiling—seems to be one that defines both the A’s as a team and most of their recent acquisitions, and look how well that is turning out.

Bryan Grosnick is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bryan's other articles. You can contact Bryan by clicking here

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