Typically middle relievers only get noticed when they do something terrible like blow a lead, walk in a run, or otherwise screw up a perfectly good start for the starter or a potential save opportunity for the closer. Like umpires, if we know the names of middle relievers it’s usually a bad sign, just ask the Royals relief squad.
Tyler Clippard, however, has transitioned from a starter on the most recognizable American sports franchise, to a middle reliever on perhaps its most dubious and somehow has gained more recognition, and even more astounding it’s positive recognition. After another late-inning rally by the suddenly feisty Nationals, Tyler Clippard, not Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, Ubaldo Jimenez, or even Big Time Timmy Jim Lincecum leads all of Major League Baseball with seven wins. This is the same Tyler Clippard who announced his presence with authority as an up-and-comer for the Yankees in 2007 and pitched his way to the bullpen in Washington in less than two years.
Last year he had a fine season, pitching 60.1 innings in 41 games and compiling a 2.69 ERA. This year, though, he’s out of his mind. In addition to the absurd record he’s allowing opposing hitters a tiny .188/.294/.291 (AVG/SLG/OBP). His WHIP is 1.12 and he’s struck out 30 to only 12 walks. Of course, his incredible win total is due in part to his losing a few leads (he has 0 saves in 5 opportunities) and being in the right place at the right time to get credit for victories when the team has come back late. It also doesn’t hurt that once he leaves the game with the lead he’s followed by the best closer in baseball so far this season, Matt Capps.
However he’s getting it done, both he and the Nationals will take it. The starters may be giving him a hard time about being the win vulture, swooping in and stealing their Ws, but this franchise will take them any way they can get them. With their potential front end starter finishing his apprenticeship in Syracuse, the dominance of Clippard and Capps in the back of the bullpen adds another ray of hope to the Nationals increasingly bright future.