Jun 2, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Oakland Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt (21) and relief pitcher Tyler Clippard (36) celebrate after the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Oakland won 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Lesson Two: The Setup Man Can Make or Break the Season
The Oakland Athletics didn’t acquire Clippard because they needed a stellar closer. They brought Clippard in to be their eighth-inning specialist. His role was only supposed to involve being the set-up man for Doolittle, who was geared up to be the A’s closer after two stellar previous seasons. However, Doolittle has instead spent the whole year on the disabled list, and Bob Melvin was forced to move Clippard to the ninth inning, filling the setup spot with pitchers who weren’t qualified for the task.
Clippard thrived as the closer, despite a few bases-loaded jams that he worked himself into. With Oakland, he had a 2.49 ERA over the course of 42 games, completing 18 of 22 save opportunities – including several four- and five-out saves. For a pitcher who wasn’t meant to be a closer, it was a stellar run.
The problem with using the guy who was brought in to be the setup man as the closer is that there isn’t someone to carry the team through the late innings of close games. Despite several attempts, the A’s just couldn’t find a reliable bridge to Clippard. At one point, the team had allowed more seventh inning runs than anyone else. That sounds like an arbitrary inning to be concerned with, but that’s typically when the starter is removed from the game. When starters are afraid to turn the situation over to the bullpen, it can affect their results and impact how they pitch. A quality start is considered six innings of three runs or less, and the A’s got plenty of them, but they weren’t able to find someone to pick up where their starters left off.
It also doesn’t matter how good the closer is if the team can never get to him in a save situation. In the end, Clippard was traded, and he is now a New York Met.
Much like all of the trade deadline moves, it happened because the A’s weren’t playoff contenders, and the reason the A’s weren’t playoff contenders was…
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