Yankees Success: Crossing The Bridge:To Tyler Clippard

The Yankees bullpen, once again, is expected to be a core part of the team’s strength. While most of the attention is given to the eighth and ninth inning guys, it’s the bridge to get to them that’s crucial. The Yankees have just the right answer to that problem.

The Yankees bullpen,  coming into the 2016 season, was the talk of the town.  Could Dellin Betances build on his first two standout seasons? Would the offseason addition of Aroldis Chapman via trade be enough to push theYankees deeper into the postseason?

Those questions were, of course, answered last season as Chapman was dealt to the Chicago Cubs and as Betances had the worst year of his young career. It’s hard to say a reliever going into his fourth season with three All-Star appearances had an off year, but barring strikeouts, that’s exactly what he had.

An overlooked part of last year’s excitement from the “youth movement” and deadline trading spree was Yankee GM Brian Cashman’s acquisition of right-handed veteran Tyler Clippard. The linchpin of the Yankee bullpen in the latter part of 2016 was Clippard and will be so going forward, especially if Betances were to have another off year.

For Yankees fans, Clippard could be the most important bridge in the city

Clippard had one of the best runs of his nine-year Major League career after being traded from Arizona and emerged as a bridge in New York. No, he doesn’t have a bridge named after him like George Washington or Ed Koch, but Clippard is the Yankee bridge to Betances and Chapman. For Bronx baseball fans, this could be the most famous bridge in the city.

There are many forms of motivation, but for athletes across all sports, a universal catalyst is the all important contract year. Clippard will be a free agent in 2018, and it would be in his best interest to at the least replicate last year’s production. The veteran right-hander will be 32 years old in February and could be looking for the final contract of his career.

A deeper look into the numbers foreshadows Clippard’s importance to the 2017 Yankees. While the Yankees went through an identity change from a veteran laced ball club to an energetic young prospect filled clubhouse, Tyler Clippard found his home on the mound for 7th and 8th inning appearances.

Posting his best numbers since his 2014 campaign with the Washington Nationals, Clippard would finish with a 2.49 ERA only giving up a mere 20 hits in his 25.1 innings in pinstripes. While Betances’ ERA ballooned from 1.50 ERA in 2015 to an underwhelming 3.08 last season, Clippard shined in 8th innings after the Chapman trade.

Holding opposing batters to a .211 average at the plate and piling up 26 strikeouts in 25 innings was impressive, but not in comparison to how Clippard held up in pressure situations. Late in games is when the man in the clear glasses seemed to turn it on.

Appearing in 29 games Yankee Manager Joe Girardi brought Clippard out of the bullpen 26 times with a lead or in a tie game. Girardi showed confidence in the righty with the game on the line time and time again.

Clippard Earned The Trust Of The Yankees Manager

Clippard earned the trust of his manager Joe Girardi not only in the fact he continuously produced, but he avoided big mistakes at crucial times. In his 25.1 innings, Clippard gave up only three home runs. In Yankee Stadium of all places as a back of the bullpen arm, that’s not too shabby.

Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman are no doubt the stars of the Yankee bullpen but don’t undersell Tyler Clippard in a contract year. If not only for his ability to have Girardi mix and match with lefty Chapman and righty Betances, Clippard has shown flexibility.

That flexibility acts as an insurance plan should anything happen to Betances or Chapman during the season. Clippard has shown he can handle the 8th inning role, and twice in three opportunities last season came away with a Save.

He will most likely be the 7th inning guy and the proverbial bridge to Betances and Chapman, but rest easy knowing Clippard could step in at any time for the bigger guns at the back of the pen. Only two years removed from an All-Star season it would be no stretch of the imagination to expect Clippard to return to his prior form and build on last year’s second half.

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