Tyler Clippard has been getting a lot of hype lately, with some Yankee fans wanting to lump him in with uberprospect Philip Hughes. But does Clippard deserve it? Let's compare the two, by age:
Clippard: (Rk); 43.2 IP, 2.89 ERA, 6.8 H/9, 11.5 K/9, 1.0 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9
Hughes: (Rk); 5.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 7.2 H/9, 14.4 K/9, 0.0 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9
Okay, that was irrelevant.
Clippard: (A-); 149.0 IP, 3.44 ERA, 9.2 H/9, 8.8 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9
Hughes: (A-); 68.2 IP, 1.97 ERA, 6.0 H/9, 9.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 0.1 HR/9
Hughes: (A+); 17.2 IP, 3.06 ERA, 4.1 H/9, 10.7 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9
So a few things. First, the farther from the majors you get, the more strikeouts in the league. If you're in A-ball, you pretty much need to be striking out a batter per inning just to be considered a prospect.
That said, Clippard still put up solid numbers. The control is there, and his 4.5 K:BB ratio is great no matter the context. Certainly a legit prospect.
Hughes, on the other hand was even better. His K:BB ratio was also 4.5, but he combined that command with a tremendous ability to induce weak contact: just 46 hits and one--one!--home run in Low-A. He earned a promotion to Tampa and was even better. The sample size is tiny, but those rate stats are ridiculous. Hughes is clearly more advanced than Clippard at this age.
Clippard: (A+); 147.1 IP, 3.18 ERA, 7.2 H/9, 10.3 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9
Hughes: (A+); 30.0 IP, 1.80 ERA, 5.7 H/9, 9.0 K/9, 0.6 BB/9, 0.0 HR/9
Hughes: (AA); 111.0 IP, 2.35 ERA, 5.8 H/9, 10.8 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 0.4 HR/9
(Note: Clippard also pitched six innings in Low-A and one inning in Triple-A.)
Clippard improved his numbers across the board even while moving up a level. That's the sort of thing that cements you as a good prospect. His overall K:BB for the year was a phenomenal 5.3.
Hughes, again, beats Clippard handily. His raw numbers are superior despite playing in the upper-minors. To do this at 20 (and he only turned 20 in June; Hughes is 16 months younger than Clippard) makes him arguably the top pitching prospect in all of baseball.
Looking at play-by-play data for 2006, we get this:
Eastern League: 19% K, 9% BB, 47% GB, 3.90 FIP, 3.90 xFIP
Clippard: 25% K, 11% BB, 44% GB, 3.62 FIP, 3.42 xFIP
Hughes: 30% K, 8% BB, 51% GB, 2.31 FIP, 2.50 xFIP
(K% & BB% are per batter faced. BB% is also unintentional walks + HBP. GB% is per ball in play. FIP is Fielding Independent ERA. xFIP is the same, but adjusting the HR per flyball to league average.)
Only one of those two is an elite prospect. Hughes is striking out 62% more batters than average while racking up the groundballs. There's nothing about him not to love.
Clippard rates as a solidly above average pitcher, but not special. He's 21, which is young for Double-A, and that helps him. But his walk rate and groundball rates are decidedly unimpressive. He misses plenty of bats, but so do a lot of prospects.
Ah, but Clippard has been red hot the past two months. Since June 19, if I'm adding correctly, he has a 1.77 ERA in 86.1 IP. Checking out his rates in that time:
30% K, 11% BB, 44% GB, 2.77 FIP, 3.04 xFIP
Very nice, but not as different as you'd expect. His GB/LD/FB/P splits were 44/13/33/10, compared to his season line of 44/12/34/10. The walk rate is virtually unchanged, but he's striking out a lot more batters. Can't hit the ball out of the park if you can't make contact.
Still, his xFIP is only 38 points below his seasonal xFIP. It's nice, don't get me wrong, but a lot of the perceived improvement is really just a change in luck with HR/FB.
Just for kicks, Hughes over that same stretch:
38% K, 7% BB, 54% GB, 1.21 FIP, 1.86 xFIP
Wow. Hughes has upped his strikeouts and groundballs while decreasing walks, flyballs and line drives. Why is this guy in Trenton still?
So what does this all mean? Well, two things: first, Philip Hughes is obscenely good. As hyped as he's been, he's earned every bit of it. Be excited, people.
And second, Clippard is a good-but-not-great pitching prospect. He's young and has clearly improved in-season, but it's important to note that he's had a drastic change in luck. I think many Yankee fans are overrating him to an extent because of it.