Tyler Clippard, Nationals avoid arbitration with $5.875 million deal

Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Clippard's substantial salary hints at a flaw in the arbitration process.

The Washington Nationals and reliever Tyler Clippard have avoided the arbitration panel thanks to a one-year, $5.875 million deal, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman. The two sides agreed to a deal that favors the player slightly. The team originally filed for a $4.45 million salary, an Clippard filed for $6.35 million.

Clippard's variegated journey through arbitration has been a beneficial experience for him monetarily. He's gotten a considerable raise in each of his first three years through the process.

As a super-two, the soon-to-be 29-year-old will be eligible for arbitration again next season, at which point he will likely get another raise from the club. That's typically how it works. Players almost never earn less than the previous season under the current system, but the amounts of their raises can fluctuate significantly based on the role they served and the stats accumulated along the way.

However, the stats that are used tend to reward players using antiquated value systems. Is a designated hitter with 30 homers and a sub-.300 on-base percentage more valuable than an excellent defender who can take a walk and run the bases?

Or in Clippard's case, is a former closer worth more than a guy who hasn't pitched in the ninth inning before?

In both cases, the answer is probably no.

Yet that's how players are valued through the arbitration process. Clippard benefitted from the outmoded approach, but if he hadn't saved 32 games in 2012, he wouldn't be earning almost $6 million this season -- actually, it'd probably be about half that amount.

In his first year of eligibility, the right hander was coming off of an incredibly productive season. He threw 81⅓ innings out of the Washington bullpen, posting a 1.83 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP. fWAR valued him at about a win and a half on the season. bWAR had him pegged for 3.4. Both metrics evaluated the team's closer that year, Matt Capps, as worth less than one win than his part-time set-up man despite saving 26 games for the team. Clippard's raise that offseason was about $1.2 million.

The next year, Clippard saved 32 games and posted a 3.72 ERA, and his salary jumped to $4 million for the 2013 season.

After returning to the eight innings, Clippard's numbers dipped back down -- a 2.41 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP last season. His raise of $1.875 million was likely produced in some way by his career saves total, a stat that really doesn't tell you much about his skill level.

If he had never pitched in the ninth inning, he might have been more valuable to his team on what could very well be 50 percent of the salary he'll make in 2014. The current system values stats like wins and saves more than metrics that actually give some indication of a player's skill level.

Of course, you won't hear Tyler Clippard complaining about it, at least not yet; but if he ends up pricing himself out of a job in Washington with another raise next year, he might have to start getting used to earning less when he hits the open market, unless he can find a closer gig once more.

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