The right-handed reliever started his 2021-2022 off-season being non-tendered by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Fortunately for him, the Royals came calling and offered him a guaranteed major league contract worth $975K before Spring Training had even started. Clarke had not been particularly good for Arizona and he’d also been frequently hurt. Only one of those things followed him to Kansas City.
Despite having a very boring name and being the most boring kind of baseball player - a right-handed middle reliever - Clarke quickly established himself as one of the more reliable pitchers in a very volatile bullpen. By the time April had ended he had a 1.13 ERA and, even more impressively for a Royals’ bullpen arm, had not walked a single batter. From May through mid-July his ERA was a somewhat less-impressive but not altogether awful 4.46. And still, he wasn’t walking batters with a 1.57 BB/9 rate that easily led the team. Only starter Zack Greinke, known for his excellent control, was within even a half a walk of Clarke’s rate.
Unfortunately, it was at this point that Clarke was injured. The bullpen continued its volatility and Clarke scattered a mere four appearances over the next four months thanks to injuries. Thus Clarke ended the season with a 4.04 ERA and 0.7 fWAR or, if you prefer, 0.6 bWAR. By FanGraphs he also had 18 Shutdown appearances and 10 Meltdowns in a total of 47 games. In other words, perfectly fine middle-reliever numbers that signal a player who is unlikely to help you escape a jam but also isn’t particularly likely to take a bad situation and make it too much worse.
Clarke will be arbitration-eligible this off-season and the Royals could choose to move on from him with no penalty as did his previous team. However, considering his much-lower walk rate as compared to his peers and the fact that the Royals are likely to already be scrambling for more relievers I fully expect them to make him an offer and ask him to fulfill the most boring bullpen assignments imaginable once again. And, honestly, given his performance and likely cost, that’s probably fine.
In some ways you could argue I haven’t written very many words about Mr. Clarke. But you could also argue that I’ve written way too many words given the kind of player he is. Still, I have a bit more to say if you’re the kind of person who likes to spend the off-season dreaming about what could be in the following year.
Clarke’s walk rates weren’t just low, they were career lows. He also had career-high strike out numbers. His 4.04 ERA was accompanied by a 3.30 FIP. His eXpected ERA, per FanGraphs, was 3.15. If he can find a way to stay healthy, there are actually lots of reasons to think he underperformed in 2022 and could be better than boring in 2023.
Checking out his percentile rankings at Baseball Savant shows plenty of red in there among the blue.
Particularly of note to me are the fastball spin and chase rates. They’re not elite, but they are above average. There’s definite room for improvement there. If you visit the page you’ll also see that he does a reasonable job keeping his pitches out of the middle - especially considering his low walk rate.
His results in 2022 weren’t elite and he was easy to dismiss thanks to pedestrian numbers and the fact that he essentially disappeared for the final two months of the season. But if you dig a little deeper there’s actually a fair bit of reason to hope for something more in 2023.
Taylor Clarke gets a B- from me for his performance in 2022. Reflective of a person who does all the right things but ended up with small mistakes that led to wrong answers at the end. I’ll take the process over the results pretty much every time.
What grade would you give Taylor Clarke for his 2022 season?
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