Who Am I?
Height: 6′ 0″
Throws left, bats left
How Did I Get Here?
Sipp had the privilege of being drafted three times – and watching his stock drop each successive time: the Cubs took him in the 28th round in 2001, the White Sox took him in the 33rd round in 2002, and the Indians finally took him in the 45th round in 2004.
From this auspicious beginning, he debuted with Cleveland in 2009, and then was dealt to Arizona as part of a three-team deal with Cincinnati in the 2012 offseason. He became a free agent after the 2013 season, after being non-tendered by Arizona, and signed with San Diego. He lasted all of a month in San Diego, where he was promptly waived without a single major-league appearance, and then was claimed by the Astros.
Contract Status: As you would assume from the above, Sipp is in the second year of a three year, $18M contract.
Why Am I Here?
Every team is required by Napoleonic Code to carry a left-handed relief pitcher. With the release of Kevin Chapman, Sipp is the only current candidate for that role. Believe it or not, there are signs he could perform that role extremely well.
What are my strengths?
In his successful 2014 and 2015 seasons, Sipp kept hitters off balance with an effective slider and change, and located his fastball to success against both lefties and righties; in 2015, right-handed batters only managed a .190 BA and .227 OBP against Sipp, compared to .227 and .290 by lefties. He was even better in 2014 – .176/.235 against righties, and .138/.227 against lefties.
It is easy to make the argument that the pitcher that Sipp was in 2014 and 2015 absolutely deserved the contract he received.
What are my weaknesses?
The horseshoe fell out of Sipp’s hindquarters in 2016. Whether he can replace it is the biggest question.
You see, Dear Reader, what those 2014-2015 numbers omit is the degree of luck involved. The league average for Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) is almost always around .300. In 2015, Sipp allowed only a .275 BABIP. In 2014, that figure was an obscenely low .209. Achieving a BABIP around .200 is some Angels In the Outfield-type luck.
In 2016, the balls found the holes, and Sipp’s BABIP rose to .323.
But lest we attribute that purely to luck, let us be clear that batters were absolutely hitting the ball harder in 2016. Sipp allowed only 5 home runs each in 2014 and 2015; that number jumped to 12, in fewer innings, in 2016. The damage was not localized to one pitch – Sipp gave up 5 homers each on the fastball and slider, and allowed over a .600 SLG on each of those two pitches in 2016.
What is my future with the Astros?
Difficult to see.
It’s easy to say, the man has a rich contract, he’s here for the next two seasons. But with a club with championship aspirations, whose performance declined so sharply last year, and with such a narrow role? I wonder if they would eat the money if a better option presented itself.
What is my projected 2017 performance?
Who else would I remind you of?
Sipp reminds me not of any other left-handed reliever, nor of anyone with a similar delivery or repertoire. No, when I look at Sipp, I think of another reliever who had some pretty good years with the ground balls, but then those ground balls started finding holes at the worst possible times, on teams trying to make the World Series. The fans turned on him, and his time was short whether he deserved the scorn or not.
Yes, for better and for worse, Tony Sipp reminds me of Jay Powell.