An in-depth analysis of the approach of Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger when he faces batters from either side of the plate.
The Cleveland Indians have a historically great group of starting pitchers the roll out against their opposition. Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer were both right at the top of the Cy Young race in 2018 and look poised to continue their domination of the American League.
Carlos Carrasco, at times, has looked just as good and boasts a 35-16 record over the last two season. Along with Kluber and Bauer, the trio deserves the recognition they receive as the anchors of arguably the best pitching rotation in the game, but there is a fourth among them that doesn’t always gets the praise he deserves.
Mike Clevinger has quietly put together back-to-back ace level seasons for the Indians. In 2017 he struck out 10.1/9 over 121 innings, that total would have been good enough for 5th best in the AL had he pitched enough to qualify.
He held the opposition at bay with a 3.11 ERA that year in route to a 12-6 record. He followed that season up with a 3.02 ERA and 4.3 fWAR in 200 innings pitched. He walked 1.41 batters per nine innings less than he did in 2017 and he got his ground ball rate up over 40% for the first time in his career.
He’s improving every year and he looks like he is set for another great season that should propel him into the limelight. Of course, he already seems marketable enough with his wild hair and his childish grin, but it’s his approach to the game that I found particularly noteworthy.
An interesting thing about Clevinger is that he pitches very differently to righties than lefties. That in and of itself isn’t all that interesting, a lot of pitchers tailor their game plan for platoon splits but it’s the specific way he does it that’s fascinating.
To start, he stays extremely down and away to right handed hitters. Of all Clevinger’s pitches in the strike zone 48.9% fall in the bottom third of the zone, middle to away. His hot zone is low and from the middle out.
Again, not all that crazy by itself, but against lefties, he has a very different approach. Against left handed hitters, Clevinger’s hot zone gets huge. If you drew a diagonal line through the zone from up and away to down and in, all of his pitches would fill the far portion.
The area towards the middle zones hurt Clevinger against lefties. In 2018, right handed batters slugged just .324 against him and carried an OPS of .586. Leftis, on the other hand, slugged .408 with an OPS of .726. In other words, he dominated right handed hitters but lefties hit right around league average.
Another interesting bit of data is his pitch selection against lefties. He relies almost exclusively on his fastball, change, and curve against left-handed batters. 94.2% of his pitch usage against lefties is one of those three pitches with the fastball leading the pack at 55.5%, followed by his changeup at 23.2% and finally the curve, which he throws 15.5% of the time.
He throws a slider as well but avoids the pitch against lefties, throwing it only 5.8% of the time. This is a good thing since lefties slugged .640 against the pitch last season.
Versus right-handed batters, he primarily uses his fastball and slider and rarely throws his curve or changeup. The fastball/slider combo is used 87.4% of the time against righties.
Clevinger is an interesting character with an interesting approach. In my view, he is underrated not just on a national scale, but even here in Cleveland. He ended last season tied for the AL lead in shutouts and finished in the top ten in the in fWAR, ERA, innings (200), and strikeouts (207), all while giving the Indians a dominating arm in the middle of an elite rotation.
If the Indians are to succeed in 2019, they need him to continue to perform at a high level. His ability to adjust his game to the hitters has helped him dominate the AL and hopefully, he remains a staple among the American League pitching leaders.