What is Cleveland Indians SP Zach Plesac’s celling and how does he reach it?
The 2021 season has had highs and lows for Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Zach Plesac. He’s shown flashes of being one of the better pitchers in the American League, but he’s had rough outings that have ballooned his ERA. So the question is, what exactly is his ceiling and what will it take for him to get there?
Plesac is arguably the second best pitcher on the Cleveland Indians staff, but he does face stiff competition from starter Aaron Civale who is surprisingly similar to him. Pleaac has pitched 256 innings with 197 strikeouts an an ERA of 3.76 in his career, while Civale has pitched 229 with 191 strikeouts with an ERA of 3.53.
They are also both similar to Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Yonny Chirons who has pitched 234 innings with 199 strikeouts with an ERA of 3.65. The only difference is that the Rays have now moved him to the bullpen, and that won’t happen with Cleveland’s two pitchers.
Plesac does have a lot to clean up, especially when it comes to his maturity. Last year, he went out with former Tribe pitcher Mike Clevinger during the height of the COVID pandemic, and had to rot at the alternative site for around a month.
This year he suffered from a fracture in his thumb after he aggressively ripped of his jersey. He was frustrated with a poor outing, but it’s just another example with a lack of maturity. This injury caused him to miss over a month of the season. Before his injury he had an ERA of 4.19 and since he returned it has increased to 5.88. This is concerning because his uncle, Dan Plesac, was an accomplished MLB pitcher so the pedigree should be there. Zach should know how to conduct himself at this stage in the game.
Back to his pitching last year he showed a lot of promise in the shortened season over the 55 innings he pitched with 9.3 strikeouts per nine, 1.0 walks per nine and an ERA of 2.28, although is FIP was 3.39. He was due for some regression, and this season that has hit him in the worst way.
His ERA is now near five at 4.64 after a horrendous start, and his strikeouts are way down at just 5.5 per nine. His pitch usage is basically the same with his fastball, slider, change up and curveball. His fastball averages 93 and won’t blow anyone away.
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Civale has the same pitches with an addition of a cutter and his fastball averages 92 miles an hour. This season Civale has out pitched Plesac overall with an ERA of 3.32 and 76 strikeouts in just shy of 98 innings opposed to Plesac who’s ERA is 4.64 with 52 strikeouts in 85.1 innings. Before the season started it seemed clear that Plesac was the better pitcher, but currently the arrow is pointing up for Civale.
For Plesac his celling could be a two or three starter in Cleveland’s rotation moving forward, and solid number two for any MLB club. Plesac’s command has been off this season and has resulted in him getting hit harder. His hard hit percentage has increased by eight, his exit velocity is up two miles per hour, his strikeout rate is nearly cut in half and his walk rate is up 33%.
Plesac has to start locating his breaking pitches much better to get back to the pitcher he was in 2020. He has all of the ability in the world he just has to get his head on straight and regain his confidence.
A sit down with Dan Plesac could go a very long way in helping with his temperament. Not every ball player has the ability to have a family member who was also in the big leagues, especially one with continued success in the public eye as an analyst. With Dan’s personality, Zach would only benefit from continuous conversations with him.
Plesac is not the only player, and he will not be the last, to deal with temper tantrums. However, he needs to nip that in the rear before he reaches his true potential as a professional baseball player. There is a difference between what players such as Paul O’Neill used to display and what Plesac has. If he can turn the anger into passion and I think Plesac will be at the top of his game for years to come.