The Cleveland Indians posted a Coors Light performance at Coors Field on Tuesday night, losing to the surprising Colorado Rockies by a score of 11-3. Starting pitcher Mike Clevinger’s consistent command issues once again reared there ugly head, but this time he could not escape trouble thanks to timely ground balls or missed bats. Clevinger is a talented pitcher with a good fastball and solid secondary offerings but it must be emphasized that he has yet to display the command necessary to be anything more than a No. 5 starter at the big league level.1
Time to bifurcate. Clevinger has both command and control issues. First, the control issues. In 86 big league innings Clevinger has a walk rate of 12.6 percent or, on a per-nine innings scale, 4.64. Unless Clevinger makes massive strides his profile simply cannot sustain a walk rate that high.
The command issues are similarly concerning as Clevinger does not locate the ball in the strike zone particularly well. This was most easily seen on the bases clearing double which Clevinger surrendered to the opposing pitcher. Clevinger simply needed to take advantage of a bad hitter and avoid outright hanging a pitch. He could not. He has been allowing a bunch of hard contact and struggles to induce any significant volume of soft contact because of his inability to locate in the strike zone.
What is more, Clevinger has a few peripheral indicators which suggest regression. First, Clevinger is running the highest strikeout rate of his career at any level by a significant margin which appears unsustainable. Second, Clevinger is posting the highest ground ball rate of his career at any level which is largely inexplicable and likely to decline. Third, Clevinger has a BABIP against of .247, far below league average and completely unrepresentative of the reality that his contact management skills are middling at best.
But wait, there’s more.
Clevinger had significant velocity drop-off during Tuesday’s start. From pitches 1-11 Clevinger was running the fastball up to 95 MPH. By pitches 71-76 Clevinger was topping out at 92 MPH. This could be an indicator of injury or a larger problem in terms of holding velocity over the course of his starts which deserves more in-depth consideration.
Clevinger is a useful fifth starter right now for a team which is hamstrung by Danny Salazar’s early foible. But until he can demonstrate improved command over a five start sample, expecting anything more from Mike Clevinger is pure, unbridled optimism.
Alas, the Indians entire pitching staff was underwhelming with Zach McAllister and Nick Goody each posting their worst outing of the season. Goody allowing his first two earned runs. The lone positive? Bradley Zimmer hitting another home run and continuing to provide the positive returns that I discussed in detail on Monday. Conversely, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, and Michael Brantley were a combined 1-for-12 in Denver’s hitter friendly environment. With an OPS hovering below .693, Kipnis the leadoff hitter has failed to jump start the offense in the way one might expect.
- Outstanding Houston start aside. [↩]