Indians

Playoff usage of Mike Clevinger

His first two pitches of the night started on the inside corner and darted several inches inside, with one of them almost hitting Angels’ right-handed leadoff man Brandon Phillips. Such is life with Mike Clevinger and his embroidered denim jacket.1 A jerky delivery cedes way to pitches that fly in all directions, seemingly, and serves as the perfect prelude to the ensuing pitches- they could be headed anywhere, which is both a blessing and disguise.

The overwhelming movement on his pitches creates command problems. Allowing four and a half walks per nine innings makes it difficult to be trusted in a postseason series, where any additional base runner allowed could send a team home early. The only other pitcher even being considered for a postseason start with such command issues is the Rockies’ Tyler Chatwood, but his 60% ground ball rate is a solid counter. Clevinger, on the other hand, redeems himself by missing bats at an elite clip.

Tuesday night’s showdown on the left coast with the Los Angeles Angels was a playoff audition, of sorts. While Clevinger has been an incredible, productive member of the 2017 rotation, the walks make it a more difficult decision than it should be. The walks were on display throughout, but so were the whiffs.

It was an efficient outing. Six Angels reached base. One due to catcher’s interference. Another erased on a fine pickoff move. The most encouraging part of the outing was the whiff train kept rolling. Out of his 89 pitches, Clevinger manufactured 10 swings and misses (11.2%). This number is slightly below his season rate but well above league average. None of these came in his final inning, which brings to light an important caveat with Clevinger’s playoff status.

Seemingly a lock to be Cleveland’s fourth starter in October,2 Mike Clevinger’s role needs to be slightly adjusted. When the lineup turns over to face him a second time, command of the strike zone becomes an even bigger issue with a 15% spike in walks per nine. This accompanies an on-base percentage increase of about 15% as well. The premium that is placed on playoff baserunners, given the uptick in the quality of pitching across the board, introduces an interesting conundrum for how to approach Clevinger’s usage.

The Indians should hand him the ball in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. It should be, however, in a limited capacity of three-to-four innings while paying close attention to his command. At that point, you can hand the ball over to Josh Tomlin or Danny Salazar, depending on how Salazar looks over the final week and a half of the regular season.

Another important consideration for Clevinger’s usage in October should be handedness of the upcoming hitters. Perhaps if several left-handed hitters are due up in the fourth inning of a contest, it might be wise to give the ball to Tyler Olson or another member of the elite Tribe bullpen for an inning. In 2017, he has allowed a weighted on-base average of 0.353 against versus lefties, compared to a mere 0.259 mark for right handed batters. Score and situation will be the critical indicator.

Indians fans should find solace in the fact that Mike Clevinger is the fourth option in the rotation for next month’s playoff run. He is effective, but efficiency will be key. Limiting baserunners and finding the strike zone will allow him to pitch deeper into these important games. If his starts go anything like last night’s audition in Los Angeles, he will be perfectly suitable to play the short starter role. Of course, an Indians series lead at the time of his start will make all decisions much simpler.

As an aside, Clevinger was not the postseason auditioning player from the Indians to make a favorable impression last night. Center fielder Greg Allen was a late inning defensive replacement for Jason Kipnis and delivered a five-star Statcast catch to close out the game.

  1. Yes, Wright Thompson followed along with the Cleveland Indians during their 22-game winning streak and penned an amazingly reported piece for ESPN the Magazine. []
  2. Depending upon the health of Danny Salazar who pitches on Thursday. []

  • JNeids

    I love Clev’s little hop after a strike. I love that after a win, the outfield takes their hats off and shakes hands like golfers finishing a round, and that the infield huddles up and breaks like a football team. I love this team.

  • Chris

    I’m leaning towards Kluber/Carrasco/Bauer/Clevinger with Salazar out of the pen and Tomlin excluded from the roster. There are plenty of good options though.

  • mgbode

    We agree.

  • Chris

    The ESPN broadcast last night made several references to how Clevinger would be moving to the pen come October and they weren’t entirely sure he’d be on the roster. That was my cue it was bedtime.

  • Steve

    Agree as well, but not feeling confident. Who really thinks that Francona dumps Tomlin entirely?

  • Chris

    Let him throw BP

  • mgbode

    We’ll see. A much better case for Tomlin in the ALCS than ALDS (long relief option). I still wouldn’t do it but can see an argument- at least.

  • jpftribe

    I wouldn’t want to be Antonoff with the upcoming Kipnis / Tomlin decisions.

  • jpftribe

    I’m worried we are going to get a Joe West / Angel Hernandez moment at a critical time in the playoffs and they are going to call him for a balk with that stutter step he does when he sets. That move is really, really close to being forward.

  • mgbode

    Since we ARE talking Clevinger and many in here don’t twitter:

    https://twitter.com/mgbode_WFNY/status/910359470097813505

  • jpftribe

    Not widely reported, but ESPN said last night Brantley was in Vail (home of the best ortho surgeons) having a leg tendon checked out. That’s gotta be the stake through the heart of any 2017 hopes.

  • mgbode

    I hope we win Brantley a ring before we decline his option.

  • jpftribe

    Brantley, Kipnis and Gomes = $35M next year. Santana, Bruce, Jackson and Shaw all FA.

  • Chris

    Antonetti: “Hey Sashi, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. We’ve got these two serviceable vets but we just can’t fit them in our long-term plans”

    Sashi: “TRADE THM 4 PICKZ!!”

    Chernoff [to Antonetti]: “Can we even do that?”

    Antonetti [to Chernoff]: “That’s just his default answer to everything”
    Antonetti [to Sashi]: “What about prospects, Sashi? How many prospects should we get back in return?”

    Sashi: “NO PLAYERS!!! JUST MOAR CAPS PACE!!!! MOAR MONEYBALLZ FOR THE LOTTERY!!!”

    Antonetti: “Jesus Christ, Sashi… you went to Harvard for fu**s sake, do you always talk like this?”

    Altman: “Put a deal together for Stroman and Pillar”

    Antonetti: “That’s a damn good idea! Wait a sec… Koby, how the hell did you get on this line? And what is your infatuation with undersized players and defensive specialists?”

    Months later…

    Brody Chernoff: [to Hamilton] “So my daddy has been making these late night international phone calls…”

  • jpftribe

    Where else on the interwebs are you gonna get these scoops?

  • Chris

    You heard it here first.

  • mgbode

    Brantley will cost nothing if we decline that option.

  • mgbode

    Word is…

  • jpftribe

    Well, a million, but yeah, they don’t have to move him to save the dough.

  • Steve

    I’ve still yet to hear a good reason why we aren’t just platooning Kipnis and Diaz.

  • Chris

    Having either/both of Clevinger and Salazar available in the role of multi-inning reliever (a la Chris Devenski of the Astros) could be one of the biggest advantages the Indians carry into the postseason. Nice article breaking down how Clev might fit.

  • Chris

    Joe West was second in Clev’s 5/20 start; Hernandez at third in his 8/6 start. He has zero balks on the year, so at least in theory this should be a moot point.

  • scripty

    Gimme Tomlin over McCallister in a 7-game series. Not sure if it matters in a short series.

  • scripty

    TRIVIA
    Okay I mentioned earlier – the Tribe was almost to a 84 Tigers 35-5 streak before my computer died and I did some chores.

    There are SEVEN players off the 1984 Tigers who played on the Tribe in their careers. 5 of them are easy and 2 less so.
    https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/DET/1984.shtml

  • jpftribe

    I’m sure Joe has ump’d games with Stroman too.
    https://twitter.com/PitchingNinja/status/910291076015165440

  • Natedawg86

    Short series go with another position player?

  • Natedawg86

    He would have hit better than MM if given the chance in the ws

  • scripty

    I would have no issues with Joe West doing a playoff game, especially against the Red Sox. He is imperfect but he will control the game. I tried a web site that rates umps and it crashed my laptop but I presume he still rates solidly. That JP guy and Angel, no thanks.