What Can the Indians Expect from Mike Clevinger?

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With the Cleveland Indians’ rotation risk seemingly increasing by the day, WFNY’s two Michaels took their longstanding Mike Clevinger disagreement public.

Hattery: One of the striking parts of Clevinger is how little sample we really have of him being a professional pitcher let alone a big league pitcher. Outside of an age-24 season at Double-A Akron, the sample suggests Clevinger simply has mediocre command and control. In this sense, he is Danny Salazar without the elite fastball velocity and elite split-change. Clevinger certainly has an interesting arsenal but for him to be good he needs a 3.00 or better BB per nine and I simply struggle to envision that happening right now. Further, I do not particularly like his contract profile for Progressive Field or in general. Why should I buy in?

Bode: Let’s hit you with a whole bunch of narrative and data-driven reasons. The narrative-driven reasons of course include his nickname The Flow and the mane of hair that inspired it. You are going to have a tough time not rooting for such a player.

Now, the Indians have a bunch of location masters in Triple-A Columbus ready to step into the bottom of a rotation and maybe squeeze their way through twice through the lineup—maybe. Ryan Merritt and Adam Plutko just have such limited ceilings. If they don’t increase their velocity, then I don’t see them missing enough bats to be viable middle of the rotations starters.

Clevinger, on the other hand…

It is tough to teach 100 miles per hour even if he probably ends up sitting 96-97 miles per hour once the season begins. That is a two-to-three mile per hour increase from where he sat last year. If he has used the offseason to increase his stamina (one of his biggest issues was he tired on the second-to-third time through the order and lost two miles per hour), then he has the potential to be a middle of the rotation guy in 2017. And, he would be doing so as a spot-starter, which the Indians will need.

As for his control, it is difficult for me to not throw out his 2014 season entirely due to returning from Tommy John surgery. He rebounded nicely in 2015 with great (for him) control while mostly maintaining his strikeout rate despite jumping up a level to Double-A. Yes, his walk rate rose to an unsustainable number in 2016 especially at the MLB level. However, he improved the more time he has had at every level in the minors and he improved even in the little amount of exposure he had with the Indians. I don’t expect he would repeat his 1.72 SO/BB ratio. He probably won’t become a Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco, but there’s no reason to think he cannot obtain the level of success there as Trevor Bauer (2.40) or Danny Salazar (2.56) had last season.

Clevinger has a lot to work on as he also needs to keep improving his slider or develop another breaking pitch if he wants to stick as a starter. There is no one else in the high systems for the Indians though with as much potential.

Also, as you prepare your reply, please explain how you can not buy-in on a guy who tattoos the name of his first-born on his forearm visible while he stares in at the catcher and just announced the birth of his second daughter?

Hattery: First, Jacob Degrom is “The Flow”; Clevinger a mere thief. Second, Clevinger absolutely has the highest upside in the Indians upper minors (McKenzie overall best) but I am not sure having more upside than Merritt, Plutko or Morrimando is an indicator of big league success.

While Francona said “100 miles an hour” I thought it was more reflective of his readiness and comfort than a velocity reading. BrooksBaseball has Clevinger sitting around 95 this spring which aligns with his traditional velocity. Clevinger has a really solid stuff but the command is just a dynamic problem. Even if we toss out 2014, the most favorable possible approach to the data, Clevinger’s issues in 2016 are enough of a red flag. In the major and minors Clevinger sits around ground ball/fly ball neutral which is a pretty dynamic problem especially in a now hitter favorable Progressive Field.

Clevinger in minor league profile gives up a ton of line drives. In the big leagues, similar issues with a limited soft contact rate in a limited sample. Basically I see a guy with a good fastball, developing secondary offerings, limited command and a bad contact profile. I see upside but I am not too optimistic that Clevinger reaches that ceiling.

Trevor Bauer without the growing ground ball rate just is not a particularly interesting sell for upside, but for a sixth starter that is certainly good enough for me.

Bode: You simply cannot trust a man who does not capitalize the first letter of his last name. deGrom also has stated a hatred for his own hair though he did not go through with shredding it as promised after the 2015 World Series.

“I think mine is gone at the end of the year, so I’ll give that award to him,” deGrom said. “It’s driving me nuts. I’ve got to get rid of it.”

These are the types of things you must track in order to properly assess prospects. Or, they are the things you track as you go mad. One or the other. I’ll let you know.

Brooksbaseball backs up your assertion though there were people stating he was touching 100 besides Tito. There’s a difference between letting them fly in bullpen sessions and actually pitching from the mound, so that is now a myth busted.

You are correct in asserting that he doesn’t induce a ton of soft contact or ground balls, which can be troublesome. Both of these concerns can be addressed with a better secondary offering, and Mickey Callaway (alongside Jason Bere) has done a great job at maximizing the ground ball rate out of our pitching staff. The more time he has to work with Clevinger, the better. His overall batted ball profile is not ideal, but it is also not a deal-breaker if he can maintain his stuff through starts.

I maintain that Clevinger’s biggest issue was tiring after the first two times through the order. Take a look at his Brooks Baseball chart on grooved pitches and notice the incredible spike that last time through (removed his initial stints in May).

courtesy of brooksbaseball

courtesy of brooksbaseball

Projections have Clevinger anywhere from a 4.32 to 4.47 FIP in 2017 with a slightly improved walk rate and a maintained strikeout rate from his 2016 MLB numbers. Those numbers would be good enough to keep the Indians in games, and I maintain that he could do much better. Do those projections seem fair to you?

Hattery: I do not have any issue with these projections. With some small improvement I think he could best them and like like a very capable and productive 4-5 starter. I think the more distressing information which we have brought to the forefront is that the Indians sixth best starter needs improved command and a better secondary offering. While Clevinger has the capacity to make these changes they are neither simple nor easy. I agree that holding velocity is yet another issue for Clevinger but think I am less concerned about holding velocity than I am commanding the strike zone.

The Indians ace in the hole is Mickey Callaway which is my largest reason for optimism. Callaway has consistenly gotten the very most out of his pitchers and I hope this trend continues with Clevinger.

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