The Cleveland Indians’ holiday season has morphed most of their fans into baseball Ebenezer Scrooges, and perhaps justifiably. Between the rumors of cutting bait with Francisco Lindor and actually trading away the all-time greatest Indians pitcher (at least on a rate basis), each in clinical, value-maximizing fashion, all beneath the shadow of a disappointing 2019 season, the fatalistic tendencies of Cleveland’s football fanbase have seemed to bleed into its baseball one. In what appears to be a bizarre Stockholm Syndrome situation, some defeatist fans have even called for a Lindor trade, which would likely tank the Indians’ chances of competing in 2020 at least, and who knows for how much longer.1 Here’s the thing about Christmas Carol, though: Scrooge merely begins the story as a cynic. By the end, he discovers the Christmas spirit. But what magical spirit will lift the fanbase from their Mariana’s Trench-level depression? I’m here to make the case that Emmanuel Clase could be the Ghost of Cleveland Christmas Future. In watching all 325 MLB pitches that Clase threw for the 2019 Rangers (I know, it sounds less impressive when I disclose that relatively low number), here’s what I learned about how he has the potential to bring baseball cheer to all the little boys and girls. Warning: an inappropriately large number of GIFs abound.
Every big league pitcher throws really hard. Emmanual Clase makes most of them look like Sunday leaguers. Consider: Clase had an outing last season in which he threw 25 pitches over two innings against the Yankees. He averaged 98.8 MPH per pitch. Not per fastball, per pitch. By contrast, the 2019 Cleveland Indians collectively threw one pitch faster than Clase’s average from that game. Behold, Clase’s fastest pitch of 2019:
The pitch above, a 101.8 MPH fastball, was the 129th fastest pitch of the MLB season. By comparison, the Indians fastest pitch of the season, a 99.0 MPH fastball out of the hand of Mike Clevinger’s, was the 3094th fastest in MLB. In fact, in the pitch-tracking era, which goes back to 2008, the Indians haven’t had a pitch come within a mile per hour of the Clase pitch above. The AL Central is going to see some spicy cheddar this year—here’s hoping they’re lactose intolerant.
It’s hard to tell just how bendy from the GIF above, for a couple of reasons: one, the askew camera angle in Texas makes it difficult to see pitch movement toward the left-handed batter’s box, and two, it’s really fucking fast. Luckily, you don’t have to be able to detect the cutting movement on Clase’s fastball; the batter will tell the story for you. Thoughts, JD Martinez?
Francisco Lindor, I’m quite sure, is overjoyed to have Emmanuel in Cleveland, and therefore to not have to face his sweeping fastball:
Matt Olson, thanks for playing:
Now, it’s unclear whether Clase considers this pitch a fastball or a cutter, but either way, it’s a one-of-a-kind offering. If it’s a cutter, its 99.2 MPH average velocity wasn’t just the fastest cutter in baseball; it was the fastest by 5.4 MPH. If it’s a fastball, it’s merely the second-fastest, but it’s also in the 80th percentile in terms of drop. Which leads to observation number three:
…because he breaks so many of them. They say the harder it comes in, the harder it leaves. Whether or not that’s generally true is up for debate (pitch speed, according to research performed by Baseball Prospectus’s Rob Arthur, accounts for only a minority of exit velocity), but it certainly doesn’t seem to be in regard to Emmanuel Clase. Of the 66 balls put in play against him, 16 of them were hit below 75 MPH. That rate of 24.2% puts him in the 98th percentile amongst players who allowed at least 50 batted balls. Additionally, Clase surrendered a 60.6% groundball rate as a member of the Rangers, the 12th highest in baseball for pitchers who threw 20+ innings. Weak contact and grounders were the main reasons Clase outperformed his already-solid 3.43 FIP with a sparkling 2.31 ERA. Having said all that, I know you’re only here for the GIFs. Mike Moustakas, oblige them:
Kole Calhoun stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded when this happened:
Like Mariano Rivera or Corey Kluber, Clase’s modus operandi is to lean on his cutter to accrue not just swings and misses, but also gobs of weak contact, allowing him to outperform his FIP and to conserve pitches and endure for multiple innings.
If your fastball goes 101+ MPH, it’s your best pitch, full stop. That said, Clase’s slider is a solid second pitch that plays up thanks to his 80-grade fastball. He doesn’t have nearly the same command of the breaking ball, but he moves it wickedly and has just enough control of it to be an effective secondary offering. And, at 90.5 MPH, it was the fifth-fastest slider in the game. He can drop one over the heart of the plate to put it in batter’s head:
Or, if they’re sitting on the fastball, he can make them pay like Tim Misny:
It turns out that when a pitcher throws really, really hard and has elite sink, catchers have a hard time receiving the ball gracefully. 9.5% of the pitches Emmanuel Clase threw in the strike zone were called balls, the second-highest rate in MLB amongst pitchers who threw 150+ in the zone.2 It’s true, the Indians employ one of the most effective framers in Roberto Perez, but Perez never had to catch anyone like Clase. Still, I expect a greater percentage of correctly called strikes in 2020 for Clase. Here’s a GIF, you animal:
It’s very possible that you, oh wise reader, already knew much of this information about Emmanuel Clase. If you did, bully for you, smartypants. At least you got to see a bunch of GIFs showing some awesome pitches. In this gloomy, wintry offseason, is that not the greatest gift I can give you?
I can say with absolute certainty that Emmanuel Clase will not offer the Indians the same level of play Corey Kluber did from 2013-2018. No relief pitcher can offer his team what an ace-level starting pitcher can. And, it’s very possible that Kluber outplays him in 2020, too. But, Clase has all the tools to become an elite arm in the back of the Indians bullpen, and maybe, just maybe, that glimmer of hope can rejuvenate the baseball spirit in the hearts of Indians fans everywhere.