Cleveland Indians

Mike Clevinger Commands Your Attention

In a process driven culture, it’s easy to entangle ourselves in the how rather than the results. There’s even a somewhat popular television series that depicts how products we know and love make the transition from mere materials to mass consumption. While enlightenment regarding what it takes to produce our favorite goods may not be a bad thing, it can also be a detriment to the usage or enjoyment of the product. McDonald’s chicken nuggets, for example, are a staple of American childhood (and perhaps a brilliant lede for our excessively obese culture, but I digress) but too much inquisitiveness on that front can lead to an utterly grotesque fact finding mission.

In life, it is sometimes best to spare ourselves from the details, and simply appreciate the results. As with McD’s delightfully fattening nuggets, the Indians’ Mike Clevinger is a premier example. His wind-up and delivery is like a constant nervous tick manifesting itself all over the rubber. Each delivery makes one wonder exactly what the parameters of the balk rule entail and what purpose the rule serves if that atrocity isn’t an infringement. However, the results are there year after year, buoyed by an increasing ability to find the strike zone despite a delivery that seems to have no repeatable qualities on a pitch by pitch basis.

Before collapsing into an ultimately unimportant digression regarding Clevinger’s ability to duplicate his delivery, it’s important to note that erratic command results were the barrier to his success early in his major league career. He has always shown an elite ability to mitigate contact authority thanks to elite movement on his pitches. This fact, though, is a component of the erratic command results. These pitches move away from bats and consequently tend to move away from the strike zone, as well. 

Courtesy of Fangraphs

Throughout his career, Mike Clevinger has recognized this indisputable flaw and has made constant strides in managing it. Each year, his walk rate has inched closer to league average, finding itself hovering right around that eight percent mark for all of the 2018 campaign. Of course, this also led to a consistent and results-laden output.  As he managed his walk rate more effectively, Clevinger’s earned run average closely mirrored the gains, indicating just how much weight his command efforts carry.

At first glance, one might suggest that it Clevinger’s walk rate gains were a direct result of simply throwing more strikes. While that is certainly part of the equation, being in the strike zone two percent more often wouldn’t typically equate to such drastic improvement. The other side of the story is a more focused dedication on his effective curveball, as is the story with other notable Indians starters. As his curve usage spiked, his walk rate dropped considerably.

Courtesy of Fangraphs

The amount of strikes Clevinger throws becomes somewhat trivial thanks to a cavalcade of swinging strikes. The swinging strikes are also a direct reflection of more curves.

The most impressive part of the previously acknowledged data points does not lie within the bounds of a simple increase in effectiveness or more whiffs. It is within the context of last season’s results. The consistency displayed is encouraging, which is on display in the above graphical representations. Throughout 2018, Clevinger manufactured an approach that is repeatable through continual stifling of opposing hitters with an onslaught of benders.

Over the last two years, only nine pitchers with at least 300 innings have a better earned run average output. Only fifteen pitchers have a better strikeout rate. Clevinger is building his brand towards household name status.

Though it is not aesthetically pleasing, Mike Clevinger’s wind-up is finding its niche. Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and even Shane Bieber somewhat mar the excitement level surrounding the Indians’ fourth starter. If walk rate and whiff rate are as predictive of success as the game’s most intelligent prognosticators suggest, Clevinger is something that should be generating considerable excitement. Just don’t ask how the nuggets are made.

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