Cleveland Indians

Uh Oh, Mike Clevinger Found Another Level

“It’s like a vegan saying you can’t drink milk — do animals drink other animals’ milk? No, because they don’t have the thumbs to milk their nipples. Of course not. But if they did, do you know what a dog would be doing every fucking day?”

Quick. Try to decipher that quote from Cleveland Indians starter Mike Clevinger. You can’t? He’s attempting to explain his own athleticism in an apparently absurdly roundabout manner. He’s permitted this eccentricity, though, because he can flat out pitch and seemingly improves at every turn. On Monday, he was on full display as he turned the Chicago White Sox into a group of dogs trying to milk their own nipples.

One of the things that is indistinguishable about Mike Clevinger is his wicked movement, both before the pitch and on the pitch. It’s what propels him to an elite contact management toolbox, as he excels at reducing the value of opponents’ contact. On the flip side, it can create command issues, which makes plenty of theoretical sense — the more your offering slices and dices around the dish, the more difficult it is to get it over the dish. Those command problems mitigated his breakout in years’ past. Until 2018, in which he commandeered his walk rate from excessive to average. Coupling that with elite contact management and a high number of swings and misses created a top 15 pitcher in terms of wins above replacement.

In what can only be deemed as equivocal to Happy Gilmore learning how to putt from a fairness perspective, apparently Clevinger has also added velocity to pair with improved command. This is catastrophic for hitters, especially if it’s the hilariously below average Chicago White Sox group. But hey, even if they are in the midst of a seismic rebuild, there are still a handful of capable major league hitters within that group.

So, what exactly, made Clevinger so dominant and dazzling in the Indians home opener? It starts with a newly discovered need for speed. As Clevinger revealed to T.J. Zuppe, formerly of The Athletic, he was solely focused on finding average velocity this past offseason. Someone should inform Clevinger that driving past 97 on the gun is a tad more than an average output.

Evidently, the work that Clevinger put in was not for show. In mid-30 degree Cleveland, fresh off a dusting of snow within the past 24 hours, Clevinger registered 96.8 miles per hour in the first inning of his Opening Day outing. That’s significant because he had only thrown four pitches harder in his previous 375 innings of major league ball, all of which occurred in June or later.

That 96.8 mark was quickly rendered obsolete. The top half of the second inning featured multiple harder pitches for Clevinger, who quickly assembled three fastballs at 97 plus. On the day, 15 of his 61 fastballs were at least 96 miles per hour — nearly 25%. For reference, this mark is especially significant because only 1.2% of his previous 6336 fastballs had reached that threshold.

Courtesy of Fangraphs
Courtesy of Fangraphs

In fact, Clevinger’s velocity trends have a distinct, yet familiar patter. They mirror that of his new best bud, Trevor Bauer. Coincidence? I think not… It has been demonstrated repeatedly that Clevinger has joined Bauer in their quest for unquenchable pitching improvements. The weighted balls, the work with Kyle Boddy at Driveline Baseball, and general day-to-day workout regimens have fueled Clevinger’s achievement of new velocity levels.

These levels produced incredible results in his first outing of 2019. Results which shattered previous norms and expectations. On his 106 pitches, Clevinger induced 20 swings and misses. That figure alone is impressive. In all of 2018, the only Indians pitcher to produce more in one outing is Carlos Carrasco, who did so twice. Yes, in yesterday’s outing, Clevinger accomplished something that neither Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer could.

As if that figure was not impressive enough in isolation, Clevinger also produced 19 called strikes. 39 swinging and called strikes would have accounted for a top eight outing of that type in all of last season for the vaunted Indians pitching staff.

The onslaught of strikes of all types created a perfect world of 12 strikeouts. Steady movement tempered opposing exit velocities, as well, keeping the White Sox mean output lower than league average. This blend of pitching brilliance has Clevinger in another stratosphere. It’s not hard to envision that it’s a stratosphere that can see him competing for prestigious awards and popping up near 100 miles per hour on the radar gun. On a home opener filled with offensive concerns and an uneasy fan base, Mike Clevinger made it clear that he would not be an afterthought in a rotation of studs.

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