Last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to do something really cool. I had the pleasure of meeting Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Mike Clevinger. Not only is he currently one of the best starters in baseball, he’s also one of my favorite pitchers in the league.
After a brief conversation, he was kind enough to provide me with the content for this article and show me his pitch grips (in his fresh HDMH sliders). Clevinger is having a masterful season thus far ranking in the top 3% of the league in K% as well as the top 8% of the league in Barrel%. If it wasn’t for an early injury, he’d be a Cy Young candidate at the moment. Let’s take a dive into how the return of former reliever Vinnie Pestano has paid off immensely for the Indians.
This is your typical four-seam grip. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. With a usage rate of close to 50% and a pVAL of 7.2, you are looking at the best pitch in Clevinger’s arsenal. Willing to throw his fastball in any situation, it is interesting to note that this is the only pitch that Clev has thrown consistently to LHH and RHH alike this season.
What makes his four-seamer so good? For starters, the pitch holds a vFA of 96.2 mph (88th percentile) while at the same time sitting in the 73rd percentile of fastball spin (2357 RPM). Getting hitters to chase at a higher rate than he has in the past has played a key role in the right-hander sporting a career-best .206 BAA vs. his fastball.
Clevinger’s improvement with his fastball has led to some significant changes in his approach. The Whiff% on his four-seamer has jumped 10.2% since last season which has clearly given him even more confidence in the pitch, evident by his PutAway% rising from 18% last season to 27.2% this year. He is now in possession of one of the best heaters in all of baseball.
This is easily my favorite pitch in Clevinger’s repertoire. You can see something in his grip that you don’t see very often. Traditionally, a pitcher will have his index and middle fingers close together on the ball when throwing a slider, but in his case, Clev has them spread apart (it actually reminds me of the way Masahiro Tanaka throws his deadly slider).
With a 25.1% usage rate and a pVAL of 7.2, it is far and away his second favorite pitch to use. Primarily used against RHH, Clevinger’s slider on average moves 17 inches away from a RHH and drops 44 inches. To put that in perspective, the league average horizontal movement is 6 inches and a drop of 37 inches. You can see his progress over the years in the plot below.
Right on par with his fastball, his slider has a PutAway% of 26.4% and an absurd Whiff% of 52.7%. Also, hovering around 81.2 mph, the contact% has dipped to 50% from 63.1% last season. Clev will throw his slider in nearly any count, which is bad news for hitters considering the pitch has a .141 BAA and .178 xWOBA this year. I genuinely believe he can be an All-Star with just two pitches.
“I have to do something because it’s garbage right now,” Clevinger said when I asked him if he considered switching to a Vulcan grip for his changeup. Being that it’s such a feel pitch, it’s very hard to abandon your grip when things aren’t going well but it seemed like something Clevinger was considering. Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Clevinger primarily throws his changeup to LHH, sporting an average velocity of 87.8 mph and a usage rate of 12.6%. While he typically doesn’t throw the pitch when ahead, he is facing a bit of bad luck (.324 BABIP) which factors into the career-worst .297 BAA.
On the contrary, some of the peripherals on this pitch actually read quite well. He is way above average with an O-Swing% of 35.9% and a SwStr% of 14.1%. Even with a -0.2 pVAL, I wouldn’t have expected Clevinger to be worried about his changeup. Not only is his location ideal as you can see in the texture map above, but it has also been a very good pitch for him in the past. I don’t see why Clev can’t revert to his old ways without making any drastic changes.
The final pitch in his bag of tricks, Clevinger has had a little bit of trouble with the curve this season. When we were discussing the pitch, he showed no concerns, saying that it was “all good.” As far as the grip goes, his is very common.
Unfortunately for Clev, his curveball has a career-worst Contact% of 71.8%, which is far worse than last year’s 59%. Ranking below the league average in curve spin (25th percentile), the pVAL has dropped to -1.9 but that hasn’t stopped Clevinger from throwing the pitch. The usage rate is actually at a career-high 12.5% and even though he essentially only throws it against LHH, you can clearly see in the image below he still trusts the hook. His curveball is represented by the color blue and with a robust .324 BAA, its surprising how prevalent the color actually is.
I can’t seem to find much rhyme or reason for the troubles as his RPMs have increased and his location is relatively similar to the past. The lack of effectiveness with his curveball may be attributed to outside factors, i.e., juiced balls. Just saying.
Clevinger has all the ingredients to become a perennial Cy Young contender in the American League. With a little tinkering to his changeup and curveball, he has the potential to really break out in 2020 and do some very impressive things. I hope that throughout this article I was able to give some of the nastiest stuff in baseball it’s proper credit. Clevinger is a down to earth dude, who gave somebody like me the time of day and I wish him nothing but the best. Hope you guys enjoyed! Here’s the full video with each grip for those interested:
Featured Image by Nathan Mills