Mike Clevinger: What’s in his Arsenal?

Mike Clevinger, the 26-year-old right-handed pitcher for Cleveland, is getting excellent results in his second season in the majors.  His 3.20 ERA (147 ERA+) and 9.98 SO/9 both put him in the top 20 pitchers in baseball, and his 1.209 WHIP puts him in 35th spot (of 131 pitchers with 70 or more innings pitched).  On the other hand, his BB/9 of 4.48 is among the worst in baseball (seventh of 131), and his FIP (4.17) and xFIP (4.23) both are significantly worse than his ERA, suggesting that he may be due for some regression.  He has shown a moderate platoon split this season, with right-handed batters OPSing .592 against him while left-handed batters have OPSed .778.  As his BB/9 might suggest, Clevinger has rarely gone deep into games, with six of his thirteen starts lasting five or fewer innings; he has only finished the seventh inning once this season. (He also appeared in relief once, throwing three pitches in the 9th inning against Tampa Bay on May 16.)

What he throws. Clevinger throws a four-seam fastball (“FF”) with just about average velocity (92.9 mph average) and movement, a slider (“SL”), changeup (“CH”), and curve (“CU”) that is unusually slow (74.5 mph average) and has just moderate vertical and horizontal movement.

Pitch usage and trends.  Clevinger uses his fastball and curve about equally to left-and right-handed batters, but throws his slider almost exclusively to righties (29.4% of pitches to right-handed batters; 3.1% to left-handed batters), and does the reverse with his changeup (7.5% to righties, 32.1% to lefties).  He completely abandons his curve when behind in the count; he has thrown one curve out of 112 1-0 counts, and none at all in 2-0, 2-1, or any 3-ball counts.

Compared to last year (when his results were decidedly mediocre: 5.26 ERA, 1.491 WHIP in 53 innings pitched), Clevinger is throwing his curve somewhat more often this year; there were several games in the middle of 2016 when he didn’t use his curve at all.  His  slider velocity is much slower this season (80.9 mph in 2017, vs 84.1 mph in 2016), and his fastball is also significantly slower (92.9 mph this year vs. 93.8 in 2016).  (In the chart below, note that his May 16 appearance was in relief and only required three pitches.)

Pitch value. All four of Clevinger’s pitches have been better than average in terms of total bases yielded per 100 pitches, but all except his fastball show significantly different values for right- and left-handed batters. Although his changeup looks excellent against right-handers, righties see very few of the pitches, so that probably reflects the surprise value more than the actual pitch quality.  On the other hand, the poor outcomes of his slider to lefties doesn’t affect him much because he rarely throws it to them.

His high walk rate isn’t entirely reflected in his overall rate of balls per 100 pitches, which are generally about average or –for his fastball– only moderately worse.  Since his fastball is theoretically the pitch that has the highest rate of balls, it may be surprising that he throws it so often when behind in the count; however, as the location charts (below) show, most of the strikes he gets from his other pitches are swinging strikes, and batters are less likely to swing when they are ahead in the count.

Pitch location. The fastball is really the only pitch that Clevinger consistently throws for strikes. All three of his other pitches typically end up at or below the bottom of the strike zone, so that he depends on the swinging strike, which he draws at much higher than average rates for his changeup, curve, and slider.


Swinging strike % Called strike % Foul %
Clevinger Average Clevinger Average Clevinger Average
FF 4.8 8 21.5 18.1 16.5 21.9
CH 21.4 15.1 11.2 10.5 16.3 16.3
SL 24.9 16.2 11.6 14.7 11.6 15.8
CU 21.6 12.3 12.7 19.6 16.4 12.9


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Featured image courtesy of Peter G. Aiken/USA Today Sports.