Clevinger may not be 'Beast Mode,' but he is in 'Attack Mode'

Increased strikes begetting increased success for breakout righty

Alex Hooper
June 14, 2018 - 6:18 pm
Jun 14, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Mike Clevinger (52) pitches against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field.

© Jim Young-USA TODAY Sports


‘Beast Mode’ might be a little aggressive for the long-haired, sunflower loving Mike Clevinger, but ‘Attack Mode’ suits the righty just fine.

That has been the focus for Clevinger over the course of his two full-years at the Major League level to date. The approach has been executed more and more with experience, and the results have followed.

Former Pitching Coach Mickey Callaway harped on it a season ago, and pupil is echoing his former sensei’s words: get ahead early.

Clevinger picked up his fifth win of the season on Thursday against the Chicago White Sox, allowing no scoring in seven innings other than a Jose Abreu opposite field two-run home run. It was the ninth quality start in 14 opportunities for the 27-year-old.

In the outing, Clevinger went 23-of-27 on first pitch strikes. He walked just one.

“I think just keep staying attack mode with good intent and still going for a good location,” the righty said after the game.

His manager, Terry Francona, agreed with the idea being that simple.

“Guys are getting in the hole and the stuff is good. That would be the key reason if you ask me,” Francona said.

Clevinger’s first-pitch strike% is the highest it has ever been in a season, seeing a gradual progression from 60.9% in his 17 outings in 2016, to 63.4% in 2017, and 65.8% now. His overall zone percentage has also increased almost linearly to a career high of 43.8% in 2018.

In turn, Clevinger is carrying a career-low 3.45 FIP and is closing in on his career high 2.2 WAR from last year, currently at 1.7.

A potential added bonus for the righty on Thursday? His fastball touched 97.1 mph, with an average of 94.9. His average four-seamer to date has sat at 92.9, up from 92.5 in 2017, but nowhere near the mark on Friday.

Despite Francona hypothesizing that the radar gun at Guaranteed Rate Field was (ironically) ‘hot,’ Clevinger himself said work has been done to increase his velocity.

“This has been a lot of work, a lot of progress. It’s finally starting to click,” the righty said. “I’ve been, for the past probably two years, kind of diving over the plate. I’ve kind of had my athleticism take over in order to generate velo. I’ve found a way to stay back on my legs a little longer and you saw dividends today already.”

Clevinger is in serious consideration for an All-Star appearance in 2018, sitting 13th in AL fWAR at 1.7 entering Thursday. He also sat 13th in ERA (3.31) and 14th in FIP (3.45) in the American League.

The problem with a Clevinger All-Star big is that teammates Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer are near-locks for the game, as well as Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez on the other end. Carlos Carrasco is also ahead of Clevinger in two of those categories, and well, 14 other American League teams have to have an All-Star too.