Heading into the 2017 fantasy baseball season, the consensus around Mike Clevinger was that he possessed the tools to become a breakout pitcher. He failed to put them together in his first stint in the Majors ( 5.26 ERA in 53 innings) and was unfortunately placed in a crowded Indians rotation. But, flash forward a year and the righty put together a terrific 2017 season. He carved out a role in the rotation and finished the season with a 3.11 ERA (3.85 FIP/4.05 xFIP), and a 10.13 K/9 in 121.2 innings.
For the premise of this article, I will be using ADP data from Fantrax since that is still the only publicly available ADP. So far Mike Clevinger has an ADP of 218, and is the 59th pitcher off the board. He is between the likes of Cole Hamels and Aaron Sanchez. While other pitching targets such as Taijuan Walker, Kevin Gausman, Jake Faria surround him.
So what’s to like about Mike Clevinger? A lot.
For one, he plays for the Indians. If you are still stuck in the fantasy stone-ages and use wins as a category then Clevinger will get a nice boost and his fair share of chances at wins. Clevinger will need to feast on the AL Central that is debatably one of the worst in the major leagues. The Tigers and Royals are in the midst of a rebuild, and the Royals who may lose 3 of their top hitters from 2017. Since the start of 2016-17 offseason, Ian Kinsler, J.D Martinez, Justin Upton, Cameron Maybin, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Adam Eaton, Todd Frazier have been traded, signed, or granted free agency. Leaving a very exploitable hole for Clevinger and other Indians pitchers to take advantage of.
Clevinger features a 4 pitch mix, offering a Fourseam Fastball (93mph), while also mixing in a Slider (82mph), Change-up(87mph) and Curveball (76mph). While his FB graded average (-0.8) according to pitch values via Fangraphs, his Slider (9.3), Curveball (3.2) and Changeup (0.5) all graded above average. Where Clevinger truly shines is with his Slider. His +9.3 grade on the pitch ranked it as the 21st best slider in the MLB. He managed a whiff percentage of 22.9% on his slider in 2017 (+8.1% from 2016). For reference, Chris Sale’s highest Whiff% in a single season in his career for his slider is 18.35. Just to hammer my point home that he possessed a dominating slider in 2017, he had a .099 AVG against, and a .209 SLG against. Again, for reference, Chris Sale’s Slider had both a worse AVG against (.181) and SLG against (.355) his slider. His Curve is nothing to overlook either, hitters were held to a .177 AVG, .275 SLG and .098 Iso versus that Curveball. His curveball induced a Whiff% of 20.87 (+11.19 from 2016).
Clevinger possesses that sexy swing and miss stuff that you love to see in Fantasy baseball. His 10.13 K/9 was the 17th highest of starters with 100+ innings, stuck between big-time starters Carlos Carrasco and Yu Darvish. His SwStr% of 12.5 was the 16th highest, placing between fantasy darlings James Paxton and Zack Greinke and his Contact% of 70.5 was the 8th best in the league. His AVG against was elite at .210, which tied him with future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, and was the 10th lowest among starting pitchers.
While I would love to tell you that everything is going to be roses and unicorns with Clevinger, I can’t. He has some issues with his command. His Zone % in 2017 was below league average at 41.5%, and his BB/9 was the 7th worst among starters at 4.44. Due to his .210 AVG against (League AVG is .252), he was able to keep his WHIP at 1.25 which was slightly below league average in 2017. But that is something that can fluctuate between seasons.
There are some signs of regression to his ERA heading into the new season. Currently, Steamer projects a 4.46 ERA in 169 innings with 11 wins and an 8.96 K/9. Steamer seems a bit more skeptical than I personally do, his LOB% in 2017 79.7% which is dead on for league average, his BABIP was .273 so we may see some regression towards the .300 league average. But, Steamer may not account for the change in the arsenal that Clevinger featured in 2017. He threw his curveball 5.5% more than in the previous season while throwing his least effective pitch, his fastball 4.2% less.
All-in-all Clevinger is a pitcher who possesses an elite K/9 while pitching in one of the worst divisions in baseball. At the moment you can get him cheap with a late-round pick (he might climb as we move towards draft day) at an ADP of 218. I will be looking forward to trying to attain as many shares as possible of Mike Clevinger and watching him dominate the weak AL Central.