2020 season age: 29 – Throws: Right- Bats: Right – Contract: $4.1 million (ARB 1)
2019 in review: Despite missing almost two months with a strain of the teres major in his second start of the season, Mike Clevinger had an elite level season. In 126 innings with 169 strikeouts and just 37 walks in 21 starts, a 2.71 ERA and a 13-4 record. He was really good in 2018, especially the second half. He was even better in 2019 aside from two starts, both coming back from injury. He performed like a true ace when he was on the mound.
Beyond the stats: It’s hard to really breakdown one area statistically with Clevinger because so many advanced metrics really point to how impressive he was in 2019 and how it all points to sustainable success. The only real metrics where Clevinger isn’t in elite class is fastball and curveball spin but he’s still above average in fastball spin (but below average in curveball spin). All four of his pitches had 30% or above whiff rates and his slider, fastball and curveball get above average movement in terms of vertical movement while his slider gets above average horizontal movement. His first pitch strike percentage was also 65%, which was his career high and put him in the top 15 of all of baseball (had he qualified), right alongside Shane Bieber.
On the mound: Clevinger relies on his four seam fastball the most (51.1% in 2019) though he mixes in the rest of his arsenal well with good sequencing. Averaging 95.4 mph and with above average spin, he can afford to throw it as much as he does unlike other pitchers. Hitters had just a .271 wOBA against it. His slider was his second most used pitch (25.5%), which performed the best of all of his pitches, allowing just a .218 wOBA against and a 48.3% whiff rate. He throws his curveball 12.1% of the time and his changeup 11.4% of the time. His changeup is the pitch most hitters had a success against but didn’t do major damage against it, just a .370 SLG%.
2020 role: Though he suffered another unfortunate early season injury, this time a partial meniscus tear, with the delay of the season Clevinger should be healthy and ready to go when and if the 2020 season starts and could be the Indians co-ace alongside Shane Bieber. He’s throw 200 innings before so we know he’s able to hold up to the workload despite a violent, high moving delivery. But in 2020 he won’t have to throw 200 innings and over a shorter season you could see him stay in line and perhaps even improve upon his 2019 numbers, which would be incredible. He’s a Cy Young contender.
Fantasy impact: Personally I was scared off by Max Scherzer’s back issues, Justin Verlander’s age and workload, so my true aces going into 2020 were Jacob deGrom and Walker Buehler. I have Clevinger in the second ace tier around Scherzer, Verlander, Jack Flahety and Stephen Strasburg. I would expect him to come close to his 2019 performance. I wouldn’t be scared off by last year’s upper back issue or meniscus tear. Let someone else worry about that and scoop of Clevinger and get at least a near ace. Given that he missed some time last year, you might even be able to get him at good value after all the name I listed are off of the board and you’ll still get a great ace-level arm.