The Padres swung the most significant trade of the day before August 31’s deadline, acquiring former Indians starter Mike Clevinger, who immediately becomes one of the best pitchers on the Padres staff.
The Padres blew away the competition ahead of Monday’s trade deadline during the shortened pandemic season as general manager A.J. Preller made a flurry of moves, one being for five-year starter Mike Clevinger.
With the Padres desperately needing pitching help, Clevinger comes as a considerable boost. Since 2017, the Jacksonville native owns a 2.97 ERA, 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 152 ERA+ in 470 innings. With Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, Garrett Richards, and Zach Davies already in the rotation, Clevinger solidifies the starting rotation as playoff-worthy.
Let’s take a deep dive into Clevinger’s profile.
His fastball often resides in the mid-90s, sometimes reaching 96 mph. He uses it just 40 percent of the time, less than most starting pitchers. Perhaps it is because opponents are batting .294 with a .368 xBA (expected batting average) against it. However, some of that may be due to just making four starts so far in 2020. In 2019, he struck out 92 batters with his fastball as they hit .192. His whiff rate has gone down between 2019 and 2020 from 30.0 to 22.7 percent. Despite the disparity in his fastball results in the last two seasons, the encouraging note is that neither his spin rate nor his velocity has declined enough to worry. He is just as good as last year.
The slider is Clevinger’s “out pitch.” The average velocity actually increased slightly from 80.7 to 81.9 mph. Batters have struggled mightily against it, hitting just .130 with seven strikeouts, which is an improvement from its 2019 results (.174 batting average against). He throws it around 25 percent of the time, which has not changed since last season. This pitch should continue to give hitters fits and distinguish himself as one of the best starting pitchers in the game.
Clevinger has used his curveball more often this season than in 2019, but it has come with mixed results. Opponents hit .273 off of the curve last season, and that has jumped to .455 in a bloated, small sample size of 53 pitches, with all but one coming against left-handers. However, like his fastball, the velocity (78.5 mph) and spin rate are intact from previous seasons; thus, it may be due to some poor luck and lack of sufficient data. An encouraging sign is that the whiff rate, perhaps also due to the sample size, has leaped from 32.4 percent to 44.4 percent.
Just under 13 percent of the time in 2020, Clevinger offers up a changeup to keep hitters off-balance. With an opponent batting average of .100, it’s a great weapon to keep in the back pocket until it’s needed.
Most good starting pitchers need more than two pitches in their arsenal to be effective when facing a lineup more than twice. Just this year, Clevinger began throwing a cutter, offering a fifth pitch. He has only thrown it 25 times in 22 2/3 innings over four starts this year, but it comes with a .077 xBA. It looks like it is still a work-in-progress, but it adds to the number of things batters need to worry about when they step in the box against the Floridian.
Clevinger broke into the big leagues in the middle of the 2016 season, the year the Indians won the American League and lost the World Series in seven games to the Cubs. Overall, he has made seven appearances in the playoffs with a 4.50 ERA. His lone career playoff start was in the 2018 ALDS against the Astros, when he went five innings and allowed just one run while striking out nine.
The 29-year-old has been a regular part of Cleveland’s rotation since 2017, making 74 starts from 2017 to 2019, owning a stellar 2.96 ERA and 153 ERA+, with 12.2 total WAR during that time. He also averaged nearly 150 innings while eclipsing the 200-inning mark in 2018.
With just four starts in 2020, his numbers are a bit skewed but still solid, with a 3.18 ERA and 144 ERA+.
One of the most attractive parts of this deal is Clevinger’s contract situation. He is under contract until the end of the 2022 season, meaning he will be part of the Padres rotation for two more seasons after 2020. He is arbitration-eligible, and given his track record of success, his 2020 salary of $4.1 million will likely go up. Still, it will be cheaper than going after him on the free-agent market. Knowing the Padres will have his services for two seasons beyond this gives San Diego peace of mind that they have a proven All-Star-caliber starter towards the top of their rotation and is not just a rental.
It is well documented the firestorm Clevinger and former Cleveland teammate Zach Plesac caused among the Indians clubhouse by breaking coronavirus protocols. The team basically gave them the cold shoulder, which eventually led to his demotion from the big league club. It was clear that full reparations could not be made with his Indians teammates, and that partially led to him being put on the trading block. Clearly, the Padres will have to address that elephant in the room as he comes to town. By all accounts, it seems Clevinger is past this and is eager to prove himself to his new teammates.
Why the Padres need him
While the Padres boast Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack, two of their best prospects turned pros, along with recently acquired Zach Davies and Garrett Richards, the starting rotation lacked that true, proven alpha-dog. Lamet may pitch like an ace, but he is in uncharted waters and has never pitched more than 114 innings in a big-league season. Clevinger comes into San Diego with a World Series appearance and playoff experiences as mentioned, plus a 200-inning, 200-strikeout season in 2018. Putting him on top of the rotation means the Padres all of a sudden have a very deep starting pitcher pool. They do not need to deploy the bullpen as much for so-called “bullpen days” since they now have five viable, proven starting pitchers. Clevinger can lead the entire pack to the playoffs given his track record.