Sensational Clevinger To Lead Indians on Warpath Against Angels

Cleveland Indians

Rainman M.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017 3:52 PM GMT

The Indians have won four in a row, outscoring opponents 29-7 during that span, thanks to great hitting and great pitching. The leaders of the AL Central will look to keep streaking against the visiting Angels, who are 3 games back of the wild card.

Angels vs Indians

After a day off and a series win against Boston, the Angels begin a 6 game road trip in Cleveland. The Indians aren’t too familiar with Angels’ starter Jesse Chavez. But one batter who has enjoyed success against him is Michael Brantley, who is 3-for-7 and 2 home runs in his career vs Chavez.  The Indians’ starter Mike Clevinger faced the Angels once in his career, as a rookie, when he allowed 1 run in 5.2 innings. Current Angels batters are 1-for-9 in their career against Clevinger, who was once an Angels prospect.

 Probable Pitchers

Mike Clevinger (5-3 2.73 ERA) starts for Cleveland. He has gone four consecutive starts in which he has lasted six innings and given up 1 or 0 runs. As a fly ball pitcher, he has had the fortune of either pitching in ballparks with spacious outfields, such as that in San Francisco and Kansas City, or pitching at home against lineups who lean heavily on right-handed batters, such as Detroit, and who are therefore at a disadvantage in Cleveland’s ballpark, which favors left-handed power. The Angels lean most on right-handed batters, which represent the type of batter against which Clevinger has improved the most. Last season, righties hit .301 against him. But this season, Clevinger has kept their BA to .175. The main reason for Clevinger’s improvement against right-handed batters, and overall as a pitcher, is the increased effectivity of his breaking pitches, particularly his slider and curve. Last season, his slider was not nearly as effective because of its lack of horizontal movement. This season, his slider has become more elusive by moving further away from the batter.  When it attacks the plate, it does so with the guise of a fastball.  The slider is his favorite strikeout pitch to right-handed batters because with it, he first creates the appearance of working inside the batter. This pitch then slides away from the batter with such suddenness that he is unable to adjust his bat to its movement and spin and ends up whiffing at it. 

The results speak for themselves: last season, batters whiffed at 29.59% of his sliders; this season, they are whiffing at 50.50% of his sliders. The horizontal movement of his slider is similar to that of his curve, with which he has enjoyed similar improvement. Last season, batters whiffed at 23% of his curves.  This season, batters are whiffing at over 46.88% of them. His curve hasn’t changed much from last year. It has somewhat more vertical movement then the slider, so that it will tease the batter in the lower part of the strike zone before suddenly eluding his bat with a similar degree of horizontal movement as his slider. The key is deception. Batters are having trouble reading and reacting to Clevinger’s pitches. They are struggling to tell what he is throwing and if and in which direction his pitches will move.  Because Clevinger possesses such variety in his four-pitch arsenal, and can throw each pitch effectively, opponents are not even knowing which pitch to expect.  Clevinger will look to continue his strong form against an Angels lineup that he has already built some success against.

Jesse Chavez (5-10 4.88 ERA) counters for the Angels. Chavez is having a down year because he is striking out fewer batters, walking more and giving up more home runs. His stuff has been less effective, which is why he is inducing batters to swing at pitches outside the zone at a lower rate than last year. Batters have been better at reading his pitches and becoming more selective in what they like to swing at. The key for Chavez has been to make adjustments in pitch usage. He is throwing his four seam fastball at a vastly lower rate than in the months preceding July and more of his five off-speed pitches. In so doing, he is trying to revive the best seasons of his career, 2013 and 2014, the only two in which his ERA was under 4, and the only ones in which he threw his fastball less than 20% of the time. His two most crucial breaking pitches have been the curve and the cutter. He is throwing them both with greater frequency and greater effectivity. He has improved the horizontal movement of his cutter, so that it more aggressively attacks the inside of right-handed batters, whereupon it becomes difficult for them to get a good barrel on the pitch.

Right-handed opponents are batting .212 vs Chavez’ cutter, their lowest against any one of his pitches. By far the majority of their hits against his cutter have been singles. But, when Chavez makes a mistake with either his location or mechanical execution of the pitch, even right-handed batters have often been able to take advantage and hit a home run off of it.  Chavez’ other most effective breaking pitch has been his curveball.  Unlike his slider, he is able to utilize it against both right-handed and left-handed batters.  Like his cutter, he is able to create the impression of throwing a pitch that will land around the middle of the plate and is hittable, until it eludes his opponent’s bat by attacking the pitcher’s glove side.  Because of its significant horizontal movement towards the pitcher’s glove side, the curveball has been most effective against left-handed batters by working inside them.  Overall, opponents’ slugging % against his cutter is down from .397 last season to .330 this season and their slugging % against his curve is down from .400 last season to .217 this season. Chavez is off to a relatively strong start in July. But two effective pitches is not enough for somebody who wants to be versatile and balanced enough to throw six in order to keep opposing batters on their toes. Besides relying on only a couple pitches, his vulnerability to allowing walks and home runs is worrisome. He’ll look to improve his form and develop balance and consistency in his pitching arsenal against a hot Indians lineup.

 The Verdict

I will back Clevinger for the fourth time in a row on our MLB Picks. It was already apparent on May 20th, when he flirted with a no-hitter against the Astros, that he was something special, regardless of his poor numbers last season as a rookie. He is becoming a pitcher with an elite arsenal that combines variety in pitch usage with effective stuff. Now that he is developing consistency, bettors have every reason to look past the awkward pitching motions, the long hair, and the tattoos, and trust him. Young players especially tend to have their ups-and-downs. But Clevinger is in great form right now and he is in a great spot, behind a hot Cleveland lineup, to continue his domination on the mound and help his team ensure at least an early lead.

Free MLB Pick: Cleveland 1H RL (-1/2)
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

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