It's one thing to be an emotional, irrational fan excited for a baseball players' debut (read: me), but it's another to be a cold-hearted killing machine that only knows two things: How to exterminate the human race and how to project a prospect's future strikeout rate. We will talk a lot about the former in today's Mike Clevinger unofficial holiday, but this particular post is going to deal with the latter.
Projection systems can be rather hit-or-miss when going from minors to majors. It is just not a clean conversion all of the time; a player can adjust well to major league pitching, or maybe he will not. Either way, projection tends to be a more accurate measure than just saying a pitcher is going to be great because he is a Cleveland Indians player.
Here is what ZiPS, Steamer, and PECOTA have to say to this point:
|PECOTA||111.0||7.7 (K/9)||3.0 (BB/9)||.297||4.18||4.18|
ZiPS uses a fairly simple method of projecting major league performance from minor league numbers. It essentially says "if a player does x in Double-A, he'll probably do y in Triple-A and z in the majors." In terms of Clevinger's projected performance, it appears that his declined strikeout rate will be his biggest downfall. These ZiPS projections are before the season began -- before Clevinger walked 11.6 percent of the batters he faced in 2016 -- but he still has a historic issue with walking batters in the double-digits. ZiPS actually has that dropping to 9.6 percent, which is encouraging, but his strikeout rate takes a major hit from the 22.7 percent he put up in 2015 and the 24.7 percent he has in seven starts this season.
Steamer is a bit more optimistic at least, saddling him with a 4.31 ERA and a 4.40 FIP over 29.0 projected innings. Steamer projections constantly changed based on new information, so these may change if it looks like Clevinger will be going over the five starts he is currently projected to have in 2016. And, of course, how he actually performs today and in the next start or two will have an impact as well.
Most optimistic of all is PECOTA, which has him pitching like a borderline third starter. If Clevinger came up in 2014 and had a 4.18 ERA for the whole season, he would have had the 40th-best ERA among 65 American League starters with at least 110 innings pitch. My sources say that's not too darn bad, especially with a FIP that does not suggest a sudden but inevitable
betrayal regression. Direct comps listed by the Baseball Prospectus 2016 include Red Patterson, Roenis Elias, and Neil Ramirez.
Also, interestingly enough, Baseball Prospectus seems pretty content choosing Clevinger as a potential sleeper pick in 2016. On the topic of trying to find such a player in the depths of the minors, here's what they had to say:
...it's become nearly impossible to find the truly unknowns. It's like looking for a clean-shaven dude in Brooklyn. But be happy, deep-divers: Clevinger could be your guy.
For a fourth or fifth starter, these numbers are far from terrible. If Clevinger can induce some ground balls his ERA might even be able to outperform his FIP more than Steamer and ZiPS project, given how good the Indians' infield defense is.
Looking at Chris Mitchell's KATOH ratings, Mike Clevinger is projected to be worth 1.2 WAR over his first six major-league seasons, ranked No. 17 among Indians prospects. That may not seem like much, but even many Top 100 prospects do not reach 4.0 KATOH WAR, and Clevinger is not a Top 100 prospect on most lists.
It would be wise to keep your expectations in check but as a fourth or fifth starter (especially with the low bar set by Cody Anderson), I suspect that Clevinger will do just fine.