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An awfully close look at Mike Clevinger’s six walks

It was a season high in free passes. Is it cause for worry?

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Cleveland Indians Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Last week I wrote about the prospect of Mike Clevinger hitting a wall in his 2018 performance as he moves into uncharted territory as far as innings pitched. Literally that night he made me look the fool by posting a seven-inning, five-hit, one-run performance against Minnesota. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but he looked fine. The Indians ended up winning, the Twins looked stymied, and despite the comparative lack of strikeouts Clevinger quieted my worries.

Monday, though, he was kind of all over the place, walking a season high six batters, striking out only four, and making it merely through the fifth on 105 pitches. Those six walks are where my eye was drawn more than anything. What happened there?

To be fair to the Reds, they’re a pretty good offensive team. As a team they rank third in baseball in on-base percentage, sixth in walk rate, and 15th in wRC+. Obviously having Joey Votto on the team helps buoy those first two stats, but as a whole there’s a lot of offensive energy with Cincinnati. Their pitching is just godawful. It was Votto who was one of the men walked by Clevinger, along with Eugenio Juarez, the Reds best hitter this year.

All told, here’s who drew the walks:

Reds hitters that Clevinger walked

Walk Count Player Season BB% wRC+
Walk Count Player Season BB% wRC+
1 Preston Tucker 5.3 87
2 Eugenio Suarez 10.4 150
3 Tucker Barnhart 10.7 89
4 Jose Peraza 5.3 91
5 Joey Votto 18 136
6 Barnhart 10.7 89

It’s not quite a Murderer’s Row, is it? We’re looking for warning signs here though, any hint that this was more than just a bad game for Clevinger.

Walk 1 : Preston Tucker, 2nd Inning

This was actually a pretty well-pitched at-bat:

Clevinger located his changeup very well, maybe got squeezed a bit, and jut got beat by bad luck and maybe some good guessing by the hitter. There’s not much here.

Walk 2: Eugenio Suarez, 3rd Inning

As said and shown before, Suarez is having a great season. He was batting with Votto on second, so Clevinger was understandably careful:

Clevinger actually did get a little bit lucky on one pitch, that fastball on the edge that was called a ball. HE couldn’t get Suarez to chase when he was hehindin thecount, and then let a fastball go a bit high. It’s a case of the pitcher getting beat by a good hitter.

Walk 3: Tucker Barnhart, 3rd Inning

There are too many Tuckers on this team, and each bedeviled Clevinger a bit. Anyway, the at-bat:

That’s a tough one, huh? Only two really obvious balls, and that changeup at the bottom there could go either way. The strike Clevinger got earlier in the inning against Suarez was lost to him here. So yeah, once again, this isn’t really anything but a bad beat. Maybe it’s a bit odd to have so many in the same game, but it could be a testament to the refinement of Clevinger’s game this year. He can dance on the edges and normally gets these calls. If he had in this game, perhaps he’d have made it past the fifth.

Walk 4: Jose Peraza, 4th Inning

Here’s where a bit of my worry creeps in. Peraza is not a strong hitter, and the Reds had two outs in the game. Peraza was down 1-2 at one point in the at-bat, too. Then…

That includes a wild pitch. Clevinger didn’t throw anything but fastballs and sliders, which is a bit odd. They’re his two best pitches, but neither is exactly elite. Peraza didn’t even see anything but sliders and fastballs in any of his three at-bats against Clevinger. Perhaps that’s the book on him, but you’d think the third time through you’ve built up expectations in the Reds’ heads and you have to subvert them. So that could be it. Or it could be a confidence thing, that Clevinger didn’t trust his tertiary pitches. Whatever it was, he lost it.

Walk 5: Joey Votto, 4th Inning

You’d be right to think I almost want to throw this one out. It’s Joey Votto, the best walker in baseball. This is what he does. But it was an utterly drama free at-bat:

Everything up and away, which is a good way to approach a great hitter. My one qualm – everything was up and away. Generally, when a pitcher starts to get tired that’s the direction their pitches start to drift. Clevigner was into the 80’s in his pitch count, and it was a bit warm, so that could explain it.

Walk 6: Tucker Barnhart, 5th Inning

Clevinger had just given up a home run, then he goes ahead and just throws a very frustrating at-bat to a man he’d already walked:

Frustrating in part because it wasn’t the response you want to see after giving up a home run, even if it makes sense because the pitcher is a bit rattled, but also because Clevinger simply got squeezed. That changeup did sail some, which could be a marker of exhaustion, but you could see at least two of those pitches going the other way.

Clevinger did throw a pretty decent game. He used to walk a lot of batters and has cut down on that considerably this year though, so this has to be looked at just a bit. But for the most part, there’s no marker here of his wearing down due to the long season. .I even looked into whether his release point changed throughout the game, and it did. It fell a bit by the fifth inning. But he’d thrown 101 pitches by that time, many under duress. Of course he was tired.

More than anything I think the story is about his getting a bit unlucky and having to change his attack plan because the umpire did him no favors. Only the at-bats to Peraza are a bit head scratching. Why didn’t he throw more than just two pitches? He’s definitely not just a two-pitch pitcher. Because it’s all new ground for Clevinger though, I can’t help but over-analyze each start from here on out. With the Bauer news he’s vital to the Indians right now.

If nothing else, as long as Clevinger can keep tight-roping out of danger like he did Monday night he should be fine. It would just be ideal if he could avoid having to.