Mike Clevinger sucked. Sometimes.
Compared to the shining seasons he had at the highest levels of the minor leagues, then 26-year-old Clevinger’s rookie season was pretty disappointing when he wasn’t carrying no-hitters into the sixth inning. A 5.26 ERA over 10 starts and seven relief appearances, with a minimized and ineffective showing in the postseason is how a cautious Mike Clevinger came into the majors — not a terrible first year, but he knew something felt off.
Yes, he was a rookie, and yes he had a strikeout rate over 20 percent, but the harrowing walking rate and propensity to give up home runs was worrying to everyone on the outside looking in. On a team with a staff as loaded as the Indians, there was always a chance he just wouldn’t make it in Cleveland.
If the long-haired, easygoing Florida native was going to breakout in the majors he had to fix something. The potential was certainly there. The stuff was certainly there. And by god the hair was certainly there. Something had to give.
Turns out, it might have just been not giving a shit what people thought of him. In a minute-long clip with Momentum, which is a preview of a longer piece coming sometime closer to the regular season, Clevinger talks about his struggles with just being himself between his debut and now. We already know how nervous he was before his debut, but it’s so refreshing to hear coming straight from a player.
Being yourself isn’t always easy, especially in the clubhouse. @Mike_Anthony13 talks about his struggles early in his career of trying to fit in and the importance of non conformity. #WatchMomentum pic.twitter.com/cnIRn1rAVV— Momentum (@WatchMomentum) January 16, 2019
Clevinger doesn’t mention him in this clip, but I also wonder how much of an influence fellow Tribe pitcher Trevor Bauer has had in helping him open up, both on and off the field. The pair arguably have the best Twitter bromance this side of Kipnis-Carrasco, and for better or worse if anybody is going to help you stop caring what other people think and just be yourself to succeed, it’s Trevor Bauer.
Whether it truly was a lack of self-consciousness or more use of his hammer curveball and just honing his on-field craft as much as possible, Clevinger has clearly found his way in the majors. Last season he started a full 32 games for an even 200 innings pitched. In that time he had a 3.02 ERA and 3.52 FIP while he also walked one fewer batter per nine innings compared to his previous two seasons. Something clicked, his leg kick is still insane, and he’s got one of the best curveballs in baseball — ninth best, to be exact, according to FanGraphs’ weighted pitch values. Clev is here, dangit.
How much of that can really be attributed to just relaxing and being himself? It’s hard to say, and it really all depends on how much you believe in the soft sciences of feeling comfortable in your own skin and being confident in your ability. I’m willing to bet quite a bit, though.
If you’re curious, the platform Clevinger is using to give us this glimpse into his life is called Momentum, which appears to be a content creator or creators with a focus on showcasing behind-the-scenes looks at Major League Baseball players. To this point the content has been heavily focused on the Indians, with Leonys Martin, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and there’s even an interview with Driveline Baseball founder (and friend of Bauer’s) Kyle Boddy. At least one of the co-founders of Momentum is Taiki Green, a Seattle-based freelance filmmaker. I’ve reached out to Green and Momentum for more information on the project.