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The Cleveland Indians and the Four Pitches of The Bat-pocalypse

It’s a thing

In a surprise to absolutely nobody, the Indians have some good pitching. This is what they do, really. The thing that escaped them for a couple years there was no way to make it all the way through the game bringing utter hell to the opposing hitters. Flaws in the bullpen, injury and ineffectiveness in the rotation — there was just not a straight line from inning one to nine where hope could be steadily leeched from whoever the Tribe faced.

Those days appear to be gone. At least once every five days anyway, the Indians can roll out what result in the Four Pitches of the Bat-pocalypse. It’ll make sense in a second.

1. Aaron Civale’s Curveball

If I had to pick which one this represented, I’d say Death. The thing that drew me to Civale at first was just how similar everything looked out of his hand, how he used the cutter and sinker to just not allow hitters to square up pitches. He was a pitcher that was greater than the sum of his parts, able to dominate without truly elite (barely average really) velocity. Then we got more information about that hook of his, and all you can say is “god damn”.

Yolmer Sánchez looked hopeless as he swung that bat, because he had no hope to hit the thing. It’s as if his soul left his body.

This pitch rates in the 96th percentile in spin rate, truly elite stuff. That’s great company probably, but anyone can toss a cement-mixer or some merry-go-round piece of crap up there and watch it get launched to Saturn. That’s not the case with Civale. According to Baseball Savant, it drops an average of 67.7 inches, which is 7 inches — and 12% — better than average, and also breaks 12.8 inches horizontally, which is 2.9 inches — and 29% — better than average.

Again, that’s why Sánchez looked so damn decrepit up there. The pitch disappeared on him. It’s a wicked, mean little pitch that he only threw 11% of the time in 2019. I fully expect that number to go up, and send hitters twirling, twirling, twirling towards misery.

2. Emmanuel Clase’s Cutter

What would this be? Famine? From the lack of hits he’ll allow with the high ground-ball rate (60.6% last year) this pitch forces along with the elite velocity. The Tribe has had Dan Otero in the role of the one-pitch guy who gets a lot of grounders, but there’s not a lot of similarity between Clase and Otero. Mainly velocity. They haven’t had a guy who can throw 100 god damn miles an hour like ever. It doesn’t move a whole ton — the 1.7 inches of average break is just 10 percent better than the average cutter — but with a spin rate in the 97th percentile and a velocity in the 100th percentile, it’s going to fool a lot of people anyway. When it’s not sawing them off or making them think they saw a ghost.

He’s hurt as of this writing, but who cares? Right now is the time for dreaming. As much as it’s a nightmare for hitters, Clase’s cutter is like manna from heaven for Cleveland.

3 and 4. It’s actually two pitches, both by James Karinchak

I guess this means the curveball is Conquest? Because it enables Karinchak to just take over, bringing the hitter to heel? That’s a stretch. I was going to just include the curveball in this list, because by itself its everything you could want out of a pitcher. It buckles knees, embarrasses batters, and misses bats.

Check out his celebration on one this spring, courtesy of Rob Friedman. The kid knows what team he’s on.

Karinchak’s fastball is no slouch either though. Sitting something like 97 mph or so, and getting a top of the world 80 scouting grade on FanGraphs, it’s everything you want a fastball to be. That's what makes it War, it’s just something he can attack hitters with. It’s incredible, and borderline uninhabitable.

Taken separately, it’s a nice pitch, a great fastball. That’s World Series MVP Juan Soto missing utterly though, and that’s pretty cool to see. Maybe this big whiff helped Soto get in gear for the hellacious tear he went on a week later. Together with his curve though, Karinchak shouldn’t allow a hit, like, ever. It’s like if you took Cody Allen’s repertoire and cranked it up to 11. This is complete filth.

This is what we could see in a single game. In the ideal, you’d have Civale for seaven-ish innings, followed by Clase for a quick 1-2-3, and Karinchak to close it out. Both those relievers are bringing more to the table than Brad hand at this point, except veteran status basically. It’s not a for sure thing, and we’re as likely to see Hand as anyone in the ninth, but come the second half of the year you shouldn’t be too shocked to see Karinchak seize control of the closer’s spot. Unless he gets the more nebulous “high leverage reliever” role that Andrew Miller dominated in. Which would be the ideal anyway.

Whatever happens. These three young pitchers have god-killer pitches in their arsenal, and we get to see them all year.