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Digging in to Mike Clevinger’s breaking balls

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The Tribe righty has a pair of typically good breaking pitches. This year, like him, they’re just not there yet

Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Mike Clevinger hasn’t been himself this year.

He hasn’t been bad, per se, he still holds a 3.24 earned run average over three starts, and his fastball velocity is still in the mid-’90s with the ability to get a bit higher at times. By his own admission, though, he’s not been comfortable with the injured knee and hasn’t been as effective. His strikeout rate is 22.1% this year, almost 12% lower than his 2019 campaign, while his walk rate has nearly doubled to 14.7%. He’s getting barrelled up 9.5% of the time, substantially higher than the 5.8% he posted last year.

His real problem, more specifically than just being a bit out of whack, is that his breaking pitches are not doing what they’re supposed to.

Clevinger has developed a very strong slider the last couple of years, and it’s become a feature pitch in his arsenal. That, paired with a great curveball, has been what helped him grow into Shane Bieber’s 1-B. Both pitches have shown great bite, great deception, and paired well with his fastball. Unfortunately, bad trends have emerged this year.

They’re not moving as well horizontally:

Or vertically:

I think we can all understand what this means. Easier to recognize when they’re not snapping like they did, and hitters are able to lay off easier. It’s nice to see the chart, but in real terms, this is what it means for his curve.

Here’s one from this year:

And here’s one — much nicer, much more bite — from a year ago:

Having a pitch kind of meander into the zone makes for easier contact at the least, and even more, better recognition. That’s the story being told between these two GIFs, even if Freddie Galvis did ground out.

Not having that bite means it’s harder to throw for strikes too, which is a problem he has with the slider, as well.

Here’s one from just a few days ago:

Kind of just flops in there.

Now one from last season:

Much more of a “there and then not” feel to it. Castellanos loves to swing and miss at sliders, and Cruz loves to go after breakers in the zone with strikes. He just gets hits a lot. The slider from a year ago didn’t allow that. This year, that isn’t the case.

Sometimes, it doesn’t even have to be in the zone to get hit:

Not much has changed in the bones of the pitches, which is good. He’s still getting similar spin rates on both, he’s still getting whiffs a commendable rate with them, but the overall picture isn’t there.

Again, he’s said himself that really snapping into his knee isn’t easy yet; that he feels like he’s throwing with someone else’s arsenal. It’s going to take a little time to get over everything, to fit back into form. It just stinks that he’s only able to get like a week to figure it out.

Luckily for him, and for Cleveland, he’s still near-elite even when he’s at like 70% of his total self. The rest of the staff can do more lifting for now, and Clevinger will be back to his old self sooner rather than later.