Mike Clevinger’s injuries could derail a high-ceiling career

Since the 2017 season, we’ve heard about the potential of Mike Clevinger. As the Cleveland American League ballclub has fallen further and further out of World Series contention Clevinger has gotten better and better. It’s no fault of his that Cleveland ownership refuses to spend the money needed to acquire the pieces to bolster a talented core. The whole time talk of Clevinger’s rise and potential has continued unabated.

The talk has always been warranted because when on the field Clevinger has developed into an ace caliber pitcher. He’s done so in a very non-2010s manner. Sunshine isn’t a high spin rate pitcher, rather he succeeds because of his ability to limit hard contact. The spin on Clevinger’s curveball is near the bottom of Major League Baseball, 26th percentile, while the spin rate on his fourseam fastball is a very pedestrian 67th percentile. Yet, Clevinger allows an Exit Velocity that is in the 91st percentile of the league.

From 2017-2019 Clevinger has been worth 10.0 bWAR. That’s a little startling because for a guy who has shown he is an ace level starter that’s a pretty low number. In Clevinger’s case, the phrase that is carrying a lot of weight is “on the field.” Over his three most recent seasons Clevinger appeared in 80 games and averaged 26 appearances a season. He missed significant time in 2019 due to a back injury and it was announced on Friday that he will miss time in 2020 due to a torn left meniscus. It’s hard to be an ace when injuries keep you off the field.

Clevinger is not to blame for his injuries, no one is really. Injuries happen and most of the time they occur because the human body breaks-down at inopportune times. That being said, Clevinger’s stuff is only good when he is actually on a baseball diamond. We’re approaching a point in Clevinger’s career where real questions about his ability to stay healthy will need to be asked. I don’t want Clevinger to travel the same path as, for example, Mark Prior. All the fantastic stuff and results in the world mitigated by the simple fact that injury after injury not only kept him from playing but eventually drove him out of the game. Clevinger isn’t there yet, he’s nowhere close to Prior’s injury troubles. However, it’s not a hard stretch to say, “this keeps up and Clevinger will become a case of a pitcher with so much unrealized potential, just like Mark Prior.”

For now, Sunshine is focused on surgery and then the ensuing rehabilitation. There’s little talk that Clevinger will return from this surgery and not be an ace level pitcher again. That won’t keep up for long, the more the injuries pile up the more Clevinger’s capability of being an ace will drop. The human body has its limits and at a certain point, injuries will make it where Clevinger’s body simply cannot perform at the same levels as it did in the past. Baseball fans, especially Cleveland fans, want to see Mike Clevinger on the mound performing at his very best. Let’s all hope that after this knee injury Clevinger’s body cooperates more fully and we do actually get to see him as more than just an injured pitcher in the dugout.

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