White Sox still hoping to get a good year out of Mike Clevinger
The Chicago White Sox need Mike Clevinger.
The White Sox need the Clevinger that won 38 games over three seasons (2017-19) with the Cleveland Indians. The White Sox need the Clevinger that has a career record of 51-30 over six seasons. The White Sox needs the Clevinger that is healthy, happy, and ready to make history.
The productive and promising pitcher the White Sox thought they signed in early December has been a mirage the past two months.
That mirage, though, turned to reality this week when major league baseball deemed that they wouldn't punish Clevinger because of allegations of domestic violence and child abuse.
The 32-year-old right-hander is now back to the business of revitalizing his career and helping the White Sox get back to the top of the American League Central. It's not like the past two months never happened. Those allegations will likely follow Clevinger for the rest of his public life.
The Chicago White Sox need Mike Clevinger to be good for them in 2023.
That did not happen and the White Sox no longer have a gaping hole in its five-man starting rotation. Clevinger will team with Dylan Cease, Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Michael Kopech to form one of the most talented rotations in the major leagues.
He will replace the departed Johnny Cueto who won eight games in 24 starts with the White Sox last year before signing with the Miami Marlins in January.
A rotation without Clevinger would have an entirely different look and feel. Giolito is coming off a sub-par 11-9, 4.90 earned run average season. Lynn was hurt and missed his first dozen or so starts last year and won eight of 21 starts on a 3.99 ERA.
Michael Kopech made just 25 starts and won just five games a year ago and is coming off a knee injury. Cease (14-8, 2.20) was one of the best pitchers in baseball last year but all he could do, at times all by himself, was drag the White Sox to an 81-81 record.
The Sox needed Clevinger, the productive and promising version, desperately. Davis Martin, a 14th-round pick in 2018, did make nine starts last year but he finished with a 3-6 record and a 4.83 ERA over 63.1 innings.
He also struck out just 48 and the last time he pitched, he gave up nine runs, two walks, two home runs, and seven hits in less than two innings to the Minnesota Twins on Oct. 5.
Martin, who has a career minor league ERA over four years of 4.98, proved to be a serviceable spot starter a year ago. But throwing him out there for 32 starts on a team hoping to get to the playoffs would have been a stretch,
Clevinger, of course, is also not without his risks. It's why the White Sox were able to sign the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder to an affordable $8 million deal this year with a $12 million option (mutual) for next year.
Clevinger made just eight starts in 2020 with the Cleveland Indians and San Diego Padres combined because of elbow and forearm issues. He then missed all of 2021 because of Tommy John surgery and last year was limited to just 22 starts because of a knee sprain, a strained triceps, and a positive COVID-19 test.
Clevinger, who still has a sparkling 3.39 career ERA over 128 appearances (114 starts), has only made 30 or more starts in a season once, going 13-8 with a 3.02 ERA over 32 starts in 2016. The White Sox weren't even officially in their rebuild yet.
But his talent suggests he is worth the risk. Clevinger went 41-20 from 2017-20 over 82 starts with an ERA of 2.96 over 490 innings. Even with all of his health concerns he still has yet to allow as many hits as innings pitched in any season.
He's allowed just 538 hits over 656.2 innings in his career while striking out 694 and walking just 242. His WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) is a sparking 1.19. To put that in White Sox terms, we'll point out that Cease had a WHIP last year of 1.11. Giolito's was at 1.44.
The Sox know what a healthy, happy, and productive Clevinger looks like. Just this past Oct. 1, Clevinger went six innings against the Sox and allowed just three hits and a run while fanning three and not walking a hitter in a 5-2 victory at San Diego's Petco Park. It just so happens he outpitched Cease that day.
Clevinger made three starts against the White Sox in 2019 and allowed just two runs and eight hits over 21 innings while striking out 31 and walking just eight. There were three Clevinger starts against the White Sox in 2018 in which he allowed just four runs and 18 hits over 21.1 innings while whiffing 28 and walking just five.
The only time the White Sox ever got to Clevinger was in the rookie's second major league appearance in May 2016.
He allowed six runs on seven hits in five innings that day but came back that same season and allowed just two runs on five hits over eight innings in two other appearances against the White Sox combined.
His only appearance against the White Sox in 2017 was for an inning and a third in relief in late September.
When Clevinger is good, he is very good. Make no mistake, not all of his good outings were before his Tommy John surgery in 2021. He pitched very well last year a number of times even though he was still building up strength in his shoulder and elbow after surgery.
He gave the Philadelphia Phillies just a hit and no runs in five innings while striking out five on May 17. The Arizona Diamondbacks got just a run and four hits while striking out eight times in six innings against Clevinger on July 17. The Colorado Rockies mustered just five hits and a run in seven innings on Aug. 1.
The Cleveland Indians and San Francisco Giants had just four runs and seven hits in back-to-back Clevinger starts over 11 innings in late August.
He blanked the St. Louis Cardinals over 5.2 innings on Sept. 20 and finished his season by dominating the White Sox over six innings on Oct. 1. The White Sox gave him $8 million two months later and have never apologized for it since.
The addition of Clevinger last December was the organization telling its fan base that it still has championship goals. Yes, of course, many Sox fans wanted the organization to send that same message after the 2021 season by signing Carlos Rodon to a long-term deal.
But Rodon went to the San Francisco Giants in 2022 for $44 million (two years) and the New York Yankees this past off-season for $162 million (six years). We remind you Clevinger will cost $8 million this season.
You simply cannot find the value Clevinger offers for $8 million. We also remind you the White Sox, sending a similar championship message, signed Dallas Kuechel for three years and $55.5 million before the 2020 season.
Kuechel, a two-time All-Star and former Cy Young Award winner (2015 with the Houston Astros), went 6-2 with a 1.99 ERA in 11 starts in the 2020 pandemic season.
But the following year he went 9-9 with a 5.28 ERA and last year was 2-5 with a 7.88 ERA over eight starts when the White Sox decided to eat the rest of his ridiculous contract.
Finding starting pitcher is like throwing darts at a bull's eye, only its costs a whole lot more. Every now and then you hit the bull's eye but it isn't guaranteed. Kuechel, for example, was that dart missed. Clevinger can still be that bull's-eye.