As the Cleveland Indians are wrapping up the month of April with two left to play in the month, the pitching has provided the support most would have expected from the starting rotation. Sitting at a comfortable winning percentage of .500 and 3rd place in the AL Central, the entire staff has kept them afloat as the offense consistently battles to find its bat.
Throughout the first month, the pitching staff has flirted with both pitching prowess and substandard outings between the starters and the bullpen working hard for each win. Right now, the club has won 10 of its 11 games scoring 4 runs or more, and 10 of the 11 losses came when scoring three runs or fewer.
While it’s no secret the Tribe is going through a restructuring period as the team slashed its payroll down to around $40 million and shipped off top talent over the past year and a half, where does that leave the backbone of the team in which has been the highly touted pitching? Let’s take a look at some of the highs and lows of the 2021 campaign.
The pitching staff has logged a solid 213 strikeouts over 195.2 innings pitched which places them near the middle of the pack at twelfth in all of baseball and fifth in the American League. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the team has walked 74 batters which keeps them in the same company at thirteenth and sixth, respectively.
In totality, the pitchers have given up 149 hits over 22 games which is the fewest allowed in the American League and third in all of baseball. With that being said, they’ve only allowed 83 runs scored which is second-best in the AL and top five in baseball.
It’s a tough ask, but with a team that is showing a trend of needing at least 4 runs to win the margins in which the pitching staff is operating is actually a nod to how poised they’ve been with a month under their belts. 83 runs over 22 games average out to 3.77 runs allowed per game.
But, walks did play a factor early on as 50 of the 74 have happened in games the club has dropped. The staff currently hovers in the middle on both walks per nine at 3.40 and strikeout to walk ratio for the year at 2.88, but fare better in each category when playing from ahead.
In fact, they are the second-best in all of baseball at 2.15 BB/9 and best in both the AL and MLB at 4.79 K/BB. When playing from behind, they struggle. The team’s BB/9 spikes at 4.03 and dips to 2.44 K/BB. In simplest terms, the team still has solid pitching overall even with newer and younger arms in the mix.
When it comes to individuals to watch this season, you may notice some familiar faces mixed in with unfamiliar names — especially if you didn’t catch much of the shortened 2020 season and all but forgot 2019. Here are three pitchers to reintroduce or familiarize yourself with for 2021 and beyond.
Shane Bieber - If you caught any Cleveland baseball in the last few years you know this name. The 25-year-old right-hander won the All-Star Game MVP in Cleveland in 2019, the Cy Young in 2020, and is cruising along in 2021 to make another run at it. The strikeout master leads the AL with 57 punchouts, 14.12 K/9, and an impressive 0.94 WHIP.
You’d think someone with success like that would have a massive contract. Luckily for Cleveland, Bieber is just getting started as he is in pre-arb on a 1 year, $679,700 deal. Drafted in 2016 by the club in the fourth round, he isn’t a free agent until 2025, so look for the team to try to get him signed on a long-term deal as soon as they can.
Emmanuel Clase - This season is the first time you’ve seen the 23-year-old righty take the field for the Tribe. In 10.1 IP, Clase boasts a 0.00 ERA, 10.49 K/9, and 0.97 WHIP while throwing an astonishing 100 MPH fastball.
Clase came to Cleveland in the Corey Kluber trade following the 2019 season. Unfortunately, he didn’t log any innings in 2020 due to a PED-related suspension. The good news, again, is that he is also pre-arb on a 1 year, $571,800 deal and hits free agency in 2026.
James Karinchak - The guy who is a real-life version of Wild Thing from Major League has shown early growth this season. Selected in the 9th round of the 2017 draft by the Tribe, Karinchak has found his spot in crucial moments late in the game.
This right-hander also has an 0.00 ERA in 9.2 IP, an outrageous 18.62 K/9 comprised of 20 strikeouts and 2 walks, and 0.41 WHIP. Falling in line with his teammates, he’s pre-arb on a 1 year, $585,000 deal and set to be a free agent in 2026.
The trend has been set. The pitching is young, cheap, raw, and looking to be quite the talented bunch. In addition to the three featured players above, the list of pitchers who are also pre-arb for the team is nearly endless.
Add in the rest of the starting pitchers in the pre-arb club including Triston McKenzie, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, and Logan Allen who have all showed promise — alongside Cal Quantrill and Sam Hentges — and these are just of the players who made the club this year, not to mention those who will be fighting for a future position — but that’s for another time.
While there are no guarantees, if Cleveland did what they do best and scouted, drafted, developed, and acquired the arms to hold the team down on the cheap, these young players have the potential to be in a Cleveland uniform for many years to come.