Free agent SP Mike Clevinger remains on the market , but should teams pursue him?

Sep 30, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Mike Clevinger (52) reacts
Sep 30, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Mike Clevinger (52) reacts / Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Clevinger is a free-agent pitcher with a checkered past. The suspicions created by that past both off and on the field are probably why no team has signed him yet.

There’s reason for teams to be wary of Clevinger, a 33-year-old who has never lived up to the promise he displayed nearly a decade ago with Cleveland.

He lost all of 2021 to Tommy John surgery, was used fitfully by San Diego in 2022, then signed with the White Sox only to see his status called into question by allegations of domestic violence by the mother of one of his children efore spring training even began.

Mike Clevinger cleared after MLB investigation

ESPN's story notes: "Olivia Finestead posted a photo on Instagram of marks on her body with accompanying words alleging that the injuries were 'from when he threw an iPad at me pregnant' and that she 'finally left when he strangled me.'"

MLB cleared Clevinger after an investigation, writing:

"The comprehensive investigation included interviews of more than 15 individuals, in addition to Mr. Clevinger and the complainant, as well as a review of available documents, such as thousands of electronic communication records. The Office of the Commissioner has closed this investigation and, barring the receipt of any new information or evidence, the Office of the Commissioner will not be imposing discipline on Mr. Clevinger in connection with these allegations."

“As part of his path forward, Mr. Clevinger has voluntarily agreed to submit to evaluations by the joint treatment boards under the collectively bargained policies, and to comply with any of the boards’ recommendations. MLB will continue to make support services available to Mr. Clevinger, his family, and other individuals involved in the investigation.”

Clevinger returned to the White Sox after that. In 24 appearances, all starts, he was 9-9 with a 3.77 ERA over 131 innings, his largest workload since 2018.  That translated to a 3.3 WAR and a +1.4 Win Probability Added.

Those may not be All-Star worthy numbers, but they do add up to a reliable rotation starter.

Calculating Mike Clevinger's value

The fact that Clevinger survived 2023 without a serious arm injury demonstrated that he appears to be fully recovered from the surgery of three seasons ago. That’s important because it suggests he is poised to resume his former role as a workhorse. On 2018, Clevinger delivered a career-high 200 innings for Cleveland, and did so on a 3.02 ERA.

It also means whoever signs Clevinger will be getting a 33-year-old body with a 28-year-old arm attached to it. Since being used sparingly from 2020 through 2022, Clevinger still has fewer than 800 innings of workload on that arm.

Among the nine starters rated most valuable by Sportrac who produced at least 20 starts in 2023, only Jordan Montgomery has fewer innings on his arm. And the bidding for Montgomery is a lot more intense than for Clevinger.

The table below makes it clear why Clevinger is the best remaining value on the starting pitcher market.  It shows two things. First is the production value of each pitcher based on their 2023 WAR, their salary, and the 2023 average group WAR and salary. The second column shows Sportrac’s estimated open market value of each pitcher. In other words, the first column estimates the value you can expect the pitcher to return based on 2023 performance, while the second column estimates what he will cost you.

                                 Prod. Value        Market value     Diff.

Blake Snell                          $23.20   $23.90          $0.70

Jordan Montgomery      $15.85   $18.40           $2.55

Clayton Kershaw              $14.31   $37.00         $22.69

Mike Clevinger                  $12.76   $13.60           $  1.16

Michael Lorenzen            $7.73      $   9.20           $  1.47

Lucas Giolito                       $ 6.57    $11.80            $5.23

Marcus Stroman               $ 6.19    $15.60      $9.41                                    

Zach Greinke                     $ 3.87    $10.40                   $  6.53

Martin Perez                      $ 3.09    $10.60                   $  7.51

Of the nine, only Snell comes closer than Clevinger to projecting that he will match his productivity to his cost – and that productivity projects to come at a far higher cost. Beyond that, in absolute terms only three pitchers – Snell, Montgomery and Kershaw – project to out-produce Clevinger in 2024 based on 2023 performance.

In every other case, a signing team will be paying more for less projected production.

Mike Clevinger could be a bargain

While it would be an exaggeration to describe Clevinger’s projected $13.6 million pricetag as a blip on the fiscal radar screen of most teams, it’s at least a plausible cost when measured against the sums being doled out to pitchers of comparable ability.

Just to cite one recent example, last week the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Eduardo Rodriguez for five seasons at $91 million, an average of about $18 million per. Rodriguez’s 3.5 WAR projected to a $13.53 million value in 2023. That’s higher than Clevinger’s 3.3 WAR and $12.76 million value, but not that much higher.

Given those numbers, which would you rather have: Rodriguez for five years at $18 million per, or Clevinger for maybe two years at $13 million per? I’ll take Clevinger every day.