CLEVELAND — Pitching coach Carl Willis marvels at the Cleveland Indians’ embarrassment of riches, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen, every time he shows up to a baseball diamond, be it Progressive Field in Cleveland, Goodyear Ballpark in Arizona or any of the parks across Major League Baseball.
A former player in Major League Baseball, Willis is in awe of the increase in talent from today’s pitchers.
“The talent, the physical abilities of these players today is unbelievable,” Willis told WKYC.com at TribeFest 2019 earlier this month. “It really takes you aback. In the mid ‘80s, early ‘90s, you could count on both hands the number of pitchers who could throw 94, 95.
“Now, they’re close to 100 who are throwing 97-100, so it’s crazy. It is remarkable, and even more so with our guys, it’s not just about velocity. It’s how they can shape pitches, the action they get with their breaking pitches. We have some velocity, but we have complete pitchers who can throw any pitch at any time, and that’s what makes it so hard for hitters to hit.”
Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber delivers a throw to home plate against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois on September 24, 2018.
In his 33 starts during the 2018 season, Corey Kluber (20-7) registered 222 strikeouts against 34 walks, 179 hits and 69 earned runs allowed over 215.0 innings of work while anchoring a pitching staff that led the way to the Indians’ third consecutive AL Central Division Championship.
This past season, opposing batters hit just .223 against Kluber, who was, once again, a finalist for the AL Cy Young Award.
Kluber is 96-55 with a 3.09 ERA in 201 games over eight seasons with the Indians.
Cleveland Indians starter Carlos Carrasco delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Houston Astros during Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas on October 6, 2018.
Carlos Carrasco posted a 17-10 record with a 3.38 ERA in 32 appearances, including 30 starts, for the Indians during the 2018 season. Over 192.0 innings of work, Carrasco surrendered 173 hits, 78 runs, 72 of which were earned, and 43 walks and registered 231 strikeouts.
One of four Indians pitchers with 200 strikeouts in 2018, Carrasco is 79-62 with a 3.71 ERA in 207 games, including 171 starts. Over 1,094.1 innings of work, Carrasco has registered 1,127 strikeouts.
Cleveland Indians starter Trevor Bauer pitches in the sixth inning against the Houston Astros during Game 3 of the 2018 American League Division Series at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio on October 8, 2018.
Considered by some to be a potential Cy Young Award candidate for his efforts through the first four months of the 2018 season, Bauer set new career highs in several statistical categories despite missing five weeks because of a broken bone in his leg suffered against the Chicago White Sox on August 11.
Bauer registered 221 strikeouts against 134 hits, 43 earned runs and 57 walks allowed in 175.1 innings of work over his 28 appearances. Bauer compiled a 12-6 record and 2.21 ERA while opposing hitters batted just .208 against him in 2018.
Bauer set a single-season high for strikeouts and personal lows for ERA, hits, runs and earned runs allowed and walks in a year with at least 26 starts.
“We love our starting rotation,” Willis said. “We feel like the skill set they have and what they can do to help our bullpen, allows us to utilize the right people in the right situations. I don’t know if there are other pitching coaches in the game that can say they have three Cy Young candidates and No. 4 had 200 innings, so that’s pretty good.”
Cleveland Indians starter Mike Clevinger pitches against the Boston Red Sox in the first inning at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio on September 22, 2018.
While the Indians boasted a top three that most teams would love to have, they were much deeper than that as a rotation.
Mike Clevinger emerged as a permanent fixture in the starting rotation, logging 200.0 innings of work in his 32 appearances. Clevinger allowed 164 hits, 67 earned runs and 67 walks while striking out 207 hitters on his way to a 13-8 record.
Clevinger made MLB history in his final home start of the season when he became the fourth Indians pitcher with 200 strikeouts in the same season. No other team ever has had four pitchers with 200 or more strikeouts.
“I felt like last year, really around the All-Star Break, he made an (adjustment),” Willis said. “Really, no adjustment you make to your delivery is small. It may look small, it could be small, but it may not feel small because adjustments are hard to get comfortable with, but he had the adjustment with his delivery, and I felt like in the second half of the season, we saw his velocity not only tick up a little bit, but the ability for him to maintain that velocity throughout.
“I thought his control and command improved, and he has firmly established himself now as the middle-of-the-rotation, potentially a No. 2 starter. Obviously, that’s not the case with our rotation, but in this league, if you pitch 200 innings, you’re probably not a four or a five.”