Higher Ceiling: Mike Clevinger or Dustin May?

(Photo Credit: Casey Gower)

There still seems to be some belief that front-office boss Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers will make a mighty splash in either the free agent or trade market sometime during the 2019-20 offseason.

However, as the dominoes continue to fall as far as player availability goes, the subsequent scenarios involving the Dodgers are becoming quite creative. Once the big players like Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon were snagged by rival clubs, a rumor was circulating about the Dodgers’ potential interest in Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor. Ensuing gossip had Los Angeles linked to one of the best starting pitchers on the Indians’ staff, Mike Clevinger, despite the Tribe having dealt former ace Corey Kluber to the Rangers.

Prospective trade scenarios for Clevinger have run the gamut over the last week or so. The Indians are reported to be entertaining offers and are believed to have put a “crazy high” asking price on their righty starter.

Some folks believe that the Indians want Gavin Lux as the centerpiece of a deal—which we’ll talk about in just a bit—while others feel Cleveland might want Dustin May included in the trade. People close to the Indians’ camp feel they would probably want both.

I thought May was an interesting inclusion, mainly because of the amount of potential upside he posesses. Friedman almost never trades away prospects with May’s caliber of talent, unless he has a good idea of how they’ll ultimately profile in the bigs. Considering May’s huge potential, the first thing that crossed my mind was that Friedman would be unlikely to deal him, even for an arm that is already somewhat proven.

While Clevinger is certainly ahead of May as far as a major league service time goes, I thought it would be interesting to compare the two as far as the way their respective ceilings look.

The first thing that jumps out is their ages, as Clevinger had just turned 29 a few days before Christmas, while may is still a young and blooming 22 years of age. Clevinger has had some decent numbers over the past few years, but it’s not like he took the league by storm upon his debut four years ago.

Clevinger was drafted by the Angels in 2011 and made his minor league debut in rookie ball later that year. He had elbow reconstructive surgery in 2013 which kept him out the entire season. In August of 2014, the Angels traded him to the Indians straight up for now-retired reliever Vinnie Pestano.

Eventually, Clevinger made his MLB debut in 2016, five years after throwing his first pitch for Orem in the Pioneer League.

While May doesn’t have any legitimate big league numbers to analyze—having thrown just 34 innings last year—Clevinger has indeed emerged as a “late-bloomer,” so to speak. In 2019, Clevinger finished with both an ERA and a FIP under 3.00 for the first time in his career. His 1.056 WHIP and 12.1 K/9 were also personal highs. The biggest setback in Clevinger’s 2019 campaign was a strained muscle in his upper back that kept him on the shelf for almost 2-1/2 months.

While past injuries are by no means an accurate indicator of a pitcher’s future, they do set off a bit of a red flag to a prospective general manager, especially if that general manager plans on sacrificing half of his Top 5 prospect crew to acquire him.

Both Clevinger and May throw very hard and spin the ball well. May is a sinkerballer who has a very diversified repertoire with his heater sitting in the 96-98 MPH range. May is still developing a potentially very wicked cutter, which eventually could become his main “out” pitch as he matures.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (4)

Clevinger has more of a traditional arsenal consisting of a four-seam, a slider, a change and a curve. His fastball generally sits around 94-96 MPH.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (3)

According to baseballsavant.com, Clevinger’s fastball spin rate is well-above the MLB average, ranking in the 67th percentile of all big league pitchers last year. Conversely, May’s fastball spin rate—with credit given in part to his natural sinking abilities—is exceptional, ranking in the 96th percentile of MLB pitchers last season.

When comparing the two side by side, at least in the eyes of a GM, Clevinger is certainly the more proven of the two, but his shelf life is significantly much shorter than May’s. Knowing how much Friedman values young talent, my guess is that he sees May with the higher ceiling, at least until some sort of hiccup tells him otherwise.

The big question is whether the team values instant improvement over a potentially more valuable resource years down the road.

While many fans feel the pressure of the team winning a World Championship, those same fans have no bearings on the club’s personnel decisions. A deal for Clevinger certainly makes the Dodgers better right out of 2020 spring training, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a better club over the long haul. For all we know, May could conceivably emerge as an elite talent sometime during the 2020 season and pay huge dividends in the Dodgers’ prospective playoff run.

Despite their farm system being ranked just 12th in baseball, the Indians have a very well-rounded group of prospects to boast. They have a MLB Top 100 prospect in third baseman Nolan Jones, and they have a righty/lefty starting tandem in Triston McKenzie and Logan Allen, both of whom are also in the Top 100. Also among the Cleveland Top 10 prospect list is shortstop Tyler Freeman, catcher Bo Naylor and outfielder George Valera. Their true hope of a blue-chip second baseman lies in the future of 18-year-old Aaron Bracho, so it’s no wonder they’re intrigued so much by Lux.

If anything, my best guess is that the Tribe is on the hunt for an outfielder who can slug. With the departed Yasiel Puig aside, between the quartet of Jake Bauers, Oscar Mercado, Jordan Luplow and Tyler Naquin last season, the ball left the yard only 52 times. Newly acquired outfielder Delino DeShields hit just four homers for Texas last year.

If it’s me on the phone talking with Cleveland about a deal for Clevinger, I’m keeping both May and Lux.

Lindor, however, might be a different story.


39 thoughts on “Higher Ceiling: Mike Clevinger or Dustin May?

    1. Betances did indeed sign with the Mets. Which gives them a pretty potent bullpen to go along with a pretty good starting rotation, The D-Backs signed Kole Calhoun to a 2 year deal. Friedman says he is under no pressure to shake up the Dodger roster. Boy, that is a long way from we are going to be very aggressive. As Dennis says though, they do not think about what the fans want, they do what they think is best for the franchise. I am just surprised the Schlemmings fell for his spiel. One thing I will give Ol Andy credit for, he at least has not done anything stupid. The new Star Wars movie is awesome guys, and gals. A few twists here and there. Harrison Ford has a new movie coming out based on the Jack London novel, The Call of the Wild. Looks pretty good. And if you are a Scarlett Johansson fan, her new movie, Black Widow comes out in May.


  1. You have to take May over Clevinger just on the hair alone, hell he doesn’t even need to wear a batting helmet with that stupendous mop. The Dodgers better not trade May away, that would be a massive mistake IMHO.

    Heard over the PA in Dodger Stadium “Now pitching for your Los Angeles Dodgers, BOZO!”

    May’s bobblehead will have to have a base twice as big as all other bobbleheads just to support that glorious red mop.

    Merry Christmas, y’all


  2. Here’s another vote for no May-Clevinger trade. As big a fan as I am of Lindor’s, we already have Seager so having to include either Lux or May in a Lindor and/or Clevinger trade strikes me as not wise.
    Now that we have brought Bob Hill of Driveline aboard, maybe he knows of a pitcher lurking out there that he could do wonders with and which AF could grab. Maybe they could fix Archer although I sure wouldn’t trade anything really good for him.


  3. Nice job doing nothing but sitting on your ass again Friedman. Betances would have fit well in the bullpen but you choose to do nothing as usual. Can’t wait for you to bring Joe Blanton back.


    1. From what I read, Betances has a player option for year two which, of course, he’ll only exercise if he has a bad year. Otherwise he can opt out after the first year. So, if he pitches badly this year and opts in, the Mets will have paid him $13.5 MM. That’s a pretty nice deal for Betances and one that I could understand AF not matching considering the Treinen signing (which might also prove to be a bad one). Also, I think Betances pretty much let it be known that he wanted to stay in NY if possible so this could be another case of geography getting in our way.


    1. We all know AF is going to take some flyers on the arms out there after the first of the year when he starts signing those non roster guys. He states he is under no pressure to shake up the Dodgers. In that aspect he is right. There is no pressure from ownership obviously. They love the guy. All of the pressure is coming from a fan base fed up with the end result. They let Garcia walk probably because he was out of options and they did not want to have him at the MLB level working out his problems. He does have wicked stuff. Just does not know where it is going half the time. I have no idea what they are thinking. I do know that from what I have read, the fans frustration level is at an all time high.


      1. Point taken, but I would also put the seasons right after Koufax retired in there. Not only did Sandy leave, but Wills was traded for the most frivolous reason, and the fiber of the 66 team was broken.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. To your point, though, the more time that passes before the Dodgers secure a World Series Championship, the more the frustration grows. The fact that the team made it to the WS twice without bringing home the trophy makes it much worse.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Totally agree. The Dodgers of the last part of the 60’s were terrible. No offense, and pretty weak pitching. When Garvey, Cey and the rest started coming up in the early 70’s it started to turn around. 66-74, not nearly that long a stretch to wait to return.


  4. I find it kind of funny that the Indians trade kluber for a fourth outfielder, and a number thirty bullpen prospect, but they want the dodgers top three or four prospects, plus some Mlb players in any other kind of deal. It’s like they are trying to make up for a bad deal by getting extra from the Dodgers.
    I can’t believe we couldn’t have given an equal or better package for kluber, especially if they weren’t going to sign mad bum, or Ryu. I didn’t worry to much at the time, because I thought AF get one of those two (I know bear I’m one of the shlemmings ) but looking back that was a wasted opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Time will tell if it was a wasted opportunity. We won’t be able to draw any conclusions about Kluber, Treinen or Betances until we see how well they come back this year. That said, I would have tried to beat the Rangers deal and gotten Kluber and taken a chance on him.


    2. Keith, I forgive your Schlemmingness. I also know that they did not want to give Ryu 4 years at 20 mil a year. He also got a full no trade. Kluber is coming off of an injury, hence the reduced price. He will be pitching in the new ball park in Texas, which will probably help him a lot. Their best chance at a real upgrade was Cole. Ryu and Kluber? Pretty much they remain the team they are. I do not think Clevinger is the answer to the fans prayer for the final piece of the championship puzzle. I believe, and I think most who have seen the way AF does things, that they will mix and match in the rotation all year. Last year they used what? 11 starters? Pretty much the same will happen this year. Their flexibility to play with the roster will be limited a little more since the IL has returned to 15 days instead of 10. I think that besides the 7 pitchers now on the roster slated to be considered for starts, you can add White and possibly Gray to pitchers who will get starts. Maybe they sign a guy like Walker, or even trade for someone like Archer. They have some sort of plan. What it is will become clearer the closer we get to training camp. But really, trusting AF to make an earth shaking move before then is a little presumptuous.


  5. Good article Dennis, thanks for comparing the two with some data. I understand if the FO decides to try to win now, but after reading about these two guys head to head the dodgers may be better to pass, and wait to improve the team at the dead line.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Not sure what exactly we are being asked here but taking the question at face value I think Clevinger hit his ceiling at age 27 with 5.2 WAR. So do I expect May to hit that figure during his prime years? Yeah, sure. Maybe. If I’m being asked if I would trade May for Clevinger I would not, but I think Friedman might. I’m still of the belief that Cleveland intends to compete this year and you don’t do that by trading your #2. I think they’re fishing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh boy, here is another rumor, that I totally do not believe, they are now supposedly talking to the Sox about Sale and Betts instead of Price. Has no basis in fact, but it is on twitter….LOL>


    1. Sale has $145MM left over 5 years as opposed to Price with $96MM over 3 years. His arm is even more likely to fall off during his contract than Price’s is. If we take him in a Betts deal we need to insist they throw in Devers, Bogaerts and Benintendi also. On the other hand, Sale has attitude and I know AF is looking for that kind of guy. Maybe we can give them a couple thousand for his attitude and let them keep his arm.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just a rumor, probably has no basis in fact. In reality, I do not see any deal with the Bosox as viable. Same with the Tribe.


      2. Well, Sale could really be a difference maker, if he pitches at his pre-2019 level. As I mentioned in a post about a Price deal, they should jettison Pollock and his $46M balance to the Sox in the deal to help offset the new salaries.


  8. I wish each and everyone of you a Very Merry Christmas! I sincerely hope this new year is one of your best. Enjoy time with your family’s and be safe.


    1. I would not worry that they would trade either of them. At this point, they really do not need to make a trade unless they feel the need for another starting pitcher. Lux is untouchable. AF has said as much. May has a huge upside, and I am thinking AF goes into the season with what he has, and makes adjustments at the deadline. I doubt the so called big ticket move is coming. He stated just the other day that he felt no pressure to shake up the Dodgers. He is a smoke and mirrors kind of guy.


  9. It is headlines, or stories like this that get you irritated. MLB.com says the Dodgers have the pieces in place for a blockbuster deal. Now, what in the hell does that mean? Nothing. They have had the pieces in place to make a deal since they set the 40 back in November, They do a short blurb about Pederson and Seager, and how Lux is not available, but May and Ruiz might be. Pure frippen speculation and just some scribe trying to generate a story where at this point in time, there is none.


    1. I don’t want to see them make a move just for the purpose of headlines. Every team has pieces in place for a blockbuster. Talking like that is just b.s. for the sake of generating sale of script. We are projected to win 98.5 games this year. Why would you f with that? For a gamble at winning 100? Does trading Seager, Joc and May for Lindor and Clevinger make us better? How much better than 98.5?

      Whatever. Let’s just get this done and start the countdown to pitchers and catchers.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Merry Christmas and/or Happy Hanukkah to all who visit here. May 2020 be a great year for all of you. A special thanks to our host and hostess, Dennis and Andy, who keep things running so that the rest of us can go back and forth with each other every day. With reference to your comment about gifts Scoop, our family has cut down dramatically on gifts (except the ones for the younger kids), and try to divert some of that money to charities where people need it much more than we do. A personal thanks to each and every one of you who show up here and make my days a bit more interesting than they might have been without you. I feel as though I have made some great friends here.


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