clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What to expect from Alex Claudio

He could be a major fixture in the bullpen for up to the next three seasons.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After cutting loose both Dan Jennings and Xavier Cedeno after the end of the season, the Milwaukee Brewers needed to find a way to shore up their left-handed depth during this winter. With Brent Suter presumably on the shelf for most of next season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Josh Hader was the only healthy southpaw left on the 40 man roster. That is no longer the case, however, with the addition of Alex Claudio from the Texas Rangers.

A native of Puerto Rico, Claudio was drafted by the Rangers in the 27th round as a prep player back in 2010. His ascent to the big leagues wasn’t exactly a linear one; he spent three seasons at the rookie levels before finally getting a shot at full-season ball at the Class A level in 2013. Once he crossed that threshold, however, it became a full-on sprint to the big leagues and he debuted with the Rangers the following summer in August of 2014.

Claudio became a fixture in Texas’ bullpen by the 2016 season and has put up some terrific results overall at the big league level in his parts of five campaigns. He’s made 208 appearances and tossed 230.2 innings while authoring a 3.20 ERA along with marks of 6.2 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9. Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs describes him as having “plus-plus command,” which would theoretically rate as a ‘70’ on the 20-80 scouting scale. His best season came in 2017, when he was called upon in 70 games and logged 82.2 innings with a 2.50 ERA, 70 FIP-, and 80 DRA-.

Unfortunately, Claudio is coming off his worst season in terms of run prevention in 2018. His strikeout (5.4 K/9), walk (1.71 BB/9), and home runs rates (0.53 HR/9) were all on par with his career numbers during his 66 game, 68.1 inning sample, but Claudio served up a career-worst 36.1% rate of hard contact. That no doubt helped lead to a bloated .366 BABIP against (54 points higher than his career average), which in turn played a role in his 4.48 earned run average. FIP- (78) thought that Claudio’s actual performance was still well above the league average, though DRA- (104) agreed that this was the worst full season's worth of production in Claudio’s career.

A soft-tossing, low-slot, sinker specialist, Claudio thrives on inducing ground balls. His most oft-used pitch (51.8% of the time in 2018) comes in at an average of 86-87 MPH and has helped him keep the ball on the ground 62.5% of the time for his career, including a 60.9% grounder rate in 2018. Batters have beaten his sinker into the dirt close to 75% of the time when they’ve been able to put in play, though Claudio’s low whiff output and high ground ball rate on the pitch too often leaves things in the hands of the defense; big leaguers have hit .320 with a .335 BABIP against Claudio’s sinker, and those totals jumped up to .364 avg and .373 BABIP in the most recent campaign.

Claudio’s next most-used pitch is his best one - a changeup, which makes him a little bit different from most fastball/slider southpaws. Claudio threw the pitch more than 36% of the time last year, typically using it to keep right-handed hitters at bay. Claudio has allowed only a .205 batting average against his changeup (including a .222 average to right handed hitters) and the 16.48% whiff rate he generates with it is the best total among his offerings. Linear weighting from Pitch Info rates the pitch at +19.1 runs above average across Claudio’s parts of five seasons, including +7.0 runs in 2018.

Milwaukee’s new left-hander also throws a slider that has been a plus for him in the past, but that wasn’t the case during the most recent season. Batters have historically posted a .227 average against the offering, and it’s a big breaker that generated nearly a 20% whiff rate and 46% whiff rate per swing this past year. When opposing hitters did make contact with the pitch in 2018, though, they torched it to the tune of a .360 average and a whopping .600 slugging percentage. Two things stand out about Claudio’s slide-piece:

Alex Claudio Slider

Pitch Count Frequency Velo pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Pitch Count Frequency Velo pfx HMov (in.) pfx VMov (in.) H. Rel (ft.) V. Rel (ft.)
Slider (2017) 166 13.73% 77.17 -0.7 2.07 3.15 4.83
Slider (2018) 122 11.50% 76.19 -4.16 0.47 3.45 4.69

Claudio let his slider fly from similar vertical and horizontal release points in 2017 and 2018, but the pitch took different shapes during the two seasons. The more successful slider has less horizontal movement - meaning a shorter break - while the 2018 version came across the plate in a more frisbee-like fashion. Claudio was also quite skilled at burying his slider down and away to same-handed batters in 2017, but too often in 2018, he was catching the middle of the plate around knee level, which is a dangerous spot to pitch against most left-handed hitters. Check out these heat maps:

The root cause of these issues is unclear, but it seems like something that Milwaukee’s scouts and analysts will help Claudio try to improve upon next season. Perhaps the adjustment is a different grip, or finger pressure. But if Claudio can get his slider back to the levels of effectiveness he showed in 2016 and 2017, it should go along way towards getting him back to the sub-3.00 ERA reliever he was prior to 2018.

Some further adjustments could help to unlock even greater upside within the left-hander. For someone who doesn’t even scrape 90 MPH, Claudio has always been able to generate a healthy amount of swinging strikes - 10.6% for his career, and 11.4% in 2018. He also gets batters to offer at a significant amount of pitches outside the strike zone - 41% for his career and greater than 42% in each of the last two seasons. But because of Claudio’s reliance on his sinker, which he throws more than 40% of the time once he reaches two strikes, those swinging strikes that he creates with his slider and changeup haven’t translated into punchouts. Perhaps convincing Claudio to keep his sinker in his back pocket more often, and increase the usage of his secondaries, would lead to more strikeouts, less balls in play, and less of a chance for his results to get skewed by bad BABIP luck.

Regardless of any possible untapped ceiling, simply getting Claudio back to being the guy he was in 2014-17 - a soft-tossing lefty who uses his typically terrific command to keep the ball on the ground and batters from making hard contact even 28% of the time - would be a major boon to Milwaukee’s bullpen in 2019. He is someone who fits right into Milwaukee’s run prevention system; a pitching profile that is perhaps undervalued around the game because of his lack of velocity, but an arm capable of going multiple innings while feeding copious amounts of ground balls to the excellent and shift-savvy Milwaukee defense behind him. His remaining minor league option could also make him a candidate to ride the shuttle between the Menomonee Valley and the org’s new AAA affiliate in San Antonio. At the very least, he should be an effective LOOGY option (having allowed a mere .216 wOBA against left-handers in his career) to replace Jennings and Cedeno. Craig Counsell and David Stearns, however, are justified in hoping that Alex Claudio turns out to be more than that.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Brooks Baseball