Cleveland right-hander Corey Kluber entered the 2013 season as a 27-year-old with fewer than 70 major-league innings. He’s departing it, however, having established himself as one of the club’s — and perhaps the league’s — most effective starters, having recorded strikeout and walk rates of 23.3% and 5.2%, respectively, and a 74 xFIP- that’s fifth among pitchers with 100-plus innings.
Nor does Kluber’s success appear to be founded upon deception alone. His two-seam fastball sits at 93-95 mph. He has command of a cutter, which he throws around 90 mph, to either side of the plate. His slider has excellent two-plane break.
In summary, Kluber’s career arc is an unusual one: he’s in what’s typically a player’s peak-age season, entered that season with little in the way of major-league experience, is having great success in the majors presently, and appears to have the armspeed/command capable of sustaining that success.
While the understated right-hander isn’t inclined to meditate at length on the significance of his achievement (“That’s external to what I’m trying to focus on,” he says), he did consent — while rehabbing from a sprained middle finger — to provide briefly for the present author a biography of sorts for each of his four pitches, which appears below.
Carson Cistulli: I think the pitch that you throw most often is a two-seam fastball, yes?
Corey Kluber: Mm-hm.
CC: When does that pitch go back to? How long have you had that?
CK: I only started throwing the two-seam maybe, like, after the All-Star Break of last year. I’d always been mostly four-seam fastballs, but me and my pitching coach last year in Triple-A, we were just working on a way to get the ball down a little more. One thing I was struggling with — I was throwing fastballs for strikes, but they were too hittable, and that was the idea we went with. Whether I was getting a little more sink on it, or it was just helping me get on top of the ball a little more, I just ran with it.
CC: So it was that recent, though? Within the last year, basically?
CC: That pitch I’ve noticed you use not necessarily only just as a strike-one pitch. You go to the front hip a lot on left-handed batters; you go back-door against right-handers, too. Has that been something you’ve worked on, or did you do that right away?
CK: No, as I started throwing it, I got more comfortable with it. When I go to my glove-side with it, I get that little bit of extra — I hang onto it a little longer, and it gets that little extra run-back sometimes.
CC: You throw another pitch, which — I hear on the Indians broadcast, I hear Rick Manning refer to it as a cutter. You throw it in the 90s, it’s got pretty good velocity, but it’s also got pretty good break. Do you call that pitch a cutter?
CC: Okay. And how long have you had that cutter, and where’d you start throwing that one?
CK: That was probably about — I’d say I’ve thrown it for about two years now. That was another one we worked on. Not last season, but the season before, that’s another one I worked on adding.
CC: What do you view as the instances in which you use that? Because that’s also one of your — that’s a pitch with which you throw a lot of strikes.
CK: I’ll throw that whenever. I don’t have a certain situation where I will or won’t. It all depends on how I feel a hitter’s set up, but I’ll throw it first pitch, I’ll throw it full count. Doesn’t really matter.
CC: And so that’s a second pitch that you’ve developed pretty recently?
Breaking Ball / Changeup
CC: A third pitch you throw is a slider?
CK: Mm-hm. A slider, a curveball. I call it a breaking ball. Whichever you want.
CC: Now, that’s a pitch — a lot of times, right-handers, whether it’s a slider or a curveball, a pitch with as much horizontal movement as you have on it, that’s a pitch that generally you’re going to see a right-hander throw a lot to a right-handed batter and not as much to a left-handed batter. I think, though — just looking at some information about you — you have pretty even rates, actually. You seem to feel pretty comfortable throwing that pitch to a left-handed batter, especially going back-foot on him.
CK: Yeah. For me, as long as I can make it look like a fastball coming out of my hand — if I can get it to come out on that same plane, I don’t think I necessarily need it to be more to righties than lefties. I think it can have the same effect on a lefty if it looks like a fastball.
CC: And where did you pick that pitch up?
CK: Well, my breaking ball and changeup I’ve been throwing the same way since college. I might change a little thing here or there, but for the most part [they’re the same].
CC: So that breaking ball you’ve had, and the changeup — which has also been rather effective — this is a pitch you’ve also thrown since Stetson [University]?
CC: And that’s also basically unaltered since you’ve left college?