We here at FanGraphs are big fans of Indians starter Corey Kluber. Well, at least Carson Cistulli is. He founded the Corey Kluber Society in mid-June, and as far as I’m aware, made Kluber the subject of the only society FanGraphs has founded to date. Are you a member? And after a breakout 2013 performance, it would appear that Kluber is indeed deserving of such attention.
Kluber initially enjoyed his first cup of coffee back in 2011, when he pitched all of 4.1 big league innings, and gave up 4 runs in the process, for an unsightly 8.31 ERA. His fastball averaged 92.0 mph at the time. In 2012, he made 12 starts, but the results weren’t that much better. While you figured his ERA had nowhere to go but down, which it did, it only stopped at 5.14.
But there was reason for optimism. His fastball velocity increased to 92.6 mph, he induced a strong rate of swinging strikes and his SIERA fell below 4.00. It was the trifecta of terrible defensive support which led to an inflated BABIP, a higher-than-you-want HR/FB ratio and an inability to strand runners that wrecked his surface stats and overshadowed his intriguing skills.
Then 2013 rolled along and at the end of April, Kluber finally made his first start of the season. He missed a month of action with a sprained finger, but still managed to throw nearly 150 innings. His fastball velocity increased again, this time to 93.2 mph and he increased his F-Strike% to right around the league average. And his improved control didn’t hurt his ability to induce swinging strikes, as his SwStk% was nearly identical to his previous season.
He altered his pitch mix slightly, as depicted below:
He threw his sinker more frequently at the expense of both his slider and changeup. Usually such a change in usage would result in a strikeout rate decline paired with an increase in GB%. Instead, both his strikeout rate and ground ball rate rose. The GB% would have been higher if not for the surge in his LD%. Given the exceptional SwStk% marks generated by both his slider and changeup, it’s hard to believe that he can sustain a high strikeout rate if he continues to use that sinker half the time.
The good news is that whichever path he chooses will probably be a good one. Go the sinker way and induce lots of ground balls, and with strong breaking/offspeed pitches he could still rack up a respectable number of strikeouts. Or, give up a bit of ground ball potential for higher strikeout totals and don’t even rely on your defense to convert a ball in play into an out.
Kluber once again got little help from his defense as evidenced by his .329 BABIP, though part of that is deserved given his inflated line drive rate. A 3.32 SIERA suggests that he still has further ratio upside and could be quite the profitable investment in drafts this year. So the Corey Kluber Society certainly had reason to celebrate after 2013. But there may be an even bigger party when the 2014 season concludes.
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