Corey Kluber is the latest pitcher to go from journeyman to stud. The 27-year-old had just 12 starts in the majors prior to 2013. After a weak spring performance, he didn’t even break camp with the Cleveland Indians. It took an injury to Brett Myers to finally give Kluber a shot. Through 10 starts, things look pretty promising. After tossing eight shutout innings against the Washington Nationals Sunday, Kluber now has a 3.15 FIP and 2.95 xFIP on the season. That’s one heck of a performance from a pitcher who had started the last four seasons in Triple-A.
Kluber’s metamorphosis really took place last season. Kluber saw a high jump in velocity, going from 92.20 mph to 93.21 mph with his sinker. He also stopped relying on his four-seam fastball, preferring to throw his sinker and adding a cutter to his repertoire. Both factors have carried over into 2013. Kluber’s velocity is slightly up with his sinker, averaging 93.43 mph this year, and his usage with both the sinker and cutter have increased. Kluber complements those pitches with a slider and a sometimes nasty changeup). Both the change and slider have been used to garner a lot of whiffs for Kluber. While the change still remains effective, it’s Kluber’s slider that’s really taken a step forward this year.
Kluber’s slider has easily become his best pitch this season. It has a 4.4 PITCH f/x pitch value this year, and a ridiculous 25.45% whiff rate. Kluber has actually been able to take a little off the pitch this year, and has seen its speed drop about 1/2 mph. The biggest difference with the pitch has been Kluber’s ability to throw it for a strike this season. Kluber’s strike rate with the pitch has jumped from 33.14% to 40.91%. In fairness, his first-pitch strike rate has jumped from 56.9% to 63.3%, so it’s not just his slider. All of his pitches, save the change, are being thrown for strikes more often. The fact that he’s been able to pound the zone with his most effective pitch, has created a deadly combination.
It’s important to note that Kluber is not an extreme-slider pitcher. So many pitchers with great sliders can be over-dependent with the pitch, leading to a greater chance of arm injuries. Kluber is only throwing the pitch 11.04% of the time this year. He throws three other pitches more than he throws his slider. That’s not a terrible thing, given the usefulness of his cutter and changeup. Together, Kluber has three pitches he can use to get strikeouts.
A month ago, there was still a question of whether Kluber would remain in the team’s rotation when Myers returned. After his last two starts, Kluber has made sure that’s no longer an option. In just 10 starts, Kluber has emerged as the team’s second best starter, behind Justin Masterson. He’s taken himself from unwanted depth to vital cog in just three months. There have been plenty of pitchers who have gone on hot streaks only to fade out after a few months. But Kluber is looking more like a late-bloomer who has finally figured things out.
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