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Inside the Wigwam: Is Corey Kluber an ace?

Inside the Wigwam: Is Corey Kluber an ace?
June 2, 2014
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The Bird's-eye View

He leads all of Major League Baseball in strikeouts.

He leads all starting pitchers in WAR.

And he just finished a month where he went undefeated, striking out 60 batters for only the fifth time in Indians history.

So, is all that enough to call Corey Kluber an ace already?

You bet.

Since the day Cleveland dealt Cliff Lee to Philadelphia almost five years ago, they have been in search for a new front-man and leader in the rotation.

Top prospect David Huff never panned out. Carlos Carrasco, a key piece in the Lee trade has since been moved to the bullpen. Drew Pomeranz and Alex White were traded to Colorado before reaching their full potential. The same could even be said for Ubaldo Jimenez, who gave the Tribe a great 2013 season, but never come close to the consistency needed from a front-line starter.

While considered by some as the Indians ace the last three years, Justin Masterson has been nothing short of disappointing in what could be his last season with the Tribe.

The right-hander not only leads the big leagues in walks, but is third in the American League per qualified starters for the highest ERA in the game. Masterson has also surrendered at least five runs or more in six of his 13 starts on the year.

Kluber has allowed five runs or more in a ballgame six times…in his entire career.

With just 48 major league starts under his belt to date, he’s racked up more strikeouts (231) over the last two seasons than aces Zack GreinkeCC Sabathia and Ervin Santana. The 28-year old is both in the prime of his career and on the fast track to stardom.

His stuff matches up with any top tier starter in the league today, even four-time All-Star and 2010 A.L. Cy Youngwinner Felix Hernandez.

Here are each right-hander’s combined stats over their last 31 starts:

Hernandez: (13-7, 3.12 ERA) (46 BB / 212 SO) in 205 innings.

Kluber: (14-5, 3.27 ERA) (45 BB / 198 SO) in 192 2/3 innings.

Toss Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the mix too.

Verlander: (11-11, 3.55 ERA) (74 BB / 168 SO) in 205 1/3 innings.

Leading the Tribe with six victories and a 3.04 ERA this year, Kluber not only has the chance to make it to the All-Star Game next month, but realistically still has a chance to start the ballgame.

He may not be a household name around the country just yet, but if Kluber can make it to one of the game’s biggest stages, fans will begin to witness his impact both on the mound today and the limitless potential he has for years to come.

By the Numbers: 14

Over the last three weeks, Michael Bourn has quickly transformed into the table setter he needs to be at the top of the Indians lineup. The center fielder is currently on a five-game hitting streak, collecting at least one hit in 14 of his last 15 games. Over that span since May 14, Bourn is hitting .343 (22-for-64) with three doubles, two homers and five RBI.

Remember at the start of the season all the talk that Carlos Santana would be the everyday third baseman? Well, those days are now numbered.

Enter Lonnie Chisenhall, currently leading the Tribe and all of baseball with a .361 average among players with at least 130 at-bats. Benched by manager Terry Francona against left-handers for most of the season, Chisenhall has been given the opportunity to finally play every day and isn’t missing a beat. He’s hitting .390 (23-for-59) with seven doubles, three homers and 14 RBI over his last 18 games, owning a .529 average against southpaws this year.

Offensively, the Indians have scored four runs or more in 16 of their games in May to the tune of a 14-2 record. Scoring at least four runs has been the magic number for the Tribe all year long, owning a 23-6 record when they do so and a 4-24 record when scoring three runs or less.

Jason Giambi became the 41st player in MLB history to reach 440 home runs in a career when he homered against the Chicago White Sox this past week. It was his 14th long ball at U.S. Cellular Field in this his 20th season in the big leagues. Two Giambi’s four hits on the season have been homers, and 19 of his 38 career hits with the Tribe have gone for extra base-hits.

News and notes

  • Zach McAllister is scheduled to make his first rehab start for Single-A Lake County on Wednesday. The right-handed starter has been on the disabled list since May 22 due to a lower back strain.
  • Carlos Santana is eligible to come off the seven-day concussion disabled list Tuesday, but is more likely to return to the lineup when the team travels to Texas June 6 according to Francona.
  • The Tribe has also recalled left-hander Nick Hagadone from Triple-A Columbus, optioning reliever Mark Lowe back to the Clippers.
  • Reliever Blake Wood has been claimed on waivers by the Kansas City Royals. The right-hander appeared in seven games with the Indians this season, posting a 7.11 ERA in 6 1/3 innings.
  • Cleveland currently holds the best home record in the American League at a mark of 18-11 at Progressive Field. Since 2013, the Indians are tied with Oakland for the A.L.’s best home record at 69-41, trailing Atlanta and St. Louis for the best home record in all of baseball the last two seasons.

Birdman's Final Call

Despite still residing in the basement of the A.L. Central, the Indians are not playing for next year, but it is however starting to get easier to see where this team will be at the start of the 2015 season.

Assuming Masterson and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera leave town via free agency (both are likely) Kluber andTrevor Bauer will anchor the starting staff, followed by a combination of Zach McAllisterJosh Tomlin and Danny Salazar.

No room for Masterson?

No problem.

They won’t say it, but the Tribe couldn’t be more grateful they didn’t sign Masterson to a long-term contract. His inconsistency and drop and velocity is not even worth the 3-year, $45 million extension the club offered him this spring.

If he would take a discount, maybe a 3-year, $33 million deal at the end of the season instead, then the team may listen. But for a club without a true cleanup hitter, it’s probably better to spend the money elsewhere next offseason.

It certainly says something is missing in the middle of the order when Giambi leads the Tribe with two intentional walks, playing in just 10 games this year.

Michael Brantley has been great, but he’s not even close to being a feared hitter in the game.

They need a power threat, a guy that will hit 30 homers and drive in close to 100 RBI in the middle of the lineup. It will make Brantley and hitters around him that much better.

For now, the Tribe does have a threat in the rotation in Kluber, and will need to rely on him and the rest of the starting five in order to stay in contention through the dog days of summer.

Yes, the Indians have been dealt another ace, and this time, he won’t be leaving anytime soon.

Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at

User Comments

June 3, 2014 - 8:47 AM EDT
Last night's start could be the turning point in Masterson's season. He threw 25 straight strikes and struck out 10 in 7 innings, even without a 94 mph fastball. His pitches were moving like crazy.

"Michael Brantley has been great, but he’s not even close to being a feared hitter in the game.

They need a power threat, a guy that will hit 30 homers and drive in close to 100 RBI in the middle of the lineup. It will make Brantley and hitters around him that much better."

Don't look now, but Brantley is on pace for 25 HR's and 112 RBI's.

What they need is for Carrasco and Raburn and Kipnis to get going and join Brantley, Murphy, and Chisenhall as productive hitters. Bourn is already joining the party.
Nick S
June 3, 2014 - 7:37 AM EDT
Is Kluber an ace? Is the pope catholic? Masterson was offered 16million a year.Chris A. said they offered Masty to be the highest paid Indian in team history. Masty and his agent wanted17.6 a year.I still think before allstar break he signs a muti year deal with the indians.
June 2, 2014 - 7:15 PM EDT
Why is attendance so bad? With all the promotions and tremendous weather last weekend no reason for such crappy crowds. Should have had at least 80k to 90k for the series. Not 61k! And looks sparse again tonight.
June 2, 2014 - 5:56 PM EDT
Trade Masterson? After reading that he leads the league in walks and has one of the highest ERAs in MLB? He's worthless on the trade market. If he doesn't show improvement, the Indians have to seriously consider removing him from the rotation. He's been worse or at least as bad as Carrasco and Salazar were. And he seems less fixable, Masterson throwing 86 mph sinkers and 76 mph sliders simply cannot be effective against left handers. Doesn't matter whether he commands his pitches okay or not. He can still be effective out of the bullpen. Other than that, DL trip, like McAllister
C L Who
June 2, 2014 - 5:28 PM EDT
The Tribe is so inconsistent (streaky?) that I have a hard time visualizing a record in 2014 better than, possibly, 84 wins.

I'm with kipnifan.....let's trade both Masterson and Cabrera now and get some value. Many teams are dying for a starter and most teams at this point would look at Masterson as a project with a record of (some) success that their pitching coach could soon straighten out.

Of course, that would raise the problem of who takes Masterson's spot and there aren't many obvious candidates. Travis Banwart? Shaun Marcum? Anyone know how Marcum's rehab is coming along?
June 2, 2014 - 4:39 PM EDT
No reason to trade Masterson. And I don't think they will. Right now the QO is the best bet and makes the most sense. If he accepts so be it....but at least on a one year deal.
June 2, 2014 - 4:27 PM EDT
Kluber not an ace yet. He is definitely working on it. I think the Indians would have a hard time trading Masterson at the trade deadline if they fall out of contention. Based on his history of good year followed by bad year the Indians would not get much in return.

I would offer him QA at the end the year though.
June 2, 2014 - 4:17 PM EDT
I agree! I know Giambi is a great team mate, but Cleveland should go out and trade Cabrera now and get a true DH. It would be great if they could get something done with the Dodgers who have three guys in there outfield that could slip in our DH role! How about this for a line up Bourn, Kipnis, Brantley, Kemp, Santana, Gomes, Chisenhall Swisher, Aviles!!!

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