Second Thoughts Game #140: White Sox 1, Indians 3
After Monday's shellacking at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, the question arose whether Corey Kluber was tiring out from nearing the 200 inning limit; while Kluber emphatically denied the claims in a post-game press conference, skepticism persisted. Perhaps the skepticism was justified; after all, if the stoic Kluber reallywere tired, it's hard to believe that he would have admitted as much.
If one believes that Kluber's taciturn nature prompts him to speak more with actions than words, Saturday's complete game indeed spoke volumes. Surrendering only one unearned run, five hits, no walks, and inducing eight strikeouts on 104 pitches (74 strikes, 12 swinging strikes), Kluber posted his fourth nine-inning, 0 ER, 0 BB performance of the season.
One of the most interesting facts of the game comes via the following BrooksBaseball graphic:
Critical to a pitcher giving length is the ability to pitch effectively to a lineup. Fixated on the admirable long-term strategic goal of being able to turn over the White Sox lineup, Kluber and Gomes devised the audacious strategy of throwing exactly one type of pitch the first time through the lineup - or, more precisely, throwing exactly one non-sinker to the first nine batter, that a cutter to strikeout Chicago's #9 hitter, Tyler Flowers. Kluber's first time through the order consisted of 28 pitches, 27 sinkers, two strikeouts, and one hit, showing that the predictable can itself be unpredictable, and other such maxims probably taken from Sun Tsu's The Art of War.
Kluber's sinker is his fastball, and it's not a bad pitch - Kluber's sinker velocity is 18th-highest of the 132 pitchers who have thrown the pitch 200+ times in 2014, and Kluber has thrown the pitch more than any other pitcher in the majors in 2014, per Baseball Prospectus's PITCHf/x leaderboard. But his whiff-per-swing rate on the pitch (13.81%, 26th/132) and GB/FB ratio (2.38, 82nd/132) indicate that it is not his sinker that has propelled him to Cy Youngcontention.
That honor, then, goes to his secondary pitches that are vast and stirring. Kluber's cutter, thrown 813 times in 2014, has the highest whiff-per-swing rate of any cutter in the majors (35.40%) and tenth-highest GB/FB ratio on the pitch (2.79). Kluber's slider, thrown 465 times, has the ninth-highest whiff-per swing rate among sliders (43.32%) and 33rd-best swing GB/FB ratio (2.38). If Kluber exclusively threw those pitches, they would each become less effective, so they rely on the sinker to be effective. That said, when mixed in the fashion that Kluber typically does, they become some of the best pitches in the game.
So it was quite the deviation by Kluber and Gomes to throw exclusively sinkers to start the game, immediately after an outing against Detroit in which his sinkers resulted in a triple, a single, and two home runs. When interviewedafter the game, Kluber implied that it was Chicago's aggression at the plate that prompted the continued use of the sinker. While the following is merely speculative, the adaptation to a sinker-centered game plan despite that pitch being brutally punished on Monday reinforces the notion that Kluber truly is a pitcher who has earned every bit of his reputation for stoicism.
Kluber Facts, Continued
- Kluber's 223 strikeouts are the 5th-most by a Cleveland pitcher since the lowering of the mound. Rounding out the top 5 are Gaylord Perry's 1972 season (234 Ks), Perry's 1973 season (238 Ks), Sam McDowell's 1969 (279 Ks), and McDowell's 1970 (304 Ks).
- Of that top 5, Kluber's 204.1 IP is the lowest. Fourth-lowest is McDowell's 1969, at 285.0 IP. McDowell threw 305.0 innings in 1970, and both of Perry's seasons exceeded 340 innings.
- From 1969, Kluber's season-to-date ERA of 2.47 is 2nd-lowest behind Perry's 1972 (1.92).
- Kluber's 2014 Ks-per-plate appearance (.270) is best over that time span, and his BBs-per-PA (.056) is 13th-best. His K%-BB%, 21.4%, is the highest by any qualified Cleveland pitcher in that time.
John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimm. He can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I don't think I can recall any period in the past 40 years where the starters have been so consistently outstanding game after game.