Trend Spotting: Corey Kluber and a split personality disorder
Of the many pieces that have fallen into place for the Indians so far Corey Kluber has been in all likelihood the most surprising. Of course one could argue in favor of Yan Gomes early success, Ubaldo’s resurrection or Kazmir’s Odyssean-like return from the lost.
However, from the start of spring training expectations surrounding Corey Kluber and the Indians rotation were non-existent. In fact, the words most frequently associated or espoused about Kluber were probably 4A starter, rotation depth, 7th or 8th starter and long man.
Never the less, the bearded man from Stetson has been a godsend, a thoroughly impressive performer to date who has had stretches where he looked particularly dominant. Conversely, he has struggled over his last few outings, most notably allowing a grand slam to Royals left fielder Alex Gordon.
One of the really positive things Kluber has offered the Tribe so far other than covering for the inconsistency of sixth and seventh options, Carrasco and Bauer, has been his ability to protect the bullpen from being overused. Kluber averages over 5 and 2/3 innings per start with a 4.33 earned run average which is very close to the numbers necessary for a quality start.
Kluber’s successful and unsuccessful starts have been puzzling dichotomies from what usually denote quality or below quality outings. For instance FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) one of the lowest FIP’s he posted was in his Baltimore start where he allowed seven earned whereas in Texas he posted an average FIP, and only allowed one run over eight innings. Kluber’s lowest K/9 was also posted in that impressive performance against the Rangers.
Kluber is such a hard guy to get a handle on because his improvements this season have been so vast and by most unforeseen. Even his biggest fan boys (Jake Dungan) who appreciated his toughness and bulldog personality did not foresee a type of pitcher who could have the success Kluber had from May 15 to June 22.
Thus among the myriad of questions we have concerning Kluber and his new found success we must ask ourselves if his overall production is sustainable, part of it is sustainable and how/where he projects moving forward.
Unfortunately when it comes to using data or even qualification based research most of our sample exists from his time in minor league baseball so we will have to lean on some data that has imperfections but can serve as important markers to his development.
The largest shift or improvement we can see in the data is Kluber’s walks per nine rate which after ballooning in 2011 has decreased the last two years. Year to year it seemed the greatest shift in productivity has been created by increased control.
The elimination of free base runners is for Kluber as with any pitcher is an absolute must and thus his improvement though limited in sample size has been a major piece in improving his results.
While Kluber’s strikeout rates in the minor leagues are obviously non-transferrable to the big leagues it does offer projectability both in terms of both his pitching arsenal and his ability to sustain his current rate this season which sits at an above average 8.44.
If the BABIP seems high to you it is because it is, the median BABIP is sitting at around .290 putting Kluber way above that at .336. In most situations, we would expect regression to the mean because of a small sample and a seemingly inflated BABIP (To date Kluber’s BABIP against is fifth highest among pitchers with over 80 innings pitched.). Also of note Kluber’s HR/FB is 16th among that same set of pitching parameters. Two particularly high marks for a batted ball profile.
Returning to BABIP and the possibility of regression: for two distinct reasons it is hard to foresee any legitimate shift. The first is Kluber’s long term BABIP results, Corey is very close to his career average which makes it challenging to expect a decrease.
The second is Kluber’s line drive % in the big leagues; Corey is currently at 26% a seemingly astronomical figure which is 4 % higher than last season.
Returning to K/9 as well as his stuff, Kluber’s secondary offerings have had a major shift this season, most specifically the curveball. Kluber has two solid secondary offerings his slider which is used frequently and a curveball; although those are more just different descriptions of movement rather than grip and release differentiation.
Kluber’s curveball control and movement have improved each season according to PITCHf/x which has Kluber’s total movement at 10.2. The curveball has become Corey’s most effective strikeout pitch at 52% and absolute weapon whose movement has been well documented.
Lastly, is Kluber’s fastball velocity which has topped out at 96.4 MPH over an MPH higher than his previous peak velocity in MLB. In terms of average velocity it sits at 92.8 MPH, substantially higher than the 91.9 MPH he averaged when first called up in 2011.
Kluber’s stuff, while never less than major league average has now surfaced two plus offerings which could be a significant part of his new found success. However, the batted ball profile is a serious concern mainly the elevated LD%. Unless Kluber improves and is able to suppress this tendency his BABIP will forever be a significant step above league average which does affect his viability as a starter.
Corey’s improved walk rate is the most important thing to monitor it is a significant shift and if sustained could mean that he is a good fifth or solid fourth starter on a playoff team which when compared to his value during spring training we see his stock rising fast.
The Unbelievable Talent of Larry Doby
On the day after the 66th anniversary of his breaking the color barrier in the American League, considering Doby is an absolute necessity.
Of course no data or production could ever match profound impact he had on baseball and the civil rights movement I have always felt that Doby was a highly underrated player.
Doby had nine consecutive seasons with a WAR of over 4.2 which is simply astounding. Doby was a plus defender with above average power (.207 ISO) and a great eye at the plate (0.86 walk to strikeout ratio) before OBP became as hip as Mumford and Sons.
The beauty of Doby is something far more perfect than this wonderful game of baseball, a willingness to walk a gauntlet of bigotry, racial epithets and death threats signifies a man who sacrificed his own happiness, his own peace that others may find an easier, more comfortable path to opportunity.
Let us as Indians fans, and as human beings in a complicated world not let the heroic leadership of Larry Doby be forgotten.
Interact with Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @MichaelHattery