A solitary name, fronted by a solitary pitcher.
He’s the iceman.
He’s a man with few emotions.
He came from nowhere, and now leads a rotation.
He might be the best pitcher in baseball.
A year-and-a-half ago, the Cleveland Indians started the season off with a five-man rotation led by Justin Masterson, and followed by Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, Zach McAllister and free-agent pick-up, Brett Myers. Corey Kluber had gone 11-7 in Triple A Columbus the prior year, and had made the jump to Cleveland to close out the season.
He went 2-5 with a 5.14 ERA. He only made it through the sixth inning five times out of 12 starts, and didn’t have a big league start that made anyone think there was much of a big league future for the righty. Oh, he had stuff, but he had a hard time harnessing it.
Kluber was called up to the big league club on April 17th to cover some innings in a thin bullpen. While he was up, Brett Myers was sent to Cleveland for an MRI, giving Kluber a chance to move into the rotation. Minus injury, he’s been with the Indians ever since.
Fast forward to 2014, and where would the Cleveland Indians be without him?
Since the month of July started, Kluber has won six of his last seven starts. The only start that the Indians lost was a nine-inning no decision in which Kluber pitched nine innings, striking out ten. It was a stretch of three straight games for Kluber in which he went a total of 26 2/3 innings, giving up a grand total of two earned runs, while striking out 28. He walked one during that stretch.
It certainly can be the loneliest number.
Kluber was overlooked for the All-Star game, and you could make a case that it was rightfully so. Kluber was also overlooked as pitcher of the month for July, even though he was 4-0 with a 1.54 ERA in 41 innings.
Since the All-Star break, Kluber has been without peer. His four wins are the most in baseball. His 40 innings are the most in baseball. His 10.13 K/9 is sixth in baseball, behind Yu Darvis, Chris Sale, Tyson Ross, Roenis Elias and Stephen Strasburg. Of course, none of those guys are ahead of his .90 BB/9 average, as he’s seventh on the list there. He’s first in the league with a 1.26 FIP and a 2.11 xFIP, and is first with a 2.0 fangraphs WAR since the break.
In other words, he is essentially the best pitcher in baseball right now. He rolled over the Yankees yesterday, even though he only went six innings. It was the first time he hadn’t made it into the eighth inning since July 11th, and he hasn’t NOT gotten into the sixth inning since June 10th. That’s only happened three times in his 25 starts through August 9th.
I won’t lie.
Many had faith in Kluber prior to the 2014 season, but I wasn’t one of them. I’m a body of work sorta guy, and Kluber just didn’t have one worth talking about.
Don’t get me wrong here.
He was sensational when he was healthy in 2013, but he really was almost an afterthought.
Think about this.
Justin Masterson was busy having his best season, even though he missed most of September with an injury. He was the staff ace, and even though he was outpitched down the stretch by the next guy, I don’t know that there was anyone thinking Kluber would be better.
Ubaldo Jimenez was busy being the best pitcher in baseball in September. Danny Salazar had grabbed the phenom mantle by bursting onto the scene in July and then August, and jeez…he struck out Miguel Cabrera three times in one game.
Did I mention Scott Kazmir yet?
You can seriously make a case that Corey Kluber was considered the fourth or fifth best starter last year, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
There’s nothing that screams phenom about Kluber aside from his numbers. In today’s game, it is usually more than that. It’s Strasburg and his pre-MLB body-of-work. It’s Kershaw and his lefty-flame-throwing hype. It’s King Felix…and his name…King Felix.
Don’t get me wrong…they all have the numbers. They all have the stuff, but they all are considered aces because of multiple aspects of their performances, and it isn’t always the numbers. As what happens in baseball, larger-than-life personas are created.
That’s not Kluber.
Of course, what’s come out of all this is a growing belief that Corey Kluber and Chuck Norris are mates in a past life.
Fear of spiders is arachnophobia, fear of tight spaces is claustrophobia, fear of Corey Kluber is called Logic
Kluber’s personality is what high school coaches strive to teach their kids…at least the good ones. There’s no emotion. There’s a blank entity on the mound that lets you know that Corey Kluber is open for business, and there won’t be many hitters buying into it.
Kluber began throwing a two-seam fastball in 2012 on the advice of Mickey Callaway. It’s his goto pitch now to get ahead of pitchers. It never seems to be in the strike zone, but always seems to be a strike. When you can make that statement about a pitch…you know hitters are in a heap-load of trouble.
The fact that it back doors on right-handers is pretty special.
Then there is Kluber’s self-proclaimed cutter that moves away from right-handers.
Ponder that for a moment. Kluber can pound the lower half of the plate with two plus pitches that move both in and away from righties and lefties. He can pound the inside and the outside of the plate, and he has pinpoint control.
Did I mention his curveball…or his slider…or his slurve…whatever you want to call it?
Whatever it is, this think starts number high and moves late to the knees…or starts belt high, and moves below the knees. It’s hard to fight off…and nearly impossible to hit when he’s on.
And he’s always on.
When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for Corey Kluber.
So Kluber can bring to the hitters in front of him a mid-90’s fastball. He can throw a two-seamer that rides the bottom of the zone and moves away from righties and in to lefties. He can throw a cutter that moves away from lefties and in to righties. He can throw some sort of undefinable breaking ball that snaps vertically at least six inches and is considered a top-five curveball by big league managers, even though it’s not really a curveball. In other words…
…Corey Kluber is vicious, and best of all, mysterious.
I mean, who doesn’t love a pitcher that just throws something that breaks. Who doesn’t love a guy that comes out on the mound and never breaks into a smile…or a frown…or anything.
If you want to see something special, read this piece by fangraphs and Fox Sports sabr-specialist Jeff Sullivan. If you don’t think that Kluber is special, just peruse the article, and more importantly, look at the gifs.
That’s his breaking ball they are talking about, when most people start with his cutter and his two-seamer. That’s three plus-pitches, and that’s special.
Where would the Indians be without Kluber?
Corey Kluber doesn’t have a reflection in the mirror because the mirror is afraid to look at Corey Kluber.
Nowhere near a playoff discussion, that’s for sure.
What’s truly concerning about the Indians and their 2014 future is that their rotation truly is in disarray. No, it’s not horrible, but it’s nothing special either.
That’s not to say that there isn’t talent in the rotation.
That’s not to say that there aren’t players that could catch fire down the stretch.
That’s not to say there aren’t players that you root for.
That’s not to say there aren’t guys that can find consistency.
But think about this rotation for a moment, and try really hard not to suspend disbelief.
Corey Kluber is likely going to finish in the top three of the Cy Young voting, unless the league continues to ignore him even though he’s clearly special on many levels. past him, what are we looking at now that Justin Masterson is gone?
|5||SP||Zach McAllister (40-man)||26||3||6||.333||5.91||14||14||0||0||67.0||76||48||44||7||26||0||54||4.05||3.5||7.3|
|6||SP||Danny Salazar (40-man)||24||4||5||.444||4.88||12||12||0||0||62.2||71||38||34||10||23||2||69||4.20||3.3||9.9|
|Rank in 15 AL teams||9||6||8||5||7||4||10||11||9||8||9||2|
Does Trevor Bauer have upside? You bet he does, and he’s shown it with some semblance of consistency this year. He’s had some amazing, tenacious starts, but still isn’t special, and certainly isn’t a #2, even though he pretty much is the Indians #2 right now.
Look, this is nothing against Bauer. He could run off five amazing starts in a row, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised.
Yes I would.
So would you.
He’s not there yet.
How special could Danny Salazar be?
He was a phenom last year, of that there is no doubt. I thought he would be an ace this year, but many were right in calling me on my prediction. He wasn’t…yet.
Could he still be?
It was this time last year that he took off as a regular starter with the Indians. It could certainly happen again, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised.
Yes I would.
So would you.
He’s not there yet.
I have followed T.J. House for several years as a writer for Indians Baseball Insider. He spent two-plus years wallowing here in Carolina before maturity and work ethic began his rise through the system. I truly don’t know what to expect from House. I know that there is more there than meets the eye. Could he turn himself into a Kluber-like pitcher?
Is he a useful starter as a lefty?
Possible, and I truly WOULDN’T be surprised.
Zach McAllister has always been an interesting pitcher to me. He doesn’t have any flash, but has never really figured out how to put anything together for a long period of time. He had a solid stretch in 2013, and has had sporadic nice starts since then, but there is no sustainability.
If he turned himself into an 190-200 inning pitcher, I would love it, but that ship has passed in 2014. He’s never going to be elite, and the Indians don’t need him to be, except they kinda do this year, unless they want to depend on Bauer and Salazar, or even House.
Those three guys are essentially rookies (well, House really is), even though two aren’t.
Hell, Kluber hasn’t pitched in a complete season, now that you mention it, even though he sorta did in 2013.
Should I mention Tomlin, who is officially a member of the bullpen.
Should I mention Carlos Carrasco, who is making his first start today, since being relegated to the bullpen back in April. I was actually hoping Carrasco would get this shot, which is a long way away from where I was in April.
Is this rotation one that gives you the type of confidence that would lead you to thinking that the Cleveland Indians are playoff bound in 2014? In the land of the wildcard, anything is possible, but if this team wins the World Series this year, with this rotation, then the gods truly are trying to make things right in Cleveland.
First Manziel, then LeBron, then #KevLove, and then an immaculate World Series championship?
It would be a storybook ending to a season that has been anything storybook, unless you are Corey Kluber and Michael Brantley.
When I wrote about my hopes for the 2014 season way back in October, I talked about signing Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez. Now, I’m not an idiot. I know that both pitchers have their limitation, and I understand that both pitchers had their warning signs.
I get that.
But my biggest concern was what would happen if we let them go and couldn’t afford to bring in others to take their place. Would Salazar continue to build? Would Bauer improve his delivery? Would Masterson stop the back-and-forth that has become his career? Would Josh Tomlin overcome the fact that he throws everything under 90 MPH (well, almost)? Would Zach McAllister be able to get to the sixth inning and be effective? Would Carlos Carrasco be a starter, or find the bullpen? Would Corey Kluber be a true top-of-the-rotation guy, and not regress?
While there were many questions last year, the depth of those questions were nowhere near the depth of 2014, and unfortunately, most of those questions turned out to be no-ish. Don’t get me wrong here. There are some yes-ish’s in there too, but are there enough to get this team relevant in time for the playoffs?
Here’s the better question. What are the Indians going to do for 2015, if we want to look that far ahead?
It’s murkier than we want it to be, that’s for sure. We have an ace and a whole lotta hope.
Let’s just hope this is the year of Cleveland, because from the outside looking in, this rotation looks a whole lot like a six-pack of Kluber and not much else, and that’s a recipe for playoff disaster.