Corey Kluber’s errant start to 2019 took a turn for the worse on Wednesday night in Miami. A 102 mile per hour missile off the bat Brian Anderson shot back into his throwing arm, fracturing Kluber’s right ulna. The comebacker will undoubtedly shelve Kluber for the foreseeable future, leaving a gaping hole in an Indians rotation that is already short Mike Clevinger.
As any middling high school football coach will attest, it’s next man up. While this may seem unsympathetic towards Kluber, the Indians are in a precarious position with regard to their American League Central title hopes, mere months after no one could tell the world quick enough that the awful division was locked away in the Indians’ pockets. Now they’re circling trying to identify a suitable option to replace a two time Cy Young winner.
The spot leaves the Indians in an ultimately unfavorable position, one most teams not named the Los Angeles Dodgers of recent years would find themselves in following the loss of two top line starters.
Indians brass must come together and select a fifth starter from a group they probably didn’t envision needing at all, let alone so early in this 2019 campaign. The biggest issue with identifying who that starter may be is created by some tough injury luck at the minor league level.
Triston McKenzie would be an exciting possibility, but he’s currently shelved, as well. Adam Plutko would be the logical possibility, despite having little to no upside, based on how the team has done business in the past. Fun prospects Chih-Wei Hu and Sam Hentges also appear appealing enough until you stumble across their actual 2019 stat lines.
This leaves a group of less than desirable options vying for a couple months of relatively sporadic starts. There are two in particular that are immediately appealing based on 2019 stat lines, though each are appealing more in the sense of a filling plugs rather than breaking out and stumbling into the next Corey Kluber.
As a rule of thumb, betting on guys to break out as a member of their seventh different organization is akin to doubling down on 19 at the blackjack table. You just don’t count on it, and it probably indicates you’re punting on whatever gap you’re trying to fill with him. Wojciechowski, though, carries more intrigue than your typical prospect of that mold.
The 30 year old has the framework to be electric, speaking strictly from the perspective of missing bats. He can exceed average swing and miss rates with a middling velocity fastball thanks to an intriguing slider. In previous cups of coffee in the majors, he was fastball heavy, throwing it around 60% of the time. Perhaps an organization that values spikes in breaking ball usage could find a way to unlock a potentially dangerous slider.
His drawbacks are clear and problematic: when he isn’t generating swings and misses, he allows a cavalcade of hard contact and simply can’t keep hitters on the ground. This is a problem that has the potential to magnify at the major league level.
One cannot deny his small sample size effectiveness with the Columbus Clippers in 2018, however. In 27 AAA innings, he’s allowed only 6 runs while striking out 27 hitters. This includes a recent rough start on May 2nd in which he got knocked around by the Toledo Mud Hens.
Chris Davies from Let’s Go Tribe offered some insight on his successes prior to yesterday’s poor outing.
If we are still encouraged by early season success profiles in Columbus, Michael Peoples deserves recognition. He has kept hitters in check for the most part through a newfound ability to produce strikeouts. Going back to the end of last summer, Peoples has struck out 40 batters over his last 39.1 innings. Prior to this intriguing stretch, he had only managed around six strikeouts per nine innings since being drafted by the Indians in 2012.
If one cannot but the strikeout surge, his profile reads as a polar opposite of Wojciechowski. He controls balls in play much better, limiting hitters to ground balls about half the time. How this progresses from extensive minor league action is anyone’s guess.
The ground ball success is courtesy of a sinker, which by most accounts is a plus pitch. With no tangible secondaries and unimpressive minor league velocity outputs, finding success at the major league level appears unlikely, at best.
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Off-The-Wall Trade Idea
Indians Send Light Prospect Package to San Francisco in Exchange for Drew Pomeranz
Cleveland loves a redemption story. A compelling one is acquiring a former top prospect that never got to pitch at the big league level for the club that drafted him. Once jettisoned in a trade package for Ubaldo Jimenez, lefty Drew Pomeranz is a compelling target.
A former first round pick, Pomeranz has never really lived up to the hype. He did find a few years of success with the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox, however. That success is predicated on him posting average to above average strikeout rates and inducing ground balls.
His recent years have been disastrous, and his early 2019 results don’t show much better. However, there are a few indicators that success will find him in the coming months.
First, his fastball velocity has returned to form after a brief dip amid health concerns. It is back in the same ballpark as it was when he was posting back to back three WAR seasons. Second, his dominant pitch — the changeup — is getting people out at the expected clip. Finally, his command has returned to form.
There’s something to be said about a pitcher that can combine plus strikeouts with plus ground ball induction rates… they control their inputs. Simply put, if you can limit the number of guys who put the ball in play and reduce the probability of damage from balls that are actually being put in play, you’re checking the right boxes.
He’s been a tad unfortunate on the ones that don’t check those boxes, as well. Primarily, one quarter of the fly balls he has allowed have gone for homers, a stat that has continuously proven to be mostly beyond a pitcher’s immediate control. To drill down even further, his expected results on balls in play based on exit velocity and launch angle are more favorable than the actual results. He’s pitched better than his line.
The nuts and bolts of the Indians decision to find a suitable replacement for Kluber boil down to the time frame. If it’s closer to 6-8 weeks, a fill-in such as Peoples or Wojciechowski make sense, especially considering utilization of off days to skip their turn in the rotation whenever possible.
If Kluber’s absence is of the longer variety, external options should be heavily considered. While keeping in mind the Indians apparent financial constraints, a trade for a back end starter like Pomeranz would be enticing. He can slot right in at a likely dirt cheap price and offer a little potential for surplus value.