Corey Kluber had another dominating start for the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night. Kluber shut down the Toronto Blue Jays for seven innings, allowing just four hits to go with one walk, two runs and nine strikeouts. The Indians pitcher now has a 3.38 ERA to go with a 1.28 WHIP and 66 strikeouts over 58.2 innings in 2014; Wednesday was also the fourth time in his last five starts in which he tallied at least nine strikeouts. Kluber has been excellent for the first month and a half of the season, but what should we expect going forward?
Kluber is a pitcher with a ton of things going for him. He does an excellent job keeping the ball in the park (his .89 career HR/9 is an above average rate and his .46 HR/9 this season is the 14th best in baseball), he rarely gives up walks (his walk rate has declined every season he’s been in the majors and his 1.99 BB/9 this season is currently the 27th best in baseball) and he racks up strikeouts (his 8.59 career K/9 is about a strikeout above league average and his 10.13 K/9 this season is the tenth best in baseball).
The most significant difference between Kluber this year and in years past is that he has completely ditched his fastball. Over the course of his career, 24.1 percent of Kluber’s pitches have been four-seam fastballs; this season that percentage has dropped to 3.4 percent. Kluber has filled the void left by his fastball with even more sinkers. Over his career, 26.9 percent of his pitches have been sinkers; this season that percentage has risen all the way up to 51.7 percent.
Kluber’s best pitches are without a doubt his off-speed ones. 47 of his 66 strikeouts have come on either his slider or curveball, and opposing hitters are hitting .200 against his slider and just .149 against his curveball this season. He needs to throw something hard to set up the soft stuff, though, and hitters have a career .348 AVG against his fastball with a .230 ISO. The fewer fastballs he throws, the better.
I’m buying what we’ve seen so far from the third year starter. The strikeouts may regress a little bit — his current 10.13 K/9 might be a little unsustainable, but if it settled in the 9.5 range I wouldn’t be surprised — but the numbers indicate that his early season performance has been legit. In fact, the numbers suggest that so far Kluber has been somewhat unlucky. His .353 BABIP is over .55 points higher than the league average, and his 2.70 xFIP tells us that he’s actually been a better pitcher than his 3.38 ERA indicates. There’s a chance we haven’t even seen the best of Kluber yet this season. Kluber is still available in 40 percent of ESPN leagues and in 33 percent of Yahoo! leagues. If he’s available in yours I suggest you make the add.