coreykluber
Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Corey Kluber is a starting pitcher that has a lot of things going for him these days, including a pretty cool sounding name.  But even a name isn’t enough to write extensively about a player, right?  Right.  Good thing he’s also holding his own at the major league level, while at the same time looking like a nice waiver add for many fantasy teams.  However, Kluber is doing more than just holding his own.  In his last six starts, he has pitched 39 innings, posted a 3.00 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP, and struck out 37 batters, while only walking eleven.  That’s quite exceptional.  And dare I say, ace-like?

In the final two months of the 2012 season, Corey Kluber found himself in the Cleveland Indian’s rotation.  It didn’t go as planned, as he was smacked around quite a bit.  This season, the right-hander started in the minors, but came back to the majors at the end of April.  Now, almost 115 innings in, he sits with a 3.77 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP, and a 4.40 K/BB ratio.   Better yet, his FIP (3.24), xFIP (3.02), and SIERA (3.19) all scream for more success.  I’d say that’s coming back in a big way.

Kluber is showing the ability to miss bats.  And that’s always a good thing.  He has shown this since his time in the minors.  During his first full season at Triple-A (2011), his walk rate jumped.  But since that time, it has improved dramatically and is now borderline great.  Let’s see, a positive K% (23.3)?  Check.  A very good walk% (5.3)?  Check.  So far, so good.

Kluber’s pitch outcomes, swing profile, and batted ball profile are going to help us understand more of his story.

 

Pitch Outcomes (2013)

Pitch Type

Count

Ball

Strike

Swing

Whiffs

BIP

GB

LD

FB

PU

HR

Fourseam 80 40.00% 27.50% 40.00% 7.50% 11.25% 1.25% 5.00% 1.25% 3.75% 0.00%
Sinker 843 37.72% 27.52% 37.60% 4.15% 21.12% 10.20% 4.51% 5.69% 0.71% 0.95%
Change 194 36.60% 33.51% 52.06% 22.68% 15.46% 9.79% 3.09% 1.55% 1.03% 0.00%
Slider 231 31.17% 39.39% 50.65% 22.08% 14.29% 5.19% 3.90% 3.90% 1.30% 0.87%
Cutter 429 30.07% 34.50% 50.82% 15.62% 17.72% 8.39% 4.43% 3.73% 1.17% 0.47%

 

First row: 2012, Second row: 2013, Third row: Total

O-Swing%

Z-Swing%

Swing%

O-Contact%

Z-Contact%

Contact%

Zone%

F-Strike% SwStr%

28.3 %

63.1 %

45.8 %

53.3 %

86.0 %

76.0 %

50.3 %

56.9 %

10.7%

29.2 %

58.4 %

44.6 %

54.9 %

85.7 %

76.2 %

52.6 %

58.9 %

10.6%

28.8 %

60.1 %

45.0 %

53.7 %

86.0 %

76.0 %

51.8 %

58.5%

10.7%

 

Season

Team

GB/FB

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB

2012 Indians

1.36

22.2 %

44.8 %

33.0 %

6.0 %

13.4 %

2013 Indians

1.62

24.8 %

46.5 %

28.7 %

9.6 %

12.8 %

Total – – –

1.50

24.2 %

45.5 %

30.3 %

7.9 %

12.7 %

 

Kluber’s sinking fastball is 93MPH and his changeup is 85.  His swing profile looks strong.  The O-Swing could be up a tad, but really, that’s just nit-picking.  There are some obvious problems that come into play when looking at his batted ball profile, however.  His line drive rate is nearly 25% and that hovers at the bottom of qualified starters*.   This could help explain some of the high BABIPs he posted in the minors.  Currently, Kluber’s BABIP is at .318.  I’d normally say that may go down a bit, but in this circumstance, I wouldn’t bank on it.  Of course, another issue is that HR/FB rate.  This would be an even bigger concern, except Kluber has a very low FB%, which allows him to get away with it.  He is one of the best starters in the league at keeping flyballs to a minimum.  In fact, he has only give up 12 dingers this season.  R.A. Dickey, who only has a .5 higher HR/FB% than Kluber, has given up 24 homers.

So we have a pitcher who has no problems missing bats and having low contact rates, but gives up way too many line drives, has an inflated BABIP his entire career, and has a high HR/FB rate.  So what gives?  Perhaps Kluber’s results and averages can give us a clue.

 

Pitch Outcomes – Vs. Lefties

Pitch Type

Count

K

BB

HBP

1B

2B

3B

HR

BAA

SLG

ISO

BABIP

Fourseam 38 4 2 0 0 1 0 0 .125 .250 .125 .250
Sinker 474 14 12 1 24 6 1 6 .314 .534 .220 .316
Change 170 7 1 0 6 3 0 0 .273 .364 .091 .346
Slider 89 17 0 1 4 2 0 1 .241 .414 .172 .546
Cutter 212 16 2 0 5 1 0 0 .128 .149 .021 .194

 

Pitch Outcomes – Vs. Righties

Pitch Type

Count

K

BB

HBP

1B

2B

3B

HR

BAA

SLG

ISO

BABIP

Fourseam 42 1 0 0 2 0 0 0 .333 .333 .000 .400
Sinker 369 12 5 2 21 8 0 2 .352 .511 .159 .392
Change 24 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
Slider 142 26 1 0 1 3 0 1 .106 .234 .128 .200
Cutter 217 9 2 0 9 4 0 2 .278 .463 .185 .302

 

Now here are some possible answers.  Kluber, a righty, has thrown 474 sinkers to lefty hitters.  And apparently, they really love that sinker.  They love it so much that they smash the pitch to a tune of a .220 ISO and a .534 SLG.  This is interesting because if you look at his lefty/righty splits this season, there isn’t anything that sticks out like a sore thumb.  Still, if this assault on Kluber’s sinker continues, a problem will eventually aise.  In my Max Scherzer piece, I talked about how he developed a new pitch, and now is having greater success verse lefties.  For Kluber, it appears he needs to do the same.  But not only did Scherzer develop a new pitch, he developed a new approach.  He greatly increased the use of his changeup.  Kluber may have to go through a similar transformation if he wants to take that next step.

There is one other issue and it may also help explain Kluber’s historically high BABIPs, along with his current line drive and HR/FB issues.  It seems he needs to do a better job at avoiding the middle of the zone.  If you check out his zone profile on brooksbaseball.net, and compare it to a pitcher like Scherzer, you’ll notice the difference.  And when you look at his zone splits, it’s even more obvious.  You see too many pitches down in the zone to lefties, including some gravitating towards the middle-in portion of the plate.  The line drive rate and HR/FB% tells us when Kluber misses, he pays dearly.

Despite these obstacles, Corey Kluber is a good pitcher.  And he’s certainly a pitcher worth having on your fantasy staff.  He has a lot going for him, but is he an ace?  As of today, I say no.  Could he become an ace?  Maybe.  This next thought may seem silly when you look at some of the numbers (i.e. walk rate, .315 wOBA vs. lefties), but I do worry about Kluber’s potential command issues and platoon splits, and these are two characteristics that would prevent one from becoming an ace.  Even if those aren’t problems moving forward, he still has high line drive rates, HR/FB rates, and BABIPs that need to be ironed out.  He also isn’t a spring chicken anymore (27), so you wonder how much room there is left for him to grow.  Like I mentioned in my Scherzer article, it isn’t easy to make sweeping changes, especially at this age, and at this level.  We will see if Kluber can make those changes and develop into a top of the rotation starter.  We have seen it happen before, but that doesn’t make it common.  As for now, I view him as a number three starter, which is saying a lot, considering most of us didn’t even know the name Corey Kluber until this season.

 

Thanks to Fangraphs.com and Brooksbaseball.net for the data.
*Qualified pitchers are based on the leaderboards at Fangraphs.com.

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