At this point, everyone in Cleveland should know that Corey Kluber is the Cleveland Indians ace. There shouldn’t have been any confusion on that heading into the 2014 season, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, Kluber has not only overtaken Justin Masterson as the Tribe’s ace, he is positioning himself as an American League Cy Young contender.
With so many pitchers coming up and dominating immediately like Jose Fernandez and Matt Harvey, players who have to simmer a bit in their development at the Major League level tend to get overlooked. Cliff Lee finished fourth in Cy Young voting in 2005, but it wasn’t until his age-29 season, 2008, that he would win the award and become an annual contender and All-Star level arm. The 2014 season is Kluber’s age-28 season, so could he be, like Lee, getting better with age?
Every player endures a process of development. The Indians have seen quite a bit of the “process” in 2014. Not only have they seen Lonnie Chisenhall develop into an intelligent hitter, but they’ve also watched Michael Brantley transform himself offensively. That process in Kluber, however, continues to be the most impressive.
Kluber’s May was absolutely dominant. He led the league in strikeouts with 60, 12 more than the next closest pitcher, Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants. Overall, the numbers added up to:
But it isn’t just the month of May. Over the last 365 days, these are Kluber’s numbers:
Those strikeout numbers, more than one per inning over the last year and 12.6 over the month of May, have led to an impressive FIP of 2.22 in 2014 for Kluber. Unfortunately for Kluber, he is dependent on fielding at times, and with Asdrubal Cabrera at short and Carlos Santana manning third he will always have shaky defense behind him. In the mean time, Kluber has enough stuff to dominate a game on his own.
August Fagerstrom at FanGraphs had this to say about Kluber about a week ago:
Corey Kluber has a full arsenal of well above average pitches and one of baseball’s best in his cutter. He revolutionized his career by learning a two-seam fastball that generates ground balls at an above league average rate and gets him ahead in the count. Getting ahead in the count allows him to throw an elite cutter and a great slurve to rack up strikeouts. A solid changeup which he throws to lefties allows him to minimize his platoon splits, so you can’t just stack a lineup full of lefties to beat him. He has elite strikeout and walk rates, is above league average at generating ground balls and limiting home runs, and, especially this year, has been pitching deep into games. There’s not much to dislike about what Kluber does on the mound.
Perhaps, Kluber could smile more – after all, shouldn’t he be pleased with himself due to his recent and year-long dominance that has allowed him to become one of the top pitchers in baseball. If you don’t believe it, check out current WAR values for pitchers. Kluber is tied with Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners at 2.8 WAR, first in MLB (FanGraphs).