It’s always fun to watch a batter tear the cover off the ball for weeks at a time, or watch a pitcher mow down hitter after hitter every time they take the mound. But amidst the hype, sometimes the best numbers get lost. In this segment, we’ll attempt to analyze what exactly is behind a player’s hot streak, along with a few impressive statistics you may not have noticed.
Player: Corey Kluber
Breakdown Time Frame: July 19th to August 9th (2014)
Performance: 4-0 Record, 40 IP, 3 ER, 45 K, 4 BB, 0.68 ERA over 5 starts
Below the Surface: In case you’re blind or have no idea what baseball is, Corey Kluber has been absolutely filthy over his last five starts. He was devastating even before then, but lately he’s taken his game up to a level that seems almost unfair. Aside from the incredible performance numbers listed above, Kluber has allowed a .158 opponent batting average during his hot streak while posting a 0.65 WHIP and stranding just over 85% of runners that have somehow managed to reach base against him. His 1.26 FIP during that span proves that almost none of it is luck, though his .234 BABIP might poke some holes in that theory. Still, with a 54% ground ball rate, Kluber is inducing a lot of weak contact, and that theory is only improved by a glimpse at his 17% line drive rate, along with the simple fact that he hasn’t allowed a home run in any of those 40 innings. Interested in more geeky stats? Some simple division shows us that Kluber has posted a 11.25 K/BB ratio during his streak, and also points out that over this streak, Kluber has averaged a game that many pitchers can only dream of. Over his past 5 starts, Corey Kluber has averaged eight innings, nine strikeouts, about 5 hits, and less than one walk and earned run. Again, that’s what he’s averaged over the last 5 consecutive games. But that may not even be the most impressive fact, considering that for the last 31 1/3 innings that Kluber has been on the mound, he has not watched a single earned run cross the plate.
Here’s how Kluber compares to some of the the American League’s top pitchers over their last 5 starts:
As we can see, Corey Kluber has bested all the best pitchers in EVERY MAJOR PITCHING STATISTIC. Nobody even comes close to his ERA, strikeout total, WHIP, FIP or innings total. He has been un. be. lievable.
How? How on earth could a pitcher possibly be this devastating, especially one who began last year in the minors after
somehow getting beaten out by Brett Myers not making the team out of spring training? His numbers were pretty good last year, and even better to start 2014, but this particular stretch has been absolutely mind-blowing. As I mentioned earlier, the 54% ground ball rate and 0% home run to fly ball ratio has probably helped significantly. But there’s another interesting aspect to his success: the strikeouts and walks. Over the past five starts, he’s posted a K/BB ratio of 11.25, as opposed to 4.44 in his previous 20 starts this season. This means that either he’s improved his command, or he’s fooling a lot more batters with his pitches (hint: it’s probably both). The fact that he’s been striking out almost 20% more batters over that same span (26.1K% over his first 20 starts as opposed to 31.3K% over his past 5) only supports these claims. If we look closely into the plate discipline statistics on fangraphs.com, we can see that over his past 5 starts, batters have been swinging at 38.2% of pitches Kluber throws outside of the strike zone, and making contact with only 43.4% of those pitches. That swing rate is up from 31.8% in during his previous 20 starts, during which batters made contact 51.4% of the time. So not only are batters swinging at more pitches outside of the strike zone, but they’re making contact those pitches at a smaller rate. This may be due in part to the fact that his cutter is averaging twice as much vertical movement during his hot streak. During his first 20 starts, Kluber’s cutter averaged -1.7 in downward movement. During his streak, that number has become -3.3. His change-up is also averaging an extra inch in horizontal movement. It’s possible that this is helping him fool more batters, which seems likely considering they look pretty similar coming out of the hand but are now ending up another two and a half inches further apart when they arrive in the strike zone.
What Can We Expect Moving Forward? Kluber’s dominance will almost certainly not remain at this level forever. Even if his FIP has been 1.26, it’s unlikely that he’ll strand 85% of his baserunners forever. Still, he has proven his skills are no fluke, and he’s been wrecking some pretty respectable teams, too. The Tigers, Royals and Yankees aren’t exactly pushovers. Though the current level of performance seems pretty unsustainable, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him finish with a 2.60 ERA with 17 or 18 wins. This guy is going to be at the top of the rotation for years to come. Cleveland Indians fans are lucky to have him taking the mound every fifth day.
Notice a hot streak or slump we haven’t broken down yet? We try to keep an eye out, but we don’t catch everything! If you see a player get hot or cold for a few weeks at a time, and you’d like us to break it down, leave a comment or send us an e-mail to [email protected]