It has been a little over four years since the Cleveland Indians, San Diego Padres, and St. Louis Cardinals were involved in a deadline deal that centered around Jake Westbrook and Ryan Ludwick going to contenders. The Indians defeated the Toronto Blue Jays that afternoon, leading to a 15.5 game deficit in the AL Central, as Jensen Lewis earned the win in relief of Josh Tomlin, and the Tribe continued along the pitiful path that came along with the Manny Acta era.
Little did many know that the Indians would win the deal. Corey Kluber, who had reached Double-A at the age of 24 after being drafted in the 4th round in 2007 out of Stetson University, had shown plenty of promise, posting a 136:40 K:BB in 122.2 innings in the Texas League for the Padres affiliate in 2010, though, he wasn’t considered a top prospect at any time in the Padres’ system, even with some success at the collegiate level and the particularly strong K:BB numbers in both the California League in 2009 and the Texas League in 2010, when Kluber was posting a K:BB rate of 3.42 over 231.2 innings.
Kluber’s time in the minors within the Indians’ organization wasn’t what many would call eye-popping, either. He made just two starts in Columbus in 2010 prior to the season ending, following that up with a horrendous 2011 season for the Clippers, in which he posted a 5.56 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over 27 starts and 150.2 innings. While he saw improvements in 2012 at the age of 26, his 3.56 ERA and 1.36 WHIP over 125.1 innings weren’t much to get excited about, even with Columbus’ Huntington Park being an offensive-friendly environment. Still, the Indians gave Kluber 12 starts, five of which earned the “quality start” label, while he posted a 5.12 ERA and 1.49 WHIP over 63 innings.
It wasn’t until 2013 that the Indians appeared to have something special going on, as the right-hander seemed to blossom before the eyes of baseball and it all started after an absolute beat-down at the hands of the Detroit Tigers on May 10, 2013.
Since then, things have changed. Kluber has made 47 starts, he is 22-9 and he has a 313:65 K:BB over 304.1 innings, with a 2.87 ERA (2.71 FIP) and a 1.13 WHIP. He has struck out 25.5 percent of the hitters that he has faced, while seeing that number increase to 27.4 percent in his 26 starts this season.
So, what has helped to make him an elite pitcher?
His average fastball velocity is up a bit, and while he has seen a slight decrease in velocity on both his sinker, slider, and curve, his ability to maintain change-up and fastball velocity allows him to keep the opposition off-balance.
Kluber is ranked in the top 30 in first-pitch strike rate, while ranking in the top 15 in swinging strike percentage. Not to mention, Kluber ranks in the top 10 for pitches swung at outside of the strike zone, largely due to the filthiness of his stuff, which, along with his ability to control and command, has had a huge impact on his dominance.
Grantland’s Shane Ryan recently posted an article on Kluber, sharing the following GIFs (along with some interesting takes on his abilities):
Corey Kluber has the 2nd highest WAR among pitchers in Major League Baseball. While he is worthy of contention for the 2014 AL Cy Young award, he continues to look up at Felix Hernandez, a man whom he out-pitched on July 30 in Cleveland. Kluber continues to take control of the national media, just as he has his stuff, in his journey from being a one-time organizational arm to an elite-level ace. It’s hard to imagine where the Indians would be without their ace this season, as his 13 wins (#KillTheWin) account for nearly 21 percent of the team’s 63 wins (heading into Wednesday’s game against the Twins).
Kluber is under team-control through 2018. He isn’t eligible for arbitration until after the 2015 season. Obviously, fans would like to see Kluber locked up, but after his recent run of success, does it make any sense for the flame-throwing right-hander?
Considering the opportunity that he has been given and run with, perhaps it isn’t too late, but the meteoric rise of the Indians’ right-hander certainly won’t make it easy for the Tribe.