Throughout the month of February we’re going to be examining some of the top young arms throughout the league and which direction their stock may be pointing heading into the 2014 season. Pitchers without big league experience need not apply
Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians is a name that the world is finally becoming familiar with. After never being named amongst the organization’s top prospects and putting up a couple of quietly disastrous stints in the Bigs in 2011 and 12, Kluber’s results finally matched up with his intriguing peripherals and he broke out in a big way in 2013 for the Tribe. At 27, the big, 6’4″ righty is probably too old to be considered a prospect (and may even be a questionable choice considering the topic of this post series) but his arm’s time in MLB is young, so you’re going to read about him.
Kluber possesses an intriguing arsenal of pitches. His slider and changeup both generate whiffs at an above-average rate and his sinker is well equipped for inducing grounders, allowing his to pick his poison for individual offensive strengths. He has posted strong strikeout rates at each level he’s spent much time at in the minors, and while his walk-rate has bounced around a fair bit, it’s been a definite strength for him in his time in the Majors. After a brief 2011 cameo, Kluber made twelve forgettable starts for the 2012 Indians, posting a 5.14 ERA with a still-not-great 3.99 xFIP.
After making two relief appearances, he made his first 2013 start for Cleveland on April 28th against the Royals, going 7 innings and getting 6 strikeouts, and aside from a sprained finger limiting him to only one August start, went on to start 24 games for the Tribe. Kluber excelled in his 147 .1 innings, striking out 8.31 batters per nine innings and putting up an excellent 3.85 ERA, good for 2.7 fWAR. Where he really shined, and part of what makes his profile so intriguing for a young pitcher, is with his command. Kluber limited walks to the tune of 2.02 BB/9, which was not only lower than any mark across his minor league career by almost a quarter batter, but was the 8th best mark in the AL amongst any pitcher with over 140 IP. The results appear to be sustainable, his ERA was actually higher than his 3.10 xFIP, especially if he can hold onto the gains he made with his control. He walked batters even less often after the All-Star break, and the highest mark he posted in any month was a still-excellent 2.54 BB/9 in July, so it’s not as if one could say that batters had figured him out in that regard as the summer wore on. He posted a fairly high HR/FB rate at 12.4%, part of which can be explained by pitching his home games in Cleveland and facing Detroit five times. (33% of Kluber’s homers were given up to Tigers’ hitters, 20% of them to Miguel Cabrera) He also gave up an unusually high line drive rate which led to a higher-than-average BABIP. None of the three stats correlate very well year-to-year, so Kluber can likely expect some positive regression in at least some of those areas in 2014, which bodes well for his ability to repeat his 2013 successes.
The path ahead for Corey Kluber looks clear and rosy. His rotation spot should be uncontested and with his diverse skills and consistent improvement, he figures to be a name to watch in 2014, especially with a bit of positive regression in the BABIP and homer categories. Projection system Steamer is predicting some serious negative regression for the righty, calling for a large bump up in walks and a fair amount less strikeouts, but the computer factors in all of Kluber’s minor league travels and all of their inconsistency. It may be safe to not expect him to post Cliff Lee-esque rates in 2014, but expecting massive decline may be overcorrecting. Considering that the ‘serious negative regression’ I’ve mentioned amounts to the 27 year old being projected to post a 3.70 FIP, I think it’s safe to say that Cleveland’s front office is mighty happy with the gem they’ve unearthed from the basement of their farm system.