Not in Cy Young Conversation This Year, Kluber Still Remains a True Ace
Craig Gifford | On 19, Oct 2015
Back-to-back Cy Young seasons and the pitchers who successfully earn them do not simply fall off trees. The Clayton Kershaws and Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez‘s and Randy Johnson‘s of the world are few and far between. To win one such trophy is a feat in and of itself.
In 2014, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber had one of those great seasons joining the great names before him to take home baseball’s top pitching honor.
Expectations were high for the Tribe’s ace as 2015 began. Kluber had not simply crossed the line from pretty decent pitcher to one of the game’s best. He had zipped past that line and into even greater air. Some thought he may be able to enter the rarified air of hurlers to garner two straight Cy trophies.
Obviously, Kluber will not be named the American League’s Cy Young recipient for a second straight year. That, however, should not diminish his abilities to be a number one starter or the leader of a starting rotation.
Granted, Kluber’s numbers were not at the great levels that they were in 2014. However, there is not one team in the sport who would not want to add the talented right-hander to its starting five.
When Kluber came away with the A.L. pitching honor a season ago it was after stunning the baseball world with a huge breakout season. He was 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and 269 strikeouts. The wins, ERA, and Ks were all career bests, by a lot. His previous highs in those three categories were 11, 3.85, and 136, respectively.
He followed one of the greatest seasons for an Indians starting pitcher with numbers that were not nearly as superior, but strong all the same. His ERA rose, but was still at a solid 3.49 clip. Despite missing several starts in September and starting two less games, the strikeout artist continued to make people swing and miss. He fanned another 245 batters in 2015. Given those two more outings, that total would not have been far off. Even Kluber’s 2015 WHIP was up to snuff with his Cy campaign. This year’s WHIP was at 1.05, DOWN from last season’s 1.09.
The only thing at all discouraging in 2015 was Kluber’s win-loss mark. He was 9-16. For the first time in three full seasons, the 29-year-old was below .500. His team was outscored more often than not this past year. That was not the case in 2013, nor was it certainly so when Kluber was among the elite in 2014.
That record, though, was not at all the fault of Kluber alone. Cleveland’s reigning Cy Young had a good deal of help in carving out a less than stellar record.
Actually, it may be better said that Kluber did not have much help at all when he took the mound. In eleven of Kluber’s 16 defeats, the Indians offense managed two or less runs. The Tribe’s ace would have had to have been nearly perfect on those nights to garner a victory.
That was, at times, the problem. Kluber, especially early in the year, was trying to make up for lack of run support and seemed like he was trying to be too fine with his pitches. He got hit hard early. Through his first seven outings, he was 0-5 with a 5.04 ERA.
After that, Kluber turned things on and pitched more at the superior level he had a season ago. It seemed like he stopped trying to do the impossible of trying to win games with zero runs scored for him. Instead, he started pitching his game and was closer to last year’s version of Kluber.
As the season went along, the ERA slipped back down to one befitting the rotation’s top guy. The record remained under .500 and less than stellar.
Take, for example, the All-Star break. Come time for the Mid-Summer Classic, people around the game were talking about a player with a 4-10 mark being a part of the American League squad. Those people were doing so with a straight face, At that point, Kluber’s ERA was 3.38 – basically an All-Star level for a starting pitcher. The won-lost mark was really what kept last year’s Cy winner from his first ASG and that was due to shameful run support that was the worst for any starting pitcher at the break.
When the season ended, Kluber’s run support had risen, ever so slightly. The team registered a not-so-whopping 3.32 tallies per contest when its ace took the mound. Of the 78 qualified starting pitchers in Major League Baseball, Kluber’s run support was 75th. It was the lowest in the A.L.
That Kluber even did win 9 games is a testament to how good he actually was. The run support he received was nearly one and a half runs lower than the per-game average for all teams in MLB this year (that number stood at 4.56 per nine innings). Kluber was getting nowhere near the run support of his peers nor the support he needed to even sniff another piece of pitching hardware.
Kluber will enter 2016 as Cleveland’s ace and it is pretty hard to argue that he should not. He is the unquestioned best starting pitcher the squad has. He is as consistent as any pitcher in the game. When Kluber is on his game, he is still at an elite level.
With any run support at all, Kluber may have been in the Cy conversation for a second straight season. It would not be shocking if he is in the discussion for the trophy a year from now. The numbers Kluber can control, he has controlled exceedingly well for two years now. The lack of run support is often a fluke. Pitchers do not often have that kind of poor luck in back-to-back years. Just as being named the league’s top starter is hard to do, being that kind of unlucky is as well.
Photo: Jason MIller/Getty Images