Corey Kluber’s Been Building His Cy Young Case

The American League Cy Young Award race is very crowded. Seven starters have been worth between 4.0 and 4.6 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs, with the top four separated by 0.2 wins. There’s also the top reliever, Baltimore’s Zach Britton, to consider. And the pitchers with the three lowest ERAs should probably also be included in the discussion as well. So perhaps very crowded is an understatement.

A familiar face is one of the leaders in the award’s discussion. Tribe ace Corey Kluber (15-8, 3.09 ERA) is tied for the league lead in fWAR while also ranking sixth in ERA. Only eleven strikeouts away from 200, Kluber resides in fourth place in the league in that stat. He does not allow much traffic on the base paths either, ranking fourth in the league with a 1.05 WHIP.

Kluber’s main contenders for the award are Cole Hamels (14-4, 2.91), Chris Sale (15-7, 3.10), Aaron Sanchez (13-2, 2.88), J.A. Happ (17-4, 3.34), and Rick Porcello (19-3, 3.23). Sanchez and Hamels are second and third in the league in ERA, Porcello and Happ are first and second in the league in wins, and Sale is tied with Kluber for the fWAR lead.

The race is tight with three of the pitchers leading in multiple categories. Kluber leads all six contenders in strikeouts (189), K/9 (9.26), FIP (3.16), and shutouts (2). Sale only leads in WHIP and fWAR. Porcello leads in wins, BB/9, WHIP, and innings pitched. Both Porcello and Kluber play for playoff contenders, an important factor with voters. Hamels, though not a leader in any categories, is getting the most love from prediction markets right now because of his high win and low ERA mix. Though those stats aren’t very good at separating a pitcher’s performance from his team’s, they are the two the voters rely on the most. It’ll be hard for the voters to choose between the three.

The one thing that Kluber has done exceedingly well this year is limiting hard contact. Even when he’s not generating swings and misses, Kluber is still getting batters to hit into weak outs. And he’s limiting hard hit liners, the type of hits that go for doubles and homers.

Kluber has the third lowest hard contact percentage in the AL (trailing only CC Sabathia and knuckleballer Steven Wright) and his soft contact percentage is the 12th highest in the league. According to data from Statcast, the second lowest opponents’ average exit velocity belongs to Kluber.

With such a close race, many voters may adopt the “what have you done for me lately” strategy when casting their vote. In the past month, Kluber has pitched himself to the top of any voter’s list. In addition to earning the AL Pitcher of the Month Award for August, Kluber’s whole second half has been phenomenal.

Since his first ever All-Star game appearance, Kluber has gone 6-0 in nine starts with a 2.04 ERA. He’s limited opponents to just a .221 batting average in the second half. Each one of his nine starts has been a quality start (three or fewer earned runs in six or more innings) and in five of them, he’s gone seven or more innings. Kluber has had the strikeout pitch going as well, recording at least seven punch outs in eight starts.

And his September could be just as good. The Klubot has a career 3.55 ERA against Central Division teams and the Tribe close the season with 23 consecutive games in their division. In 2016, he’s been ever better, going 6-2 with a 2.14 ERA against division rivals.

Finally, Kluber has already won the award, something only David Price (3.92 ERA) and Justin Verlander (3.30 ERA) can claim among this year’s top starters. In a tight race, voters may lean on past seasons’ performance. With the hardware already secure, Kluber has a leg up on the competition, especially because neither of the two other award winners is in the top tier of contenders for the award. The Tribe ace could become the first repeat winner in the AL since Johan Santana won his second award in 2006.

While fighting off the hard-charging Tigers, the Tribe have needed Kluber to pitch like their ace – and he has delivered. If he continues his torrid stretch through September, the BBWAA may be the ones delivering something to Kluber.

Photo: AP Photo/LM Otero

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