Kluber Making and Winning His Case for the AL’s Cy Young Award

For those fighting Corey Kluber’s case for a second American League Cy Young Award in the last four years, plenty of recent evidence has been made available in favor of the 31-year-old right-hander.

Slowly and steadily, Cleveland’s Kluber has moved ahead of Boston’s Chris Sale on some of the more consistent Cy Young predicting measures available. He has done so by doing what he has done nearly every trip to the mound since returning from the disabled list on June 1. He isn’t just winning, he is doing it largely in dominating fashion, racking up some incredible stats in an injury-shortened season that has him competing with Sale, who has not spent time on the disabled list this season.

Sale holds the advantage over Kluber in a couple of areas, but has seen the gap in many of these numbers shrink. Barring a Sale injury, Kluber was going to be hard pressed to catch the Red Sox starter in innings pitched (209 1/3 to 191 2/3) or strikeouts (300 to 252), but both stats rely heavily upon actually being on the field, something Sale has done 31 times to Kluber’s 27. Sale still holds a 12.90 to 11.83 edge in strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.22 to 2.49 advantage in fielding independent pitching.

The rest of the numbers have favored Kluber.

Heading into his second-to-last regular season start on Sunday when he takes the mound at Safeco Field against the Seattle Mariners, Kluber led all AL starters in ERA (2.35 to Sale’s 2.75). He was tied for the league lead in wins with 17, matched by teammates Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, Kansas City’s Jason Vargas, and Sale. His winning percentage of .810 is better than Sale’s Boston teammate and former Indians prospect Drew Pomeranz’s .762. He was above the second-place Sale in WHIP (0.85 to 0.95), hits per nine innings (6.06 to 6.75), walks per nine innings (1.60 to 1.76), strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.41 to 7.32), and adjusted ERA (196 to 164).

Despite missing a month’s worth of starts, Kluber heads into action Sunday sixth in the league in innings pitched, trailing Tampa’s Chris Archer by two-thirds of an inning for the fifth spot and Boston’s Rick Porcello (last year’s Cy Young winner) by six for the fourth spot. And despite being on the mound for 17 2/3 fewer innings than Sale, he is second on the strikeout list. Sale does have the rare air of hitting 300 strikeouts this season working in his favor, something that Kluber will not be able to obtain in his final two starts, but something that he may very well have flirted with had he not lost so much time.

Kluber has also been a champion of pitching deep into games, helping to make up the lost ground in the innings pitched department. He is tied with Minnesota’s Ervin Santana with five complete games and three shutouts on the year.

Since returning from the disabled list, Kluber has pitched fewer than six full innings just two times. In that same span, he has allowed more than three runs just once – when he allowed four in six and one-third innings in a no-decision against Chicago on July 29. He struck out 12 in that contest.

In those 21 games, he has gone 14-2 and the Indians 15-6 in his starts. He has worked 154 1/3 innings, striking out 211 and walking just 21 in that time with a .169 opponent batting average. His ERA in those 21 outings is a minute 1.69 and his WHIP also falls into the elite territory at 0.73.

Kluber’s toughest starts of the season came out of the gate. He had a 5.06 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP in 37 1/3 innings in his first six appearances, posting a 3-2 record. In three of those outings, he allowed five runs or more and he amassed just 41 strikeouts on the mound prior to hitting the disabled list for almost one full month.

Sale has had a remarkable season and is a primary reason that the Red Sox sit atop the American League by four games heading into Sunday. He is 17-7 with a 2.75 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in 31 starts, striking out 300 and walking 41 over 209 1/3 innings. Ten times he has left a start without allowing a run (Boston is 9-1 in these games). He has seven outings with four earned runs or more allowed, and incidentally, his ERA has been plumped up plenty by the Indians, who tagged him for 13 earned runs (14 total) on 15 hits in just eight innings in two August starts against him.

If those two outings against Cleveland were to be removed from his stat sheet, he would be sitting at a 2.28 ERA. For those on the side of Kluber in the AL Cy hunt, voters tend not to be in a habit of ignoring the efforts of a pitcher against teams with superior records, as would be the case for Sale against the Indians.

Tom Tango’s Cy Young Points puts Kluber ahead of Sale by a small margin, 88.0 to 87.7, in the AL race. For those unfamiliar, it weighs the chances of a pitcher winning the league’s Cy Young on several pitching stats, including innings pitched (divided in half), earned runs, strikeouts, and pitcher wins. Like most mathematical predictors, the results have been proven wrong in the past, but it has shown good results since 2006.

Bill James’ Cy Young Points, which incorporates saves and shutouts into the equation while giving bonus points for being on a first place team and penalizing slightly for pitching losses, gives a bigger edge to Kluber. The formula, used by ESPN on its Cy Young Predictor page, puts Kluber ahead of Sale, 186.5 to 177.3. Unlike the Tom Tango formula, the Bill James version puts a slightly bigger emphasis on innings pitched (multiplying the total workload by 5/9 versus the 1/2 of the Tango method), so the disparity between Sale’s and Kluber’s innings pitched is increased a tiny bit more. Strikeouts are emphasized at a slightly reduced figure (the total is divided by 12, compared to 10 in the Tango method), but Kluber’s three shutouts and three fewer losses help push him higher in the tally compared to Sale’s one complete game effort of the year, an eight-inning 1-0 loss to Philadelphia on June 15.

A third metric occasionally used, the Bill James Season Score, weighs a pitcher’s season in three parts – decisions, earned runs, and strikeouts/walks. Decisions are calculated by multiplying wins by ten and adding that figure to three times the saves totaled. Losses are multiplied by five and subtracted out. The pitchers earned runs saved are weighted against what another pitcher would have in the same number of innings with a 5.00 ERA. The final component, twice the strikeouts reduced by three times the walks, divided by three, is combined for a final number. Its creator indicates, however, that while the number tends to predict winners, it is not designed to do so.

Kluber has a 301.0 season score. Sale sits at 287.7.

Kluber and Sale should each have a pair of starts to make over the course of the final week of the regular season as each tries to line up for Game 1 starts in the American League Division Series. If things stay the course, Sale would face Houston in his final regular season start and likely would face the Astros in that Game 1 matchup. Kluber is in line for a home start against the Wild Card winner, appearing to be more and more likely a battle between the New York Yankees and surprising Minnesota Twins.

By then, the results on the field from April to September will be all that is judged and Kluber’s focus will be on a much bigger piece of hardware, one that he nearly carried the Indians to last October when the Tribe fell heartbreakingly close to ending its World Series title drought, currently dating back to 1948, when the Indians needed to defeat the Red Sox in order to claim the championship from Boston’s other team, the Braves.

Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images

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