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2013 in Review: Corey Kluber became a good MLB starter this year

Corey Kluber was mediocre in 2012 and too old to feel like a prospect, but he surprised with a strong 2013 and now looks like a solid #3 starter.

Jason Miller

Corey Kluber

Starting Pitcher

Throws: Right

Age: 27

Acquired: Via trade on July 31, 2010 (for Jake Westbrook)

2014 Salary: ~$500,000 (2nd year of pre-arbitration)

Corey Kluber started a dozen games for the Indians in 2012, but was hit hard and didn't do anything to make fans sit up and take notice. Kluber was already 27 years old when he made his first appearance in 2013, too old to really be considered a prospect any longer. He was probably 7th in line for the rotation, and his first start only happened because others were injured and it was the second game of a doubled header. That was April 28, and the Tribe was in Kansas City. Kluber allowed just two runs over 7 innings, striking out 6 while walking no one. From that day on, aside from an injury that shelved him for a month, Kluber was locked into the rotation.

2013 in Review Hub: Your destination for Let's Go Tribe's look at key prospects and players from the Indians in 2013

What led to this turn around, this relatively-late transformation into a very good pitcher? It may be the addition of a couple new pitches to Kluber's arsenal.

Late in 2011 Kluber began working on a cut-fastball. In 2013 he was throwing it at an average speed of 90 MPH. FanGraphs has pitch value information, based on how successful pitchers are with each of their pitches, and among starting pitchers with 100+ innings who throw a cutter regularly, Kluber's ranks as the second-most effective.

Late in 2012 he also began working on a two-seam fastball, one with more movement on it than the four-seam fastball he'd previously thrown. That pitch averaged 93 MPH this season. His old fastball was getting hammered at the big league level, and while the new one didn't rate as a plus pitch, the results were much improved. As it was in its second full season that his cutter really took off, perhaps the two-seamer will take another stride forward in 2014, and become a true weapon.

Kluber also throws some sort of a slider/curve (which he calls a breaking ball in this interesting interview with FanGraphs' Carson Cistulli, who is so fond of Kluber he started a society). In some pith-tracking systems, it shows up as a curve. In PITCHf/x it shows up as a slider. On a per-pitch basis, PITCHf/x rates it as the 6th best slider by a starter (min. 100 IP), just behind Yu Darvish.

Kluber's collection of pitches, each of which he seems increasingly confident in throwing to both lefties and righties and regardless of the count, make him a really intriguing player going forward.

Kluber's run prevention in 2013 doesn't look like anything special, as his 3.85 ERA works out to a league/park adjusted ERA+ of 98, slightly below average, pretty much exactly average for a starting pitcher (though don't overlook the value of league average starting pitching, especially on the heels of 2012's disastrous numbers for the Tribe). When you look deeper than just run prevention, Kluber rates well above average:

  • American League starting pitchers put up a K/9 of 7.2, Kluber: 8.31
  • American League starting pitchers put up a BB/9 of 2.86, Kluber: 2.02
  • American League starting pitchers allowed a BABIP of .298, Kluber: .329 (which means he was a bit unlucky)
  • Kluber's FIP (which is more predictive than ERA or ERA+) in 2013 was 3.30, which ranked 10th among the 69 American League pitcher with 120+ innings.
  • Kluber also had a higher than average percentage of fly balls hit off him turn into home runs, which some believe is largely a matter of luck. xFIP adjusts for the "expected" number of home runs a pitcher would have allowed, and Kluber's xFIP drops to 3.10, 6th in the AL, one spot ahead of probable Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.

I'm not saying we should view Kluber as a future Cy Young winner, but his results in 2013 really were great. Among the five pitchers who started 20+ games for the Indians this year, Kluber has the best walk-rate, FIP, and xFIP. On a per-inning basis, he was arguably the team's best pitcher in 2013, and he's under team control for another five years. Kluber isn't likely to get much better, but if he makes 30-32 starts and pitches close to the way he did in 2013, his luck probably regresses (for the better) and he's a legitimate #3 starting pitcher, maybe even a #2.

Year Age Tm
2011 25 CLE 8.31 0 4.1 0 3 5 51 2.077 12.5 0.0 6.2 10.4
2012 26 CLE
5.14 12 63.0 9 18 54 76 1.492 10.9 1.3 2.6 7.7
2013 27 CLE
3.85 24 147.1 15 33 136 98 1.262 9.3 0.9 2.0 8.3