We've been running through the 2014 season for each member of the Indians and key prospects from their farm system. (You can find every entry in the series here.) Now we've reached a countdown of the top ten players on the team, as voted by the Let's Go Tribe staff.
#2: Corey Kluber
- Position: Right-handed pitcher
- Age: 28
- Acquired: Via trade with Padres and Cardinals (7/31/2010) in which the Indians sent moved Jake Westbrook
- Contract status: Pre-arbitration in 2015 (~$500,000), under team control through 2018
I'm one of only two LGT staff members who voted for Corey Kluber as Indians MVP. I don't think Brantley is a bad choice, but for me, Kluber's excellence is what stands out most from the 2014 season.
We've written a lot of words about Kluber's season already, in highlighting his accomplishments during the season, making the case that he deserved to win the American League Cy Young, and celebrating that he actually did win it. The sidebar on the right includes a number of Let's Go Tribe posts from recent weeks and throughout the season, and you can find all sorts of numbers and details that explain just how good Kluber was. Rather than rewriting those numbers and details again today, I'm just going to navel-gaze a bit and reflect on the ride of watching Corey Kluber become COREY KLUBER.
For me, nothing is more captivating in sports than witnessing excellence. A close game as the finish approaches is great, but if it's only close because both teams have played like garbage, it's a lot less great. Ultimately, I'd rather watch a lopsided game that's lopsided because one team, or one player, has performed incredibly. I'd be thrilled with an Indians World Series win no matter what, but the hypothetical "lunchpail, no stars" team that would make many fans happiest isn't my ideal. I want a team with at least one guy who makes you stop what you're doing and take notice.
More on Corey Kluber
More on Corey Kluber
As a kid I loved watching the Detroit Lions, because every handoff to Barry Sanders felt imbued with possibility. At times my desire to see someone do something amazing evens lead me to temporarily forget my feelings about players. I hate Kobe Bryant, but that night years ago when he wound up scoring 81 points, I remember seeing what he had at halftime and hoping he'd keep pouring it on.
This desire to see someone dominate may be what draws me to Kluber instead of Brantley, because it's tough for a position player to dominate a game, and it's rare that a position player is so good that they seem to dominate a season. The starting pitcher is the only player on a team with much of a chance to really shine in a single game. (It does happen occasionally with someone else, such as Lonnie Chisenhall's 5 hit, 3 home run game in Texas this year.)
Two years ago Corey Kluber was nearly a non-entity to me. The Tribe rotation had been so bad in 2012 that anyone in the system who might be able to help meant something to me, but I wasn't among those few who saw anything more than a potential back of the rotation starter when I looked at Kluber's page at Baseball-Reference. I liked what I saw from Kluber in 2013. I met writer Carson Cistulli (who started the Corey Kluber Society a FanGraphs) at a bar, and we gushed about how this relative unknown was having a very good season, without most people noticing.
I liked him as a good #3 starter this season, but I didn't see this coming. (Did anyone?) So, as this season went on, I not only got to experience the pleasure of watching some perform brilliantly, it was combined with the delight of surprise too. By the end of the season that surprise had given way though, so something more rare, expected excellence. I'm a big Indians fan, so I watch a lot of Indians baseball, but I'm not someone who's life allows them to watch every inning of 162 games. Kluber starts though, were something to schedule around.
There's a good case to be made for Cliff Lee's 2008, and I'm close to making that case myself, but forced to choose, I'd go with Kluber's 2014 as the best Indians pitching season of my lifetime. Some seasons stand out for how close the Indians came to winning it all. Some seasons stand out for the awesome numbers someone like Jim Thome or Grady Sizemore put up. Some seasons don't stand out at all. I think I'll remember 2014 though, and what I'll remember most is how awesome Corey Kluber was.
2014 grade: A+
Since 1901 there have been 197 pitchers who posted a season worth 7+ WAR (Baseball-Reference version). Of those pitchers, 60% never had another season that good (and of those who did, most had their first such season at a younger age than Kluber). On the other hand, 61% did have another season worth 6+ WAR, 81% of them had another season worth 5+ WAR, and 60% had at least two other seasons that good. I'm not saying WAR is the be-all, end-all, but I think that helps illustrate that it's unlikely Kluber will ever again be as good as he was in 2014. It's also likely that he'll have at least a couple more very good seasons though. The last time the Indians had a pitcher who looked this good to start a season, we suspected (correctly) that the Indians would be trading him away. Kluber is under team control through the end of 2018 though, so we should be able to enjoy this ride a while yet.