Corey Kluber was 9-6 at the All-Star break last season, with a 3.01 ERA and 142 strikeouts. He had the numbers to be an All-Star, but his not being chosen was not surprising, because he had no kind of name recognition outside Cleveland. He went on to have an incredible second half, and (deservedly) won the AL Cy Young Award. Kluber is 4-10 at the All-Star break this season, and so his absence from the team this year was again not a surprise, because I doubt any pitcher with a 4-10 record has ever been named to an All-Star team.
The thing is, Kluber isn't really pitching that much worse than last season, he's just been the victim of an incredible lack of help from his teammates.
The Indians have scored an average of 4.39 runs per game in all games started by someone other than Corey Kluber. That's above the American League average. However, in the 19 games started by Kluber, the Indians have scored an average of 2.32 runs per game. That is the lowest run support for any of the 97 qualified MLB pitchers this season.
Kluber has taken the loss in a game he allowed two runs in four times this season. Jose Quintana is the only other pitcher in MLB with 4+ such losses on his record. During the 2000s, no American League pitcher has averaged fewer than 3 runs of support for a full season, so either Kluber is going to get much stronger support after the break, or he's going to make some unfortunate history.
Meanwhile, Kluber's 3.38 ERA is pretty good, but certainly not great. (It's good for a 117 ERA+.) It's easy to look at that, then look at his 2.44 ERA from a year ago and conclude that he isn't pitching anywhere near as well as he did in 2014, and that while his record ought to be better than 4-10, it's not like he's been especially good.
What are the three things pitchers have been shown to have the most control over? Alright, you all are a smart baseball crowd, so you know that it's strikeouts, walks, and home runs.
- Kluber's 2014 K%: 28.3 ...Kluber's 2015 K%: 28.8
- Kluber's 2014 BB%: 5.4 ...Kluber's 2015 BB%: 5.2
- Kluber's 2014 HR/9: .53 ...Kluber's 2015 HR/9: .68
So, Kluber has allowed slightly more home runs this season (It works out to one extra home run every 10 starts), but he's actually striking out slightly more, and walking slightly fewer.
His FIP in 2014 was 2.35, best in the American League. His FIP this season is 2.51, not quite as good, but still good enough for 2nd in the AL (behind Chris Sale).
The things a pitcher has the most say over, Kluber is doing something like 95% as well as he did a year ago, when he won the Cy Young. The actual results, in terms of run allowed though, have been very different. SOme of this is due to Kluber's BABIP allowed of .327, well above the AL average of .292. Kluber's BABIP allowed last season was quite a bit above the league average too though, so it's not just that. Kluber has also had worse grouping of his base runners, with more of them clumping together in the same innings than they did last year.
Kluber's BABIP should drop, both due to normal regression and because Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela are a much better defensive tandem than Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kluber's run support should improve too, because how could it not. Kluber has an uphill climb just to finish with a .500 record, but please don't fall into the trap of thinking he isn't still one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Blame his teammates, not him.