Indians starting pitchers set an MLB record last year by striking out 24.2% of the batters they faced. The record they broke belonged to the 2014 Tribe rotation. Strikeouts have long been on the rise league-wide, but no rotation has ever done it the way Cleveland's has the last couple years. Corey Kluber has recorded the lion's share of those whiffs, with 514 of them during the last two years. Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer have each also recorded more than 300 during that time.
Which one of those four will end up with the most strikeouts for the Indians in 2016?
Here are the projections from three of the most prominent systems:
ZiPS: Kluber (217), Salazar (195), Carrasco (193), Bauer (163)
Steamer: Kluber (218), Carrasco (200), Salazar (180), Bauer (145)
PECOTA: Carrasco (186), Kluber (176), Salazar (176), Bauer (149)
Collectively, Carrasco and Salazar are projected to have more strikeouts per inning than Kluber, but Kluber is generally expected to throw more innings, putting him on top for two of the three systems, and not far behind in the third. Injuries could of course factor in, but if these guys are healthy, Carrasco and Salazar will have to throw more innings than they have in the past if they're going to win out. Carrasco seems like a better bet to do that, given his lower walk rate. Kluber is the betting favorite though.
What about beyond just 2016 though?
Which one of those four will end up with the most career strikeouts with the Indians?
Kluber is at 709 career strikeouts with the Tribe, Carrasco is at 520, Salazar at 380, and Bauer at 324. That's a pretty decent lead Kluber is staked to, especially given the consensus expectation that he will add to his lead by a bit this year.
Working against Kluber, relative to the others, is his age. Kluber turns 30 next month, Carrasco turns 29 in two weeks, Salazar turned 26 in January, and Bauer turned 25 in January. Carrasco needs 189 strikeouts this season to have as many as Kluber through their respective age-29 seasons, very close to what he's projected for. Salazar would only need to average 83 strikeouts per season over the next four years to be ahead of Kluber through the same age. Bauer would only need to average 77 a season over the next five years to match Kluber.
Looking at it that way, the younger guys have an edge.
Not all of these guys are going to spend the rest of their career with the Indians though. Kluber is under team control through 2021, at which time he'll be 35. Carrasco is under team control through 2020, at which time he'll be 33. Salazar is under team control through 2020, at which time he'll be 30. Bauer is under team control through 2020, at which time he'll be 29. (It's pretty exciting that these guys are all locked up for so many years, isn't it?)
Kluber's last option or two may not be picked up, but he could very easily be third in franchise history behind only Bob Feller and Sam McDowell in strikeouts by the end of 2018. If he stays healthy, one of the others will likely have to sign an extension with the Tribe if they're ever going to catch him.