When it was announced this week that Cleveland Indians pitcher Corey Kluber would be heading to the All-Star game to replace the injured Marco Estrada, a lot of people were not happy. Some, such as Jose Quintana fans, may have a legitimate complaint at the choice of Kluber over the Chicago White Sox star. But most angry Indians fans who don't believe Corey Kluber "deserved" to be an All-Star have no reason to be spitting hot takes.
It's true that Corey Kluber is not pitching at the same level he was the last two years, but the difference is so minuscule, and his past two seasons were so good, that he is still well deserving of a spot on the All-Star team. Let's look at all the reasons why.
Kluber deserves it based on recent history
I do not normally subscribe to thinking that the All-Star game should just be a reward for career accomplishments. But for this list of reasons of that Kluber should be in the All-Star game, I figure we'll start with the flimsiest one.
Over the past three calendar years, only David Price has been a better pitcher than Corey Kluber in the American League. Price's 18.0 fWAR narrowly edges out Kluber's 17.5 wins, but Kluber has him beat in FIP (2.74) and he is third in ERA (3.13) behind Felix Hernandez (2.90) and Chris Sale (2.95) in that same span. Kluber is also sixth in walk rate, issuing a free base to only 5.4 percent of the runners he has faced in that same span. Quintana is right behind with a 5.6 percent walk rate.
The guy won a Cy Young and continues to pitch like one and still has not been in All-Star game. In a situation as close as Quintana and Kluber -- where both have legitimate claims to the final spot on the team -- I am all for going by recent history. And Kluber's recent history is spectacular.
Kluber is one of the best pitchers this season
This one should be obvious.
Just looking at leaderboards, Kluber should instantly stick out among American League starters as one of the best in the league. He leads in FanGraphs WAR at 3.3, FIP at 2.96, his ground ball rate is 13th in the league at 48.3 percent, and he has the third-highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in the AL at 19.6 percent, behind only David Price (21.3%) and Michael Pineda (20.9%).
The main knock that people have against Kluber this season is the number of runs he has given up, but after last night's domination of the New York Yankees, his ERA sits at a respectable 3.61, good for 15th in the American League.
Few pitchers in the AL have had more absolutely dominating performance for Kluber. I don't know what you consider dominant, but for me, any start where you allow two or fewer runs, three or fewer walks, and strike out eight or more batters in at least seven innings is a pretty solid outing. Think of it like an amped up quality start, which only requires pitchers to last seven innings and give up three or fewer runs. We are looking at total domination here.
In 2016 alone, Kluber has already done this five times. So, in five of his 18 starts, he has been borderline unhittable, not giving up free bases, and he is striking out nearly a lineup's worth of batters. Justin Verlander is the only American League pitcher to have accomplished this Kluber-esque start more this season, doing so six times.
If we want to bring it all around and talk about the last three seasons, Kluber has done it 22 times. The next closest AL pitcher is Chris Sale at 21 and no one else is even close.
Kluber has two of baseball's best pitches this season and they deserve a national stage
When it comes to exciting things you want to see in an All-Star game, Kluber's ridiculous curveball should be right up there with David Ortiz hitting a 400-foot home run. Okay, maybe not quite, but it should be close.
According to FanGraphs' weighted pitch values -- which takes the successes and failures of each pitch and determines how valuable they are based on how many runs they end up saving, Kluber's cutter and devastating curveball are both the best in the American League by wide margins.
As Matt Bretz of Wahoo's on First noted prior to Kluber's Friday start against the Yankees, no other pitcher in the American League has two pitches that rank as the best in terms of pitch value.
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The bottom line is this: Corey Kluber is still good. He is still really, really, really good. He has always been good since his Cy Young season in 2014, but occasionally forces outside of his control (defense, run support, etc), worsen some of the common stats that fans point to but don't really understand the context of. Corey Kluber does not have a lot of wins, and he has a lot of losses, but when it comes to picking a pitcher to start one game of a playoff -- or an All-Star game -- you cannot find many better choices than our own resident Cyborg.
If you want to make an argument that Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar are the Indians' "ace," fine. But Salazar is already in the All-Star game and Carrasco missed several starts. Kluber has more than earned his shot at an All-Star nod.