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Corey Kluber's curveball is so good it might be downright evil

Deception is a touchstone of the sinister. Corey Kluber's curveball is as deceptive as they come.

Corey Kluber, preparing to unleash his dark magic on the opposing batter.
Corey Kluber, preparing to unleash his dark magic on the opposing batter.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday night against the Minnesota Twins, Corey Kluber was simply marvelous. He struck out 11, held the mighty Max Kepler to only one home run, and led the Cleveland Indians to victory. Amid his many markers of dominance that evening, he threw 28 sliders/curveballs (the name differs depending on who you talk to), consistently baffling Twins hitters.

Kluber’s curveball is one of the best pitches in the game, a true weapon that has helped to elevate him to the peak of his profession. I got to idly wondering as I lay in bed that night, though, what kind of mindset does one have to have to flourish with that kind of pitch?

The best curveballs are the most deceptive

It must be hard to be a pitcher with such a great curveball. The entirety of your success is based on deception, making others look silly.

Unlike the fastball, which is simply the best punch a pitcher has, the breaking ball is used for trickery. In a world of bigger, faster and stronger, the curveball is antithetical. It is mysticism in the face of brute strength. Randy Johnson did have a murderous slider, but he won through striking fear into the hearts of batters. Roger Clemens was the same, laying waste through power above all. Kluber does have power, but his fastball isn’t exactly extraordinary. It’s good, but not great.

Can you really trust a man whose best pitch is a curve? Their entire existence is based on being deceitful. That is what great pitching is, though, isn’t it. It’s social engineering on a micro level. It’s making a batter understand something is going to happen, and then have the opposite happen.

Ted Williams always found pitchers to be stupid fools and had nothing but contempt for them. It is certainly contemptuous to live a life of deceit. But you have to wonder if Williams had it wrong about pitchers. No man who lives a life of smoke and mirrors is dumb. If Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories are to be believed, shamans and sorcerers are quite smart, just hubristic. That, not stupidity, is why Conan is able to routinely cleve them in twain.

The vanishing of Miguel Sano

Kluber’s curve makes barbarian sized men look the fool. Look at this sequence of events when facing the vastness of Miguel Sano.

First, Sano’s eyes grow large, ready to destroy a baseball.

Sano 1

Then, suddenly as a wink, the ball is gone, replaced only by empty air, and Sano looks the fool.

Sano 2

In the final frame, Sano gazes into the middle distance, baffled at the sleight of hand pulled upon him. Perhaps questioning his own humanity.

Is there joy in doing this to what is surely a very nice person? Of course there is. But it’s a sinister, malicious joy.

What does hubris look like in a pitcher? Perhaps it’s one too many backdoor sliders, like Dennis Eckersley trying to sneak one by Kirk Gibson back in ‘88. Perhaps it’s trusting in the curve too much and hanging it, only to see it fly off into the night. It is the pride before the fall. The three strikeouts in a row before the go-ahead home run. Kluber has avoided these pains so far, but he may tempt fate.

Kluber may be tempting fate by wielding this dark magic

Admittedly, it’s nice when the bad guy is on your side. Just as I’m sure Los Angeles Dodgers fans love having their Kershaw or Miami Marlins fans their Fernandez, the Indians, and their fans love Kluber’s presence. But can there ever be trust in a man so duplicitous as a pitcher? It’s said that building your team around starting pitching is a recipe for long-term disaster. Perhaps it’s because the universe doesn’t like the tricks being pulled by the staff.

You could say the opposite is why the Kansas City Royals finally won the World Series last year. There was an honesty to their play. They used defense and fundamentals to win, and a bullpen that just challenged batters with simple, direct power. Those tricky Baseball Gods saw this, smiled and granted the Royals a boon. At the same time, they lifted up a staff of pitchers in the New York Mets, only to pull out the chair from them and then cast them back to mediocrity this season. That makes me worry for the Indians. Between Kluber’s curve, Salazar’s change, everything but Carrasco’s fastball, and Bauer’s overthinking everything, the fates may be against them. They do have the saving grace of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, two delightfully old school style players. Hopefully, Micheal Brantley tips the scales just enough. If only he were playing as well.

Kluber's curve, like a dominant breaking pitch, can make the mightiest man humbled. But at what cost? The Indians must hope their own totem, Jobu, can hold off the angry whims of fate. Knowing the limits of your own powers is what anyone who deceives for a living needs to maintain. In real terms, this means Kluber not throwing more than, say, 30 or so breaking pitches. One too many at the wrong moment, and everything collapses. And not every team is the Twins.

On the other hand, he’s a pitcher. It’s a gnarly pitch. Maybe I think late at night too much.