Everything went sideways for Corey Kluber on Friday night. After watching his understudy Trevor Bauer fool and fiddle with the New York Yankees lineup, Kluber was given the chance to gain an iron grip on the series. Instead, six runs and less than three innings into his 2017 October debut, he got blasted from the game by Aaron Hicks. This was… not ideal. Let’s explore this collapse.
The first inning alone was an epic quest of misery for Kluber. He made more pitches than he’s ever had to in a first inning, and gave up a two-run home run to Gary Sanchez to put the Cleveland Indians in a hole. It looked liked like this:
It’s like he fired a shotgun at the zone. He had no consistency. Pitches were up in the zone, flying wide, there was no bite on the two-seam. He got rocked, for good reason. Even bad hitters will get a good swing in a pitch down the middle. Kluber had like six. The second inning was a little better, though again, too many pitches and around the bad part of the zone:
But at least he avoided the middle of plate. It was a false sense of security, and those who watch perhaps a bit too closely started to get worried. Like, the people who sit and keep Baseball Savant open in another tab and watch the game feed. It’s normal, swear.
The third saw it all collapse ultimately, as Sanchez singled, was driven in by Starlin Castro, and Hicks hit the Earl Weaver Special. In the end, Kluber just never got control of the ball, and was up in the zone and flying wild all night:
Or if you’d prefer, by pitch type:
Nothing Kluber threw was where it was supposed to be. Curves over the plate, sinkers up, cutters just floating about. Again, this is not how you can pitch to a good lineup, or in fact any lineup. The ball was flying all over the place, especially on the left and right sides of the plate where he normally builds his outs. For reference, Kluber located like this in his best game this season, a shutout against the Baltimore Orioles:
You can probably see the difference there. He kept the ball down, especially the curve, and was able to work sinkers and curves in large number to not allow the Orioles any chance of anything. He paired them together, ran the sinker under lefties hands and tossed biting curves that darted from righties. It was a concerted effort and he executed. Of course every game is different, every team is different. Heck, there’s similarities to how Kluber dealt with the Yankees back on August third, complete game with one earned run:
The main difference? John Smoltz noted it, he was able to locate that two-seamer of his inside on lefties, backdoor righties with it, and use that cutter savagely to work the left-handed side of the plate. He didn’t go horizontal with his movement very much, either. Compare that to Friday, where everything was everywhere. Whether not getting the ball down, or not getting the ball to bite back as it has, it was just a bad outing. At literally the worst time possible.
I aslo can’t help but wonder if Kluber’s own strength bit him somewhat. Last year he threw a ton more curveballs in the playoffs. Friday night, he again threw a ton:
Compare that to how his pitch use was distributed over the season:
It’s that old devil small sample size of course, and Kluber was in hot water for most of his outing. You have to go with your best weapon when the game is getting way from you. But that was a lot of curveballs last night. He didn’t have anything to play it off. It’s a really brilliant pitch, and some have suggested that maybe guys like Josh Tomlin should throw them like 80 percent of the time. But professional hitters can catch up eventually. It needs some deception. And even the best curves hang now and again. It happened against, of all people, Aaron Hicks, and he was for a split second Ken Griffey Junior.
Maybe Kluber got too much rest. Maybe he never found his release point, or just never felt right. The results suggest that more so than his pitch choice. I think a few more changeups would have been good, but I’m a fool. As bad as this was, it would be a fool’s errand to expect this outing again. He’s just too good.