Corey Kluber is great. But you knew that. He is appointment viewing, a marvel to behold at his best. He has become something like the perfect pitcher.
The other day during a broadcast, sideline reporter Andre Knott mentioned that catcher Roberto Perez said the biggest difference with Kluber this year is how he makes in-game adjustments. Recall when the Chicago White Sox ambushed him for two home runs back in August, then went on to be silenced the rest of the game. Kluber knows what he has, what he can do and what he can’t from day to day. As hackneyed as it is at this point, the man is a machine. There’s almost no way for an offense to scheme against him, because there is no traceable plan.
For a hitter, Corey Kluber is simply unsolvable.
Thanks to Baseball Savant and Statcast, we have a stunning glut of data for people to root through and see new amazing things about their favorite players. My favorite thing is the pitch breakdown by type charts they produce. I used one a few months back describing how unhittable Andrew Miller is, because you never know what is coming, no matter the count. Kluber throws something in the ranger of five or six pitches in a given game, due to his ability to make a ball dance any which way. It reminds me of Roy Halladay, throwing everything in a 5 mph window, but never being able to guess which way it will dart. Then he drops a breaking ball on you, and you swing at air and moths.
Here’s Kluber’s chart for 2017:
It’s quite pretty, no? A nice blend of rich colors and variety, like a delicious bin of old lady candy. While most pitchers rely on a certain pitch or other to get ahead or start sequences, there’s little you can glean here. Though I didn’t realize he leaned on the cutter early in counts as much as he does.
I decided to break it down a bit, to see if anything changes as he moves through a batting order. More specifically, three inning splits, because that’s roughly one time through an order. He does only allow seven or eight baserunners a game after all.
Innings one through three are as follows:
Again, a nice blend. This contains 42.4 percent of pitches Statcast has tracked from Kluber. About the only thing one can hope for is that there’s a slightly higher chance a sinker might come early in the count, and on the off chance you get a 3-0 count (he’s gone 3-0 nineteen times out of 728 batters faced this year) there’s a great chance it will be a sinker. Also, as you fall further behind in the count, the curve looms larger. Then you strike out.
Anyway, here’s what Kluber throws based on count in innings 4 through 6:
No, I did not post the same exact image. It is different, but in such a subtle way that is almost impossible to tell. This shows about 40 percent of Kluber pitches captured by Statcast. Kluber throws a few more curves earlier in the count, taking away from the sinker some. My favorite part is when it gets to 0-1 or 1-1 and the batter is utterly incapable of knowing what is going to happen. Heck, any time he’s ahead, even or has two strikes, he can go about five different ways.
Finally, there’s the last third of the game. This next chart captures about 17.5 percent of Kluber’s pitches captured:
It’s a total mess! The curve is everywhere! He throws cutters and sinkers in equal measure at 3-0! Everything moves! Even when it’s 2-0, he’s still got four or five pitches he goes to. How do you even prepare for that? Just swing hard in case you hit it? Perhaps that’s why Melky Cabrera (9-for-17, 1 XBH) has been the most “successful” hitter against him — he just puts the bat in front of the ball without hitting for any authority. One would think that late in a game he’d lean on one or two pitches because he’s tired and need to use his best weapon. Instead he just gets more muddled.
Many pitchers have a pitch or two they rely on. And to be fair, so does Kluber. His curve has been the difference maker this year. But that isn’t all he has. To have the command and the stuff to be able to go any which way like he does, no matter the count, it’s simply incredible. Power is king in baseball, whether at the plate or on the mound. But Kluber’s uncommon combination of power, finesse and versatility has made him a devil for the fastball-hunting sluggers of today. Even if he is throwing fastballs, nothing is straight. He just baffles, gets off the sweet spot and zigs or zogs when he’s expected to zag. It’s a delight to watch at work.