I’m going to alert you to a serious situation unfolding in Arizona. Please be aware, this content is of a disturbing and graphic nature, and may not be suitable for audiences who are offended by filthy pitches. Readers who proceed beyond this point must continue to do so knowing that they have been warned. Sternly warned.
Corey Kluber is eviscerating hitters in spring training this season. There is a line between utter dominance and cosmic fury; Kluber seems to be peaking over to the other side, shrugging, wondering if he can throw a pitch that opens a singularity up over the plate and annihilates a poor Triple-A Guy.
By the numbers
It is difficult to imagine a better spring. In 13.2 IP, Kluber owns a WHIP of 0.80, 19 Ks, and an ERA of 1.98. Ninety-seven of his 125 pitches registered as strikes. He’s not allowed a home run, and only three people reached against him by walking. Pitcher wins are stupid and pointless, but Kluber is responsible for three just halfway through spring training.
Before you handicap his stats by pointing out that spring training competition is not the same as actual Major League competition, I’d like for you to review the lineup that he faced on the 14th:
Angels brought over a pretty decent squad to face Kluber today in Goodyear. pic.twitter.com/yjmMjfKMRT— T.J. Zuppe (@TJZuppe) March 14, 2018
By the eye test
It is terrifying to imagine what kind of hell he will unleash on the league this summer if he continues a trend that he began last season. For the first time since 2012, Kluber threw his fastball less than 40% of the time. “Throw your best pitches more often and your worst pitch less often” strikes me as something that will sound as obvious to us in five years as “getting on base is also good and doesn’t clog up the basepaths” sounds now. Kluber became an ardent practitioner last season with spectacular results. Fangraphs currently classifies his breaking ball as a curveball, and by their count it’s pitch value was 37 last season. 0 is league average. To give some context, Clayton Kershaw’s curve had a value of 7.4. The next best was a 20.
Throwing the curve so well also opened up opportunities for his other pitches, as on a per-100-pitches basis he had the 12th-best cutter and the 5th best changeup in all of baseball last year.
I know, I know — we said this was the eye test. I apologize. Please gaze upon the majesty, courtesy of baseball tweeter and automated gif factory Rob Friedman:
Corey Kluber, filthy Breaking Ball movement. pic.twitter.com/ubQ2K4TbtP— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 14, 2018
If that’s not enough for you, please consider that Kluber’s staredown also made a fantastic debut on the 14th. This happened to be Kluber’s longest and best outing — five innings, one hit, no runs.
Corey Kluber: Sheriff Stare--Mid-Season Form. ☑️ pic.twitter.com/93Dlt7AFt5— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 14, 2018
I don’t want to be on the receiving end of that.
It is obvious that we must acknowledge that however dominant he appears, and however good the lineups against which he throws, it is just spring. When Kluber returned in June of last season, he pitched the best baseball of his entire life up until the playoffs. 14 of his 23 starts in that span included 10 or more strikeouts, and more than a third of the batters he faced returned to the dugout. His xFIP? 2.22. His WHIP? .76. K/9? 12.12. Even his game score was absurd, as he averaged a 75. A quality start is typically considered to be a 60 on that scale.
Yes, Corey Kluber was pretty much 1999-2000 Pedro Martinez for six months last season.
For that reason, I have to predict that Kluber will regress just a little bit compared to that lofty peak. I’d love it if he doesn’t — what’s not to like about a 10 WAR season — but we have to assume that he’ll settle closer to his baseline from the last two seasons. You know. 6 WAR or so, contention for the Cy Young, meticulously sculpted beard, and so on. It will not take long for the memory of two October starts to begin to fade.
Once hitters begin to fall over when they wave their bat at his breaking ball? I think we’ll forget entirely and remember to enjoy one of the best in the game today.