You already know that two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber is a great pitcher. He’s finished with an earned run average under 3.50 twice in his career, and only once since he became a full-time starter in 2013 has it been over 3.50. He’s known as one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball, with one of the nastiest pitches in baseball, and he can always be counted on down the stretch.
But all of that usually comes with a caveat: He’s going to start slow.
Prior to 2018, Corey Kluber never finished a full first month of starts with an ERA under 4.00. He pitched more than 30.0 innings every month, because he is Kluber after all — even when he struggles he’s going to work through it — but we’ve always just assumed he’d have a bad April. Either he’d walk too many batters (like in 2017 when he walked 8.5 percent of his opponents), his strikeout rate would not be up to par (like his 20.6 percent strikeout rate in 2015), or he’d be downright unlucky (like his .362 BABIP and .367 BABIP in 2015 and 2014, respectively).
It’s still early, but through his first three starts (23 innings), 2018 looks like a completely different early-season Kluber. His strikeout rate is up drastically from previous Aprils, he’s hardly walking anyone, and opponents are slashing a ridiculous .143/.185/.234 off him. Extrapolating that out, opposing batters are 11-for-81 against him with one double, two home runs, and four earned runs.
Basically, April 2018 Kluber is what every other year’s Kluber is all year long. It’s almost a perfect match across the board, but his BABIP is a bit lower, and obviously his ERA and FIP are lower due to the small sample sizes. But all his peripherals look just like 2017 over 203.2 innings, which includes his typically bad April.
He’s only had three starts, but he’s already getting better in every one, too. You could say it’s just his bad competition (he’s faced the Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angels, and a skeleton of the Detroit Tigers), but it’s not just a few weak hits going for outs. Kluber is dominating.
If you don’t already following Rob Friedman on Twitter, you should. At the very least, you should be following him when Corey Kluber starts, because Rob turns his fantastic @PitchingNinja account into a Corey Kluber fan club every Kluberday; Mondays’ start against the Tigers was no exception.
There’s nothing I can do with words to describe the disgusting nature of these pitches, so I’ll just embed Rob’s Tweets instead.
Corey Kluber, Filthy 92 mph Two Seamer (release/spin). pic.twitter.com/eZzaFRXAxe— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 9, 2018
Corey Kluber, Filthy 88 mph Cutter. pic.twitter.com/HKotjPLpkr— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 9, 2018
Corey Kluber, 3 Pitch Sequence.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 9, 2018
First two are Two Seamers off the plate/balls, but see how it sets up the Cutter.
So, when you yell: WHY ARE YOU SWINGING AT THAT?
That's why. pic.twitter.com/6Ykd2AawVZ
Corey Kluber, Movement montage. pic.twitter.com/2uL9OVkWFl— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 9, 2018
Corey Kluber, Obscene 83mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/4R70XpMxD1— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 9, 2018
Corey Kluber, Backdoor 91 mph Two Seamer for K #13. pic.twitter.com/Pnu6WAixzm— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 10, 2018
Just for good measure, Pitcher List created a compilation of all of Corey Kluber’s strikeout pitches. Tell me you aren’t just a little weak in the knees watching this all unfold.
All 13 of Corey Kluber's strikeouts from tonight.— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) April 10, 2018
41 seconds of filth.
(Thanks to @JHurls23 for the request!) pic.twitter.com/aRby0i62E7
The numbers back up the flashy video evidence, as well. In a year where batters are hitting absolutely everything hard (even if harsh winds are knocking a lot of would-be home runs down early), no one is hitting Corey Kluber.
Against the Tigers, Kluber had unhittable stuff and baffling pitch sequencing that led to 12 swinging strikes and 29 called strikes. That means out of 103 pitches, opposing batters could do nothing but sit and stare at almost a third of them as they either ducked in and out of the zone for a strike, or their eyes were completely unable to track that weird-ass slurve Corey Kluber loves so very, very much. And when they did make contact? The ball left the bat at a speedy 75.9 miles per hour, on average.
It was the same story in his previous start against the Angels, when he induced 11 swinging strikes and 23 looking on 96 pitches. Even with Shoehei Ohtani blasting a 109.5 mile-per-hour home run (the first of his career at home, maybe you’ve heard of it), the average exit velocity was 85.1 miles per hour. Nothing in today’s game.
Injuries aside, there’s no reason to think that Corey Kluber is going to random slump in the middle of the season, other than the random number generated nature of baseball. All signs in his career point to him getting better as the season goes on; so much so that he turns a 4.00 April into a Cy Young over a span of a few months. At 32 years old, we might be on the cusp of seeing the greatest Corey Kluber season ever; a LeBron James-esque age-defying season that will somehow improve upon multiple years of greatness.
But it’s still early. He could slump, he could get injured, or might just get bored and retire in June. Baseball is crazy, but just remember to live in the moment of greatness that is Corey Kluber.