Now that Corey Kluber’s time in Cleveland is over (for the forseeable future, at least) I thought it would be a fun exercise to pick and rank the ten greatest or most iconic events from his time with the team.
Folks are bound to disagree, so share your thoughts in the comments as we celebrate one of the best pitchers to ever suit up for the Tribe.
10) Sept. 1, 2011: The Debut
Welcome to The Show, kid! Kluber tossed 1.1 innings, striking out two and walking one. At this point Kluber was known to Indians fans only as the guy who came from the Padres as part of the Jake Westbrook trade. He wouldn’t make his mark on the franchise for another couple of seasons, but when he latched on to the starting rotation in 2013 he almost immediately became the ace.
9) April 29, 2016: His only career double
And it looked like he didn’t even care! This two-out double sparked a three-run rally.
8) 2012 bullpen session with Ruben Niebla
August Fagerstrom first described the session during which Kluber began throwing a two-seam fastball as his primary pitch, rather than a four-seam offering. Albert Chen filled out the story a little bit more in Sports Illustrated a couple of months later.
To say that the subtle change altered his career trajectory is a bit mild. He vaulted himself into the Indian’s rotation by the end of 2012 after years as a non-prospect.
And also, forget a lifetime contract extension for Lindor; can we get one for Ruben Niebla already?
7) May 20, 2014: Kluber survives vicious attack from teammates
No description necessary, just watch.
6) June 11, 2013: The formation of the Corey Kluber Society
For a brief period in 2013, Corey Kluber was an under-the-radar stud. FanGraphs writer Carson Cistulli chose to celebrate this by creating the Corey Kluber Society. Emphasizing this point, Cistulli state that chapters of the society were formed when “at any moment when two or more individuals invoke Kluber’s name and recognize that he is surprisingly talented for a 27-year-old who entered the season with just 67 major-league innings pitched.”
It’s really worth going back and reading all of Cistulli’s posts re: the Society. Especially the Timeline.
Making things even better, Kluber eventually learned about The Society in early 2014. I cannot find the snippet the mentions this, but I swear to god it’s real.
5) Winning his first Cy Young
In 2014 Corey Kluber won the Cy Young award, edging out Felix Hernandez for the honors. He became the fourth Indians pitcher to win, joining Gaylord Perry, CC Sabathia, and Cliff Lee. Along the way, he struck out 269 hitters in 235.2 IP, leading the entire league in FIP.
4) Winning his second Cy Young
Once is fun, but twice is nice. While the first Cy Young Kuber won came after a close vote, he walked away with the award the second time. He either led the league or was tied for the lead in the following categories:
- ERA (2.25)
- Wins (18),
- CG (5)
- Shutouts (3)
- WHIP (0.869)
- WAR (8.0)
What makes this season even more remarkable is that Kluber missed nearly the entire month of May due to injury. Prior that that he’d only made one effective start; he owned a 5.06 ERA with 13 walks when he left the game on May 2nd.
For fun, let’s compare the start of Kluber’s 2017 with the start of Kluber’s 2019:
2019 Kluber, first seven starts: 35.2 IP, 5.80 ERA, 9.59 K/9, 3.79 BB/9, 1.01 HR/9, .370 BABIP, avg four-seam 92.79 MPH, avg two-seam 91.91 MPH
2017 Kluber, first six starts: 37.1 IP, 5.06 ERA, 9.88 K/9, 3.13 BB/9, 1.69 HR/9, .320 BABIP, avg four-seam 92.82 MPH, avg two-seam 92.57 MPH
3) Game 4, 2016 World Series
Maybe this doesn’t seem like the obvious choice from the 2016 playoffs, but I pick it for two reasons.
1) It is the best I have ever seen Corey Kluber’s stuff. Honest to god, watch these potato-filmed highlights and marvel at how sharply his two-seamer and curveball broke that night. More than once his fastball looked more like a screwball as it dove back over the plate against righties.
2) Kluber got a hit! In my opinion he should have also earned an RBI, but the official scorekeeper didn’t see it that way.
After this game, Kluber sat at 4-1 in the 2016 playoffs with a 0.89 ERA. A game seven win would have sealed one of the greatest postseasons of all time, but it wasn’t to be.
2) May 13, 2015
This is Corey Kluber’s 18-strikeout masterpiece against the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s remarkable for a few reasons.
One, it is the highest game score of Kluber’s career, and also the highest game score achieved in fewer than nine innings of all-time. It is tied for the most all-time by an Indian in a game, matching Bob Feller.
Two, he did not get to finish the game. Brad Mills pulled him after eight innings, ending Kluber’s bid for the all-time single game strikeout record.
Three, he’d lost five straight decisions coming into this game and had yet to record a W.
Four, he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning.
This was also the death of the Klubeard v1.0, as he’d shaved it the night before (allegedly for Mother’s Day and not because he started the season with five straight Ls).
1) May 18, 2015
This was the start immediately after he’d been denied an opportunity to strike out the side in the ninth and set the all-time strikeout record. How did Kluber respond?
He struck out the first three batters. Kluber didn’t slow down after that, as he completed nine innings while allowing only a single run. Unfortunately, the offense managed to give him a single run of support. Zach McAllister proceeded to lose the game.
This might not make a lot of sense as his greatest moment at first, but bear with me:
Rather than speaking up or becoming argumentative about the decision to remove him from the game in his prior start, Kluber came out and sent the message by striking out the first three that he faced. The way he walked back to the dugout after the third K said everything. And following up one of the best starts of the decade with what should have been a complete game win? And nearly a shutout? And to lose?
Imagine this happening to Trevor Bauer, for example, and what the fallout might have been. With Kluber, there wasn’t any story at all. He quietly went out for his next start on the 23rd. He allowed a single run in eight innings of work as the Indians defeated the Reds 2-1.
I think it captures the essence of Corey Kluber’s time in Cleveland perfectly.