2020 Projection: Now In Texas, Will Corey Kluber Return To Being An Elite Starter In 2020?

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There had been rumblings of a potential trade of Corey Kluber, but coming off an injury plagued year it was obvious that the Indians wouldn’t receive market value in exchange. Instead they seemingly settled for salary relief, shipping him to Texas yesterday in exchange for OF Delino Deshields Jr. and RHP Emmanuel Clase. You can argue that there’s a little bit of upside in the return, and there is (Clase is a potential closer of thefuture), but this was all about getting Kluber’s $17.5 million off the books.

So now the question is about Kluber’s ability to not only rebound in general, but thrive in his new home environment. It’s not necessarily an easy answer, coming off a year where he posted a 5.80 ERA and 1.65 WHIP over 35.2 IP. Obviously the sample size was minuscule, and the luck was clearly a significant part of the problem (.370 BABIP, 63.8% strand rate).

He’s just a year removed from being considered among the elite strikeout/control pitchers in the game, and he’s the owner of a career 9.80 K/9 and 1.96 BB/9. Even as he battled injuries he was showing the same type of stuff:

  • SwStr% – 12.3%
  • O-Swing% – 34.7%

That alone gives the thought that he can maintain the stuff that he’s always shown. The move to Texas won’t change that, but the risk of home run issues does rise. While it’s never been an issue before (0.89 HR/9 for his career), he also has never been an elite groundball pitcher (44.7%). Historically Texas has been a favorable hitter’s ballpark, though we will have to wait and see how Globe Life Field plays.

That said, even playing in Cleveland we wouldn’t have been shocked to see him hurt by the long ball a little bit more than before. In 2018 his Hard% was elevated (36.6% in ’18, 37.5% in ’19), and while we aren’t drawing any conclusions his groundball rate fell to 40.0% last season. While opposing hitters need to make contact for it to be an issue, it’s a problem that looms large.

You also have to wonder how many wins Kluber will be in line for, playing for a Texas team that’s not likely as good as the Cleveland squad he leaves behind. That said we all know that we don’t count on wins, just look at Jacob deGrom as an example.

It call comes together for the following early projection:

2020 Projection:

200.0 IP, 14 W, 3.78 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 213 K (9.59 K/9), 55 BB (2.48 BB/9)

He has the potential for significantly better control than this, though he struggled last season and the missed time could cause an issue. His upside is that of a Top 10 option, and that can’t be ignored. There is going to be skepticism after the down year and new locale, but don’t be scared off. There’s too much here to think of him as anything by an ideal bounce back candidate.

Source – Fangraphs

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