by Eric Stashin (aka “The Rotoprofessor”)
If someone told you that you needed to race to your waiver wire for a pitcher with a career 4.96 ERA (including a 4.36 in ’12) and 1.41 WHIP, you would consider them crazy. The thing is, despite his struggles overall, the Indians’ Corey Kluber is someone that you should be grabbing off the waiver wire before it’s too late.
The truth is his ERA this season is extremely deceiving, as he is showing pinpoint control (1.66 BB/9) coupled with impressive strikeout stuff (9.55 K/9). Over his minor league career he owned a 9.13 K/9, so his success in that regard is not completely surprising. The control, however, is a different story.
Over his minor league career he owned a 3.60 BB/9, so we now have to wonder if he can come even remotely close to maintaining his current control. He did own a 2.57 BB/9 over 12 starts with the Indians last season, so we aren’t just looking at a 43.1 IP transformation. In fact, throw in his 12.1 inning at Triple-A this season and he has 29 BB over 118.2 IP (2.21 BB/9). We no longer are looking at a small sample size, but seemingly a player who has discovered himself.
We have strikeouts and we have control… That alone should lead to success.
He has struggled with an overall line drive rate of 24.0%, which has helped to a .342 BABIP (we can argue that despite the line drive rate, it’s an unlucky number). It actually was even worse in May, at 28.2% (according to Fangraphs). It’s definitely a scary number, though the strikeouts and walks do help to offset it. That’s not to say that he won’t give up hits, but the damage is limited when you generate swings and misses and avoid the free passes.
Why else should we not be too concerned? Minor League Central provides an interesting stat of BABIP-IFB, which takes infield popups out of a pitchers BABIP (since, like strikeouts, popups are almost a guaranteed out). Among pitchers with at least 35.0 IP Kluber is tied for the ninth highest mark in the league at .381 (according to the site the league average mark is .323). While he has been hit on the harder side, one could still argue that he has suffered from a little bit of bad luck.
Even with the bloated BABIP he is the owner of a 1.22 WHIP. Even if the control regresses some we would expect an improvement in the line drive rate (or the luck alone), which would continue to yield results.
Throw in a solid groundball rate of 43.8% and things appear to be stacking in his favor.
That said, numbers can only tell us so much (especially with a pitcher who doesn’t have spectacular numbers). Sometimes we have to turn to the eye test to see things for ourselves. I had the opportunity to watch his two innings against the Tampa Bay Rays (before the rains came and cost him the remainder of that start). The fact is he looked electric, allowing 0 H and 1 BB, while striking out 3. It was a short outing and impossible to draw conclusions from, but it did help to backup the numbers.
For Kluber everything appears to be adding up for a continued strong stretch. In fact, of his seven starts he has allowed more than 3 ER just once (8 ER over 4.2 IP at Detroit). In only one other start did he fail to go at least 6.0 innings (he worked 5.2 innings against the Twins), not counting the rain shortened game against Tampa Bay.
Kluber is quickly going to become a quick waiver wire addition (if he hasn’t already), so don’t hesitate any longer. It’s hard to find strikeouts on the waiver wire, let alone one that comes with good control and on a winning team. Now’s the time to grab him before it is too late.
10 Team League – Probably a little shallow, but at worst he’s worth streaming
12 Team League – Worth adding
14 Team League – Must add
Dynasty League – How often do you find a 27-year old with strikeout stuff?
AL-Only League – Must add