Fantasy Throwdown: Will Corey Kluber Produce Big Numbers Or Should He Be Ignored

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Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor) – Buying Corey Kluber

Injury and inability likely makes Corey Kluber a hands off option for many, and it makes sense. He made seven starts in 2019 and the results were ugly, allowing 3 ER or more in five of those starts (yielding a 5.80 ERA). Prior to that he had posted an ERA of 3.49 or better for five straight seasons, so did he really just fall off a cliff or can we expect him to rebound?

There are a myriad of questions that can’t be overlooked:

  1. Will his control, which had been elite, recover after the missed time (1.96 career BB/9, 3.79 in ’19)?
  2. How big of an impact will a rising Hard% have (36.6% in ’18, before injury was an issue)?
  3. How will the move to Texas impact him and the potential home run issues (44.7% career groundball rate)?

Even if he’s not the elite control artist he once was, it’s easy to assume that he’ll recover from last year’s small sample size. A BB/9 in the 2.50 range, with his ability to miss bats (12.6% career SwStr%), would be enough to keep him in the Top 25 starting pitcher discussion. All you have to do is take out two horrendous starts (8 BB over 6.0 IP) and you get a pitcher in that range (7 BB in 29.2 IP).

He showed in 2018 that the elevated Hard% wasn’t a huge red flag (3.12 FIP, .276 BABIP, 77.6% strand rate) so why would we shy away? He has the upside to produce like a Top 10 starter at a fraction of the cost, making him an intriguing buying option.

Ray Kuhn – Denying Corey Kluber

Pitchers don’t age well… Corey Kluber was injured for most of the season, and his broken forearm was to no fault of his own, but his performance wasn’t good when he was on the mound. In 35.2 innings his ERA was 5.80, which was quite the jump from his 2.89 ERA in 2018.

The sample size is small (he had a 4.06 FIP and 4.88 xFIP), but Kluber still struck out more than a batter per inning and fell victim to a .370 BABIP. That helps us write off some of the struggles, but the trend that is concerning is the fact that his walk rate jumped up to 3.79 per nine innings.

With a 40% ground ball rate his margin for error is thin, and per FanGraphs the quality of contact from opposing batters has been increasing over the past two seasons (36.6% and 37.5%). Since 2017 his average fastball velocity has dropped from 92.6 miles per hour to 91.6, adding to the concern.

At age 33 we don’t want to simply write him off based on seven lackluster starts, but he isn’t trending in the right direction and I’d like to keep my distance. If we are going to look at the few starting pitchers who are being selected after Kluber, I’d rank all ahead of the new Texas right-hander (Sonny Gray, Mike Soroka, Frankie Montas, Zack Wheeler).

Source – Fangraphs

Make sure to check out all of our 2020 Fantasy Baseball preseason rankings:

PositionLast Updated
Catchers02/10/20
First Basemen02/13/20
Second Basemen02/18/20
Third Basemen02/21/20
Shortstops02/24/20
Outfielders03/06/20
Starting Pitchers03/09/20
Relief Pitchers03/03/20

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