Putting Corey Kluber's 18-Strikeout Game in Historical Context

Kluber had been struggling for most of 2015. That all stopped with Wednesday night's legendary performance.

Still worried about Corey Kluber?

The reigning American League Cy Yong Award winner came into Wednesday night's game against the St. Louis Cardinals, who own the best record in the Majors by the way, with an 0-5 record in 7 starts, and a 5.04 ERA in 44 2/3 innings. In his last four outings, Kluber had given up 6, 6, 5, and 5 runs.

That sound you heard was sore hands wringing in Cleveland.

But on Wednesday night against the Cardinals, Kluber had a game for the ages. He pitched eight innings, gave up no runs, just one hit, and struck out 18 batters with no walks.

Unfortunately, Kluber had thrown too many pitches (113) to challenge the record of 20 strikeouts in a nine inning game, done by Roger Clemens (twice) and Kerry Wood. But it was just the seventh time in MLB history a pitcher had struck out 18, and no one had ever done it in as few pitches. In fact, none of the nine 17-strikeout games in history was accomplished in so few pitches. So, Kluber was actually pretty economical.

His 18 strikeouts tied Randy Johnson's record for an eight-inning start, done in 1992 with the Seattle Mariners. It tied former Indian Bob Feller for most in team history. It was the most strikeouts in a game since Ben Sheets struck out that many in 2004 with Milwaukee. And the only other game in Major League history with at least 18 strikeouts, no walks and no more than one hit, was Wood's 20-strikeout, no-walk, one-hitter in 1998.

That Wood start, by the way, is still the greatest nine-inning game ever pitched, according to Baseball Reference's Game Score. Here are the top five.

Kerry Wood5/6/1998911200105
Clayton Kershaw6/18/2014900150102
Matt Cain6/13/2012900140101
Nolan Ryan5/1/1991900162101
Sandy Koufax9/9/1965900140101

Using the Baseball Reference Game Score formula, Kluber's gem against the Cardinals rated a 98. Only 11 pitchers have ever had a Game Score of 100 or better. Another eight had a Game Score of 99. Kluber joins a list of 24 other pitchers who had Game Scores of 98.

But here's the catch. Every other Game Score of 98 recorded before Wednesday was all done in nine innings. Kluber did it in eight. Here's where it ranks among performances of fewer than nine innings.

Corey Kluber5/13/201581018098
Yu Darvish4/2/20138.21014096
Johan Santana8/19/200782017095
Jon Lester5/3/201481015293
Nolan Ryan4/12/198981015293

In other words, Corey Kluber just pitched the greatest eight-inning game in Major League history.

Now, I don't want to be one of those guys who says "I told you so," all the time, but I told you so. Despite his early struggles, Kluber still maintained an exceptional strikeout rate (23.8% coming into Wednesday night), a walk rate right along his career average (5.7%), and a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) that couldn't possibly be sustained (.364).

So, I'm sorry if you benched him. But that was a bad move.

Of course, it would have been nice to see Kluber come out for the ninth inning to try and make history. But last year, Kluber exceeded 113 pitches only four times, and his max was 120, the most he's ever thrown in a game. Had he gone for the record, it would have certainly taken him past his career high, and I suppose manager Terry Francona didn't want to jeopardize the health of his best pitcher with a long season ahead. But it was kind of a bummer.

That said, Kluber's performance against the St. Louis Cardinals will go down as one of the best in MLB history. We'll just have to settle for that.