Don't Worry, Cleveland: Corey Kluber's Season Is Just as Good as Last Year's Cy Young Campaign
With a 7-12 record and 3.46 ERA, on the surface it looks like Corey Kluber is having a worse season than his AL Cy Young season last year. But a poor record, due to awful run support, overshadows the fact that Kluber is pitching almost or even just as good as his Cy Young performance last season.
Corey Kluber is, once again, one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball.
This year, in 171.2 innings pitched, Kluber has a 3.46 ERA, 2.54 FIP and 2.90 xFIP while posting a 5.1 fWAR. Kluber's FIP and xFIP are, once again, among the top five pitchers in the MLB, while he is tied with Clayton Kershaw for the MLB lead in fWAR. Kluber is striking out 27.1 percent of the hitter's he's facing, while walking just 4.8 percent.
In terms of run support, the Indians average just 3.12 runs per game in support of Kluber. And that number is skewed by the 24 runs Kluber got over his last three starts. Before this, he was last in baseball in run support with just over 2.5 runs per game. So while Kluber was throwing a quality start in 63 percent of his outings, and giving up four or less runs in all but three of his starts, he was taking the loss or a no decision most of the time, explaining his poor record.
But compared to last season, Corey Kluber has been just as good in about every category:
Besides for ERA, the differences between Kluber in 2014 and 2015 are minuscule at best. And he's even improved upon his walk and Swinging Strike percentage in 2015.
Corey Kluber has been just about every bit of the pitcher he was in 2014 when he won the AL Cy Young. Even his advanced metrics: ERA-, FIP- and xFIP-, which measure how good a pitcher was in relation the league average, where 100 is league average, and nERD, numberFire's metric which measures the number of runs prevented by a pitcher compared to the league average on a per game basis, are very similar.
And keep in mind, Kluber's 2015 numbers are only through 60 fewer innings pitched. Through the same number of innings pitched last year, Kluber had nearly identical numbers besides his ERA.
So why is Kluber's ERA so high? If the rest of his peripherals are very similar, why is his ERA a full run higher? Well, he's already given up more runs this year than he gave up last year (66 ER this year compared to 64 ER last year), but that doesn't explain the full story.
Why is Kluber giving up more runs?
His BABIP is basically the same as last year -- .316 in 2014 compared to .315 in 2015 -- and the fielding behind him, with the Cleveland Indians additions of Francisco Lindor and Giovanny Urshela, has dramatically improved, while still not great. The Indians had -75 defensive runs saved (DRS) and a -72.4 ultimate zone rating (UZR) last season, while this season they have 2 DRS and a -9.1 UZR.
Further, his batted ball, contact and swing rates are basically all the same (within +/- 3 percent).
The one big difference between 2014 and 2015? His left on base percentage. Last season, Kluber left an astounding 78.8 percent of runners on base, but with the league average around 72 percent, Kluber's LOB% would be expected to regress this season. Now Kluber is leaving only 69.8 percent of runners on base this season, so he's regressed past the mean. Leaving an extra 10 percent of runners on base could be the difference in his ERA.
So while his ERA is a bit higher, Kluber's still been just as a good as last season, and with a little upwards regression in his LOB% leading to a lower ERA, he's looking at another fantastic season. ZiPS projections peg him to finish with nearly identical numbers as last season: 2.99 ERA and 2.60 FIP with a 7.2 fWAR, just 0.1 WAR below his 2014 total.
Kluber has been just about as good of a pitcher as he was last year, and even better by some metrics. While his record and ERA aren't among the best in baseball, they're skewed by poor fielding and lack of run support. Kluber is again among the best pitchers in Major League Baseball, and if he continues his trend, deserves to be in the AL Cy Young discussion with Chris Sale and Chris Archer at the end of the season.