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Tribe Notes

Indians commentary: Kluber placing himself among Tribe's best pitchers of all-time

  • ALDS-Yankees-Indians-Baseball-9

    Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber delivers in the first inning against the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Oct. 11 in Cleveland.

    PHIL LONG / AP

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On Wednesday, for the second time in the last four years, Corey Kluber will win the American League Cy Young Award.

At least he should.

For the first two-thirds of the 2017 season Kluber and Chris Sale were pretty even. But Kluber won it in August and September, when he went 10-1 with a 1.42 ERA and Sale was 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA.

All votes for the Cy Young Award, and for all of the four major awards presented by the Baseball Writers Association of America, must be submitted before the start of the postseason. So the awards are based solely on the regular season.

Assuming Kluber wins, it will bookend an astonishing four-year run by a pitcher whose mushrooming Cleveland pitching resume is starting to compare favorably with the greatest pitchers in Indians history.

In the first 50 years of the Cy Young Award, which was established in 1956, only one Indians pitcher won it: Gaylord Perry, in 1972.

Another 35 years passed before CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee won it consecutively, in 2007 and 2008.

Now Kluber is about to win it twice in the span of four years. From 2014-17, Kluber’s record is 63-38 (.624), with a 2.83 ERA, over one full run better than the American League ERA of 4.10 during those years.

In those four years Kluber leads all AL pitchers in wins, ERA, ERA+, FIP, opponents’ batting average and opponents’ OPS.

In those four years Kluber won two Cy Young Awards, and finished in the top three in the voting in three of the four years. Last year he finished third, even though he had a better WAR, ERA, ERA+, more shutouts and more strikeouts (in fewer innings) than winner Rick Porcello.

In 2015, the one year he didn’t finish in the top three in the Cy Young voting, Kluber led the league with 16 losses, but STILL finished ninth in the voting. And he probably should have been higher than that, given that he had the second-highest WHIP, the third most strikeouts and innings pitched, the fourth best ERA+ and sixth-best WAR of any of the starting pitchers ahead of him.

And that was considered an “off” year for Kluber.

Indeed, it’s been not just Kluber’s consistency that has made him the best pitcher in the league since 2014, but, as manager Terry Francona is fond of reminding everyone, “It’s his consistency at such a high level.”

Consistently being a solid major league player is hard enough. Consistently being an elite performer, start after start, week after week, month after month, and year after year _ that puts you in some pretty exclusive company.

So much so, that now is a good time to ponder, admire, and give some historical context to the career Kluber is authoring.

Start with this: Kluber’s 8.0 WAR (per Baseball-Reference) in 2017 not only was the best in the majors by a pitcher, and 1.6 higher than any other AL pitcher, it’s the highest WAR by an Indians pitcher in 43 years — since Perry’s 8.6 in 1974.

As a point of reference, in their Cy Young years, Lee had a 6.9 WAR, Sabathia 6.3.

Kluber’s career WAR of 26.9 ranks 15th on the Indians’ all-time list for pitchers. Over the last four years his average WAR is 6.5. If he maintains that average over the next three years it would kick his career WAR up to 46.9, which would rank third in Indians history among pitchers, behind Bob Feller (65.2), Stan Coveleski (55.3) and Mel Harder (47.9).

Kluber has already climbed even higher on some important Indians career pitching lists.

For example, among pitchers with a minimum of 1,000 innings pitched for Cleveland, Kluber ranks first in Indians’ history in career strikeouts-per-nine innings (9.9), first in strikeouts-to-walks ratio (4.94), and first in strikeout percentage (27.4), which is the percentage of all batters faced who have struck out. As a point of reference, Feller ranks 10th on that list at 16 percent.

Another stat is strikeouts-base on balls percentage, which measures the percentage difference between batters who have struck out to batters who have walked. Kluber has nearly lapped the field in this one. His differential of 21.8 percent is the best in Indians history. Luis Tiant is second at 12.4 percent.

The only pitcher in Indians history with a better career WHIP than Kluber’s 1.086 is Addie Joss (0.968), who pitched his last game 107 years ago.

Kluber’s ERA+ is 135, which is second best in Indians history behind Joss’ 142. Kluber’s career 2.93 FIP is sixth lowest in Indians history, but you have to go back 93 years to find someone with a better one.

So, what we have here is an all-time Indians’ great, at the peak of his career. And at age 31, Kluber could still have three or four more peak years ahead of him.

Contact Jim Ingraham at jingraham4@gmail.com.



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