Yankee fans have had their hearts broken by several starting pitchers over the past few seasons. Cashman clearly tried to improve the rotation by bringing in guys like Gray, Lynn, and Happ, but, for a myriad of reasons, those moves proved to be unsuccessful. In fact, outside of a few notable exceptions (Cole and Sabathia), the front office has struggled to bring in the right starters for a pretty long time.
Given the organization’s penchant for striking out on starters, I couldn’t help but be somewhat skeptical when the Yankees signed Corey Kluber ahead of the 2021 season. Kluber had barely pitched since 2018, had suffered through a series of tough injuries, and was just a couple of months shy of his thirty-fifth birthday when Cashman inked him to a one-year, $11 million deal.
Since signing that contract, however, Kluber has done nothing but prove the initial skeptics, myself included, entirely wrong. Corey was very good during spring training, and he has been exceptional during the first quarter of the regular season. Wednesday night’s no-hitter was simply the culmination of what can only be described as Kluber’s own personal renaissance—a renaissance that has him pitching like he did as a Cleveland Indian.
Kluber’s Stats Look Vintage
From 2013 to 2018, Kluber was easily one of the best pitchers in baseball. During that period, he ranked first amongst AL starters in innings pitched, first in wins, second in strikeouts, second in WHIP, and third in ERA. Kluber’s stellar six-year stretch included a pair of Cy Young awards and three all-star nominations.
Incredibly, Kluber has morphed back into the pitcher that dominated baseball for most of the 2010s. A side-by-side comparison of his 2013-2018 and 2021 stats reveals just how amazing Kluber’s season has been thus far.
Kluber’s 2021 numbers are pretty much in line with the stats that he posted during his most dominant period. The walks are notably higher these days, but his other stats are excellent. He’s keeping the ball in the ballpark, striking out roughly one batter per inning, and his ERA is under 3.00. The fact that Kluber is flirting with his 2013-2018 stat line is almost unbelievable—and it’s great news for this Yankee team.
Looking at Peripherals
Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of Kluber’s early success is that it isn’t based on luck. While there is a fairly large difference between Kluber’s actual ERA (2.86) and his expected ERA (3.53), the rest of his peripherals and predictive numbers look very good:
.227 xBA (63th percentile)
.301 xwOBA (62nd percentile)
34.6% HardHit% (73rd percentile)
87.2 MPH Avg. Exit Velo. (75th percentile)
31.2% Chase Rate (83rd percentile)
Several of Kluber’s strengths are reflected in the stats listed above. First of all, he’s consistently inducing soft contact. Opponents aren’t hitting the ball hard off of Kluber, and that is why his expected batting average against and expected wOBA are considerably lower than the league averages. Corey is also getting hitters to chase pitches. We’ve all seen the incredible movement that he can generate, and it isn’t surprising that hitters end up swinging at pitches out of the zone on a regular basis.
More than any other professional sport, baseball is a grind. With a six-month season that spans from chilly April afternoons, through hot summer nights, and into the cool evening air of autumn, there are inevitably highs and lows. Even though Kluber has been incredibly impressive, and even though his peripherals say that he’s pitching really well, I expect that he’ll have some rough stretches in the weeks ahead. To quote John Sterling, “that’s baseball.”
However, if and when the difficult days come, they won’t detract from what Kluber has already been for the Yankees, or from what I now believe he can be come October. I’m ecstatic that Corey is doing so well, and hats off to the organization for taking a gamble that seems to be paying off.