Aug 9, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) pitches during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Indians Ace Deserves Cy Young, Team MVP and Nobel Peace Prize
Okay, maybe developing a filthy curveball that can silence even some of the most feared bats in the league isn’t quite an invention worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize, but it certainly earned Corey Kluber the AL Player of the Month honors for the last month of the regular season. Kluber wasn’t exactly a household name entering the 2014 season, but anyone who doesn’t know his name by now can’t be considered a serious Major League Baseball fan.
Kluber began the season as the Tribe’s number two starter in a rotation led by Justin Masterson, but got off to a poor start. He was lit up in his first start of the season against Oakland, and didn’t exactly follow it up with a spectacular rebound. However, a month of May that saw him post a 4-0 record with a 2.09 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 43 innings put him on the ace radar and earned him consideration for the All-Star Game. The fact that Fernando Rodney ended up earning a roster spot over Kluber is an absolutely tragedy (not to mention wildly confusing), but the point is that Kluber’s spectacular May helped him establish himself as one of the game’s elite.
While Kluber regressed a bit during the month of June, he still kept his ERA for the month under 3.00 (at 2.89 if you want specifics), and surged through July while allowing just a .465 OPS to opposing batters the entire month, along with only seven earned runs. By the time the calendar flipped to August, Kluber had become one of the most feared pitchers in the league, in part due to an historic hot streak between July 19th and August 9th. The trade of Justin Masterson at the July 31st deadline made his staff ace designation official, and he proved he deserved that title over the final two months of the season. He ended the year with a September that was nearly identical in every major pitching statistic to his fantastic month of May, earning himself the AL Player of the Month honors.
Kluber finished the year with 269 strikeouts (the sixth-highest season total in franchise history) across 235.2 innings pitched to go along with a 2.44 ERA. His 2.35 FIP suggests that he was even better than his ERA. His 7.3 fWAR for the 2014 season ranks higher than any other pitcher in baseball, including both Clayton Kershaw and fellow AL Cy Young Candidate Felix Hernandez.
Everything about the advanced pitching metrics prove that Corey Kluber deserves to win the Cy Young. Kluber totaled about 10% more strikeouts than Felix over a nearly identical number of innings, posted a better FIP and was worth over a full win above replacement than the so-called King Felix. His 18 wins outshine Hernandez’s 15. The only advantage Hernandez has in the conversation (aside from name value) is that his ERA (2.14) is better than Kluber’s (2.44). A deeper look at the defenses playing behind both teams reveals that Kluber had to work a lot harder to keep his ERA down pitching in front of the worst defense in baseball than Hernandez had to while pitching for one of the best.
Kluber was the best pitcher in the American League this season. He rose from being practically a nobody to one of the most feared pitchers in baseball, and became the first cyborg to post at least 18 wins in a season. The Indians will feel comfortable having him at the top of the rotation for quite some time.