Saturday is finally Corey Kluber Day again, as the 2014 Cy Young winner makes his spring debut for the Tribe. One of the biggest questions going into the new season has been whether Kluber will be capable of replicating his performance from last year. It would be almost impossible to be as good as he was last year for two seasons in a row. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t be the Indians’ ace again in 2015.
After making changes to his delivery and pitch repertoire, Kluber had one of the greatest seasons in Indians’ history, won the Cy Young, and came in 11th place in the MVP voting – all on a team that didn’t even make the playoffs. In 34 starts, Kluber had 269 strikeouts to just 51 walks, finishing the season with an astonishing 28.3 percent strikeout rate. In comparison, the major league average is under 20 percent.
He also gave up only 14 home runs in 235.2 innings. When Kluber made his debut as a starter for the Tribe in 2012, he allowed nine homers in 63 innings. Most of those who watched him struggle through that season probably had a hard time imagining that Kluber was capable of the numbers he put up in 2014. With a 5.14 ERA and a 6.4 percent walk rate in his first season, he didn’t leave a very good impression. But there were underlying signs of hope – a much lower FIP, and a strikeout rate of 20 percent – that showed he deserved another chance to be in the rotation. The Indians were willing to give him that chance, and it paid off in a big way.
Kluber finished last season with the highest WAR among AL pitchers, at 7.4, which also gave him the third-highest WAR among all positions. The only players that were statistically more valuable were the Angels’ Mike Trout and Oakland’s Josh Donaldson. That’s pretty impressive for a player in his first true full major league season.
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That’s a point that’s important to remember. Even in 2013, Kluber spent time early in the year shuttling between Columbus and Cleveland, making last season the first where he didn’t have to fight for a job. While he might be a little older than most pitchers are when they finally become an ace, Kluber doesn’t have the service time that other pitchers his age usually have.
He is certainly an anomaly among Cy Young winners, which makes it hard to predict exactly how he’ll perform this season, but there’s nothing to say he can’t repeat his performance. If Kluber can come even close to being the pitcher he was last season, the Tribe will have one of the toughest rotations in league.