Corey Kluber and the Case for Killing the Win

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Corey Kluber Proves it’s Time to Kill the Win

In a recent article posted to Fangraphs.com by David Laurila, the argument is once again made about pitcher wins. That being, should they or shouldn’t they finally be put to rest. In other words, is it time to kill the win as a statistic for analyzing pitching performance?

It’s an interesting argument, one that elicits a wide variety of opinions. In fact, in his piece, Laurila sought out the opinions of several current pitchers and baseball people to get their opinion on the value of wins as a useful statistic. Opinions ranged anywhere from indifference, to support, to removal of it as a useful stat. Clearly, there is no consensus on what should be done about the use of wins as a valuable statistic. Because of that lack of urgency to kill it off, odds are we’ll still have it force-fed down our throats every chance we get.

One pitcher that would greatly benefit from the removal of the win from the hearts and minds of baseball fans everywhere is Corey Kluber. Thanks to its continued use as a statistic with some sort of perceived value, a lot of fans looks at Kluber’s 2-5 record through his first 10 starts and see failure. Add in his 3.49 ERA and the perception that 2015 Corey Kluber is not living up the expectations put in place by 2014 Corey Kluber will continue to spread like wild-fire.

May 13, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) throws a pitch during the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

But hold on a second, folks. Let’s pump the brakes on that whole line of thinking for a second. While Corey Kluber’s 2015 record of 2-5 and 3.49 ERA are disheartening on the surface, the truth of the matter is that Kluber has been just as good, if not better in his first 10 starts of 2015 as he was in his first 10 starts of 2014.

Through 10 starts in 2014, Kluber was 4-3 with a 3.43 ERA. Both of those figures were better, which would lead many to believe that his overall performance was better. That is far from the case. Digging deeper, Kluber posted 10.21 k/9 and 2.07 bb/9 rates. His FIP and xFIP were 2.78 and 2.85 respectively. The opposition was slashing .270/.310/.390. Again, all of this was over the first 10 starts and 65.2 innings in 2014.

Looking through his 2015 numbers, Kluber has been far superior: His 10.72 k/9 and especially his 1.55 bb/9 are improved. A 2.20 FIP and 2.47 xFIP both point to the fact that Kluber is better handling the things he can control. The opposition’s slash line? A minuscule .253/.295/.356. All of this is taking place over 10 starts and 69.2 innings of work.

Corey Kluber’s stats through his first 10 starts of 2014 and 2015.

The one thing you can hold against Kluber to this point is that he has been slightly luckier in terms of his BAbip. After 10 starts in 2014, Kluber’s BAbip was .361.So far in 2015 it sits at .348. Improved? Yes. Improved enough to explain the increased dominance from one year to the next? Hardly. If anything, this goes to show that Kluber continues to do what he does in spite of the terrible defense behind him, but that is an argument for a different day.

Balancing out that improved luck has been a lack of run support that can be best described as maddening. In Kluber’s 10 starts in 2015, the Tribe has only once scored more than five runs. Three times they’s scored four or more runs and seven times they have scored two or fewer. He’s been forced to be near perfect on a regular basis.

What we are seeing is a pitcher who has been far superior in 2015 than he was over the same stretch in 2014, a season in which he won the Cy Young Award. But again, because of the two wins against five losses, Kluber’s 2015 dominance is ignored and instead viewed as a failure. It was even worse when his record sat at a God awful 0-5.

Apr 27, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) pitches during the first inning against the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

And so it goes. “The reigning Cy Young award winner is 0-5? And we just gave him a contract extensions? He’s a bust!” That has been the narrative and it’s all thanks to the historical importance of a statistic that holds very little relevance in terms of performance.

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Sure, killing the win would have ramifications. For instance, we would be forced to look at historical greatness from a whole new perspective. No longer could we put 300 game winners atop a pedestal and label them as great. We’ll be forced to dig deeper, to have a better understanding of what did or didn’t make someone great and how their performance, and not the help of those around them, shaped their historical significance.

By doing so we would be able to understand greatness when it is right in front of us. For fans of the 2015 Cleveland Indians, that greatness is Corey Kluber. He is having a great season that may ultimately be worthy of Cy Young consideration once again. Unless he doesn’t win enough games.

If that’s the case, we all lose.

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