Cleveland Indians’ Corey Kluber Should Be the All-Star Game Starting Pitcher

Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

Kluber Should Be the Starting Pitcher of the All-Star Game

American League manager Ned Yost recently announced that Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale will get the nod to start the 2016 All-Star Game. While this is hardly a choice to get upset over, the player that should have gotten the nod is Cleveland Indians’ starting pitcher Corey Kluber.  With respect to Sale, who is a stud pitcher and far from a bad choice, Kluber has been the one who has been the best pitcher in the American League. 

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To some, it may seem odd to suggest that Kluber should start the All-Star game. For one, he wasn’t even originally on the team, having only been added as an injury replacement for Toronto’s Marco Estrada. Secondly, his earned run average is 3.61, which ranks just 15th best in the American League this season. He’s nearly a full run below league leader and fellow All-Star Steven Wright (2.68). Not exactly top notch for an All-Star game starter…or is it?

Chris Sale ranks just 11th in the American League with a 3.38 ERA. So it’s not likely that ERA was the deciding factor in why Chris Sale was chosen, which is good since ERA is hardly the best measure of which pitcher is the best in the league. Analytics would tell you to look at things like fielding independent pitching (FIP) as this takes out the defense and looks at what a pitcher can control. So who’s been the best pitcher in the American League via FIP? Well, that would be Corey Kluber at 2.95, quite a bit better than Chris Sale who’s FIP is 3.74, 11th in the American league. In fact, outside of ERA Corey Kluber dominates the stat board this season:

Sale has Kluber beat in walk rate although Kluber has the every slight lead in strikeout-walk percent. Outside of that and ERA, though, it’s pretty clear who has been the better pitcher between Sale and Kluber. Not only that, it’s pretty clear who has been the best starting pitcher in the American League this season: Corey Kluber.

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One question that arises from this is whether or not the starting pitcher (or any All-Star starter) should be based solely on this season? It’s a fair question, one I don’t think has a right or wrong answer per se. I can see the argument either way, which then brings up the question, shouldn’t Chris Sale start because he’s been better for longer? Well…that’s not really true either. Here’s a breakdown of how Kluber and Sale have fared in the American League in FIP and fWAR the last seasons. Numbers here are combined total for years in question…

As one can see, despite popular opinion that Sale has been the best or most dominant starter in the American League the last few years, the numbers actually point to Kluber being the best in the league, or at least better than Sale (David Price does rank first in fWAR the three periods that Kluber does not).

So if Kluber has been better than Sale this season AND has been better over the last 3 1/2 seasons, why should Sale get the start over Kluber? Other than the (mis)perception that Sale is better, there really isn’t a good answer to that question…

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At the end of the day, the player who starts the game doesn’t matter a whole lot. It’s a nice “honor” to have but Kluber has been named as the second starter to go and will likely work the same number of innings as Sale in the game. Both players have been great both in 2016 and over the last 3-4 years. They are two of the three best pitchers in the American League in that timeframe and either one has a case to start. However, if you wanted to pick the one starter that’s been the best, the one starter that should be starting…that would be Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians.