Cleveland Indians: How Corey Kluber Owned the Cubs

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Oct 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning in game one of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Elsa/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
Oct 25, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the first inning in game one of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Elsa/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports /
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Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber was masterful in Game One of the World Series, shutting down the vaunted Chicago Cubs. How did he do it?

The baseball world saw something from Corey Kluber on Tuesday night in Cleveland that it might never see again. I’m not talking about the World Series record eight strikeouts in the first three innings, or the six innings of four-hit ball, or even the fact that the 30-year old right-hander led the Indians’ charge to a fourth postseason shutout, a feat only accomplished four other times in the history of the game.

While those things were indeed impressive, the most telling sign that Cleveland’s 6-0 win over the Chicago Cubs in Game One was a rare occurrence is the fact that Kluber was caught with a smile on his face. Right there in the bullpen after making his last warmup pitch before the game, the famously stoic hurler grinned. Perhaps he knew something everyone else didn’t?

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Or more likely, Kluber knew his stuff was sharp right from the beginning, as he made the biggest start in his career. Because he did set a World Series record by striking out eight batters in the first three innings, broke a franchise record with nine strikeouts in a World Series game, and did lead the Indians’ charge to a fourth postseason shutout.

The game went exactly as Tribe catcher Roberto Perez, the night’s other hero, expected it to:

"“He’s our ace. Every time he steps on the mound, I expect big things from him. He was awesome. We had a good game plan going on before the game. We executed pitches, and he was outstanding.”"

So how was Kluber able to silence the bats of the third-highest scoring team in all of Major League Baseball in 2016? Quite simply, he used what may well be the most dominant pitch of any player in the game today.

Some call it a two-seam fastball, others a sinker, but regardless of the title, Kluber has mastered the pitch, commanding its movement and location to fool, frustrate, and lock up opposing hitters. His two-seamer has otherworldly arm-side run, allowing the ball to initially appear to be a ball on the inside corner to left-handers and the outside corner to righties, only to come back over the corner of the plate.

When coupled with Kluber’s wipeout breaking ball, the two-seamer makes the life of a hitter that much more difficult, as Chicago found out firsthand.

On the night, Kluber threw the two-seamer 30 times, about one-third of his total for the game, and 24 were thrown for strikes. Of those, only 10 were swung at, and just one resulted in a hit.

Brooks Baseball, which reports the data gathered during the game by PITCHF/x, gave the two-seamer (they call it a sinker) a linear weighted outcome of -2.22, which is pretty close to unhittable.

Kluber also threw his breaking ball 27 times, 19 for strikes, and generated five swings and misses and just a single hit, good for a linear weighted outcome of -1.00. What this means is that nearly two-thirds of his pitches thrown on the night were the two most effective pitch types that any of the eight arms that appeared in the game threw, and that includes Andrew Miller.

In total, Kluber had 24 called strikes, four of which were called strike threes. And while some of that has to do with Perez being an elite pitch framer, the fact is that Cleveland’s ace had stuff about as good in this game as he’s had in any game of his career.

Next: Should Indians Be Concerned About Pitcher Usage?

It remains to be seen if the Indians will be able to ride the wave of momentum from their Game One victory into Wednesday night’s Game Two with the mercurial Trevor Bauer taking the ball against the reigning National League Cy Young award winner in Jake Arrieta. And there’s no way of knowing if Kluber will be as effective in his next outing against the Cubs. He’ll certainly have the opportunity, though, and if he flashes a smile in the bullpen, perhaps we’ll have the answer ahead of time.

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