Cleveland’s Corey Kluber is once again a serious Cy Young award contender in 2017, after placing third in 2016, ninth in 2015, and winning the award in 2014. So far in 2017, the right-handed pitcher is having one of the best seasons of his excellent career. He has put up a 2.67 ERA (for a league-leading ERA+ of 174, fractionally higher than Chris Sale’s) and a 0.924 WHIP, with a 12-3 win-lost record. His SO/9 (12.2) is the highest of his career, and his BB/9 of 1.9 is his second-lowest.
What he throws. Kluber throws either five or six pitch types, depending on how his breaking pitches are classified. His four-seam fastball (“FF”) and two-seam fastball or sinker (“SI”) have good but not great velocity, averaging 92.6 mph and 92.4 mph respectively. His sinker is clearly separated from his four-seam, with much more horizontal movement and slightly less vertical movement. He also throws a changeup (“CH”), and either two or three breaking pitches. One of those, averaging 88.8 mph, has been classified as a slider, a cutter, or both. With no clear separate cluster to call a cutter, I’ve called all these pitches sliders (“SL”), but the faster ones would be called cutters for many other pitchers.
His other pitch, a curve (“CU”), is well separated from the slider but is still exceptionally fast at 84.2 mph (the charts below compare Kluber’s curve, in red, to those of other right-handers who have thrown at least 200 curves in 2017). The pitch is also exceptional in its movement; not only is it among the leaders in horizontal movement, it is unusual in having positive vertical movement rather than the “drop” relative to gravity that most curves show. It is probably this deception that leads to the pitch drawing far more swinging strikes than the average curve — 30.3% of his curves result in swinging strikes, compared to the league average of 12.4%.
Pitch usage and trends. Overall, Kluber has a balanced repertoire, with his sinker, curve, and slider being roughly equal in usage (29.8%, 25.6%, and 22.9% of pitches respectively). Right-handed batters see very few changeups, with the slider making up the difference, and he throws his curve much more often when ahead in the count than when behind.
He has been quite consistent through 2017, without dramatically changing his pitch usage from game to game. His velocity increased slightly after the first half-dozen games, but ticked down a little in his last game, on August 13.
Pitch value. Kluber’s four-seam fastball, curve, and changeup are all much better than average based on total bases yielded per 100 pitches; his four-seam is particularly effective against right-handed batters. His sinker is about league average overall, though it is better against left-handed batters, and his slider is slightly worse than average, though again it is somewhat more effective against righties. His pitches are all about league-average or better in terms of balls per 100 pitches (discounting the changeup against righties, which he throws very rarely).
Pitch location. Kluber has excellent command, and it shows up in his pitch location. His changeup, slider, and curve all target the very bottom of the strike zone, either just inside or just below the zone. By comparison, his fastballs (both four-seam and sinker) typically end up near the top of the strike zone. The four-seam to right-handed batters, especially, show his control, with two tight clusters just at the top inside and top outside corners of the strike zone.
Featured image courtesy of BCSN