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Cleveland Indians SP Corey Kluber Has Long-Term Potential
By Joe Werner
The first six starts of right-hander Corey Kluber’s career have been a bit rough; granted, not nearly as rough as the Indians’ last month of play, but his performance hasn’t really made a lasting impression either.
With a potential 2013 rotation spot on the line – the team is in need of one, maybe two starting pitchers for next season, depending whether the organization picks up Roberto Hernandez’s option – Kluber has lasted past the fifth inning just twice and has posted an unsightly 5.16 ERA in just under 30 innings of work.
Both his minor league track record and solid-average peripherals this year, albeit in a very limited sample size, suggest that better times could be on the horizon. However, his ultimate ceiling is as a solid, innings-eating backend starter, or as a reliever capable of carving out a Jon Rauch-type swing role.
Kluber, who was acquired in the three-team 2010 deadline deal involving the Cardinals and Padres, shows a straight, low- to mid-90s fastball, a hard cutter with just a tiny wrinkle, a solid-average curve and a fringy change that fades a bit. It is not an overpowering arsenal, but it is workable.
Historically, Kluber has always posted strong strikeout rates throughout his six-year minor league career, averaging just over one per inning. His command, however, has been touch-and-go, bouncing between slightly better than average and well below it. His true talent level tends to hover just below the league average rate.
The problem with that combination – solid strikeout totals and bigger walk rates – is big pitch counts early in games. Through his first five starts, he has averaged 18.3 pitches per inning. His average of 3.9 pitches per plate appearance would tie fellow Tribe hurler Ubaldo Jimenez as the 21st highest mark in baseball had he thrown enough innings.
Overall, his 5.16 ERA is a bit misleading.
His batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, is a fluky .365; more than 70 points above the league average. His homerun rate (1.52 HR/9) and strand rate (61.4 percent), both have plenty of room for regression. So there is quite a bit of improvement there, just as a result of his numbers beginning to normalize.
If he can maintain at least a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio – which is feasible considering his minor league track record as an older pitching prospect – Kluber could be capable of posting an ERA in the 4.40-range next season, and should be worth between 1.5 and 2.0 wins above replacement.
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