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Second Thoughts Game #107: Cleveland 2, Seattle 0

Second Thoughts Game #107: Cleveland 2, Seattle 0
Corey Kluber (Photo: USATSI)
July 31, 2014
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The big news out of Cleveland is that Justin Masterson has been traded. While that topic took center stage in the afternoon, the duel between Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber highlighted the evening. 

The Best Two Pitchers in the American League? 

Even with my Indians hat on, it feels a little awkward considering Kluber one of the two top starters in the American League. Before we get into that, let’s start here; Felix Hernandez is the best pitcher in the AL. I don’t think it’s even close, but to each their own. Hernandez is on pace for an 8 WAR season, which would be the highest of any pitcher since Roy Halladay in 2011. In fact, only three pitchers have managed an 8 WAR season over the last 10 years. Meaning, right now he’s pitching as well as any pitcher has in the last decade.  

The last time Hernandez gave up three runs in a start? May 12th. The last time he failed to go 7 innings in a start? That was also May 12th. Since that date Hernandez has churned out 14 straight starts over 7 innings (an AL record). In that same stretch the Indians have had just 18 starters go seven innings or more as a team, and 10 of those belong to Kluber. Yet, with all that said, it was Kluber out dueling Hernandez in yesterday’s game. 

I don’t know if anyone else is like me, but throughout this season I’ve been cautious to label Kluber as an ‘ace’ starting pitcher. That word tends to get used for any pitcher at the top of a respective team’s rotation, instead of the select few top pitchers in the league. First off, Kluber doesn’t have the track record that other ace starters have. He pitched very well in 2013, but it’s not like it was Hernandez or Clayton Kershaw. Now, Kluber is even better, and he looks to still be getting better. He’s pitching as well as any non-Hernandez starter in baseball, not just the American League. 

Here’s how he stacks up in some key categories: 

4.7 WAR – 2nd in baseball (behind Hernandez)
9.66 K/9 – 10th in baseball, 7th in AL
2.51 FIP – 4th in baseball, 3rd in AL
2.70 xFIP – 6th in baseball, 3rd in AL
151.1 IP – 3rd in baseball 

Of the 93 pitchers who qualify, Kluber’s .308 BABIP against ranks 22nd. That means that as a good as his numbers are, he’s actually been a bit unlucky. You can certainly make a case that this was a matchup of the American League’s two best starters, and the Indians got the best from their ace. Truly, they had to win this game. They’ve lost a lot of momentum over the last week, and they were staring not only at a third straight series loss, but falling six games back in the Wild Card race. Instead, Kluber did what aces do, put the team on his back, stopped the bleeding, and for one day made everything right at Progressive Field. 

Kluber’s outing was the most efficient start of the season, for any pitcher. He needed only 85 pitches to dispatch the Mariners for the complete game shutout. As Kluber puts together the best single season from an Indians starter since CC Sabathia in 2007, the team has gone 14-9 in games he’s pitched. It’s still amazing that he was overlooked by fans and coaches alike for All-Star recognition, but that snub has fueled him to a 0.68 ERA since the break with an otherworldly 28:1 K/BB ratio in 26.2 innings. 

Let me end with this; even I let out a little groan when I saw Kluber had to matchup against Hernandez during this series. I won’t do that again. He can beat anyone. That’s why he’s an ace. On the day when the team’s default ace over the last couple of seasons was dealt away, Kluber has shown us that the top of the team’s rotation is in even better hands.   

Masterson Trade Thoughts 

First off, I like the trade. That doesn’t mean it’s not bittersweet. Masterson was one of my favorite Indians over the last decade. He was a great teammate, a hard worker, and really developed from a guy that most thought would be nothing more than a back of the bullpen arm int one of the better starters in the American League last season. Masterson was a workhorse, effective, and he wanted to be a Cleveland Indian. How can you not enjoy a player like that? 

I don’t know what went wrong this year. Obviously his control and velocity are issues, but I don’t know what’s causing them. I hope for his sake that the Cardinals have an idea of what’s gone wrong so Masterson can finish the season strong and get the payday he deserves in free agency. Too often we as fans get caught up in ‘winning’ trades. Dealing Masterson made sense, especially considering the caliber of prospect they got in return. I’m not going to hope he continues to struggle just so that this trade isn’t second guessed down the road. 

I’m really happy with getting James Ramsey in this deal. A first round pick of the Cardinals in 2012, he does a little bit of everything. Like others, I wish he was a right handed bat, but that’s about the only complaint I’d have – and it’s not really a complaint at all. He can play all three outfield positions, has some speed, is a solid athlete, and has a good hit tool. He easily becomes one of the Indians top outfield prospects, and he’ll be assigned to Columbus, meaning he’s just one step away from Cleveland. 

His acquisition helps fortify the Indians outfield depth in the upper minors. Right now, only Michael Brantley is performing well at the major league level. Carlos Moncrief is probably the only outfielder in Triple A that you would consider a viable prospect (though I think Tyler Holt could be a valuable fourth outfield type), and his prospect standing has eroded a little bit. The Indians need an overhaul in the outfield, and though the contracts of Michael Bourn and David Murphy make that tricky, Ramsey may be a valuable piece of that transition. 

For a half season of an underperforming pitcher, even one as beloved as Justin Masterson, this is a win for the Indians. 

Other Notes 

-Also regarding the trade deadline, John Lackey’s name has come up in discussions. It’s an interesting report, as Lackey has a clause in his contract that will allow his team to keep him in 2015 for the major league minimum. It would surely take parting with some prospects to land Lackey, but he’d be an unbelievable value for the Indians next year.   

-Yan Gomes has to be Corey Kluber’s best friend right now. Not only did Gomes save Kluber from taking the loss in his last start with a RBI single in the 9th inning to tie the game after Ryan Raburn’s error, he provided the big RBI hit in this game with a two-run double.  

-A series win against the Mariners would be a step in the right direction after two lackluster series against Minnesota and Kansas City. They’ll face off against Chris Young, who threw five innings of one run ball the last time he faced the Indians.  

User Comments

Joe Chengery
July 31, 2014 - 3:17 PM EDT
Looking up Walters' numbers on MiLB.com:

.300/.358/.608
60G, 237 ABs, 38 R, 71 H/18 2B/5 3B/15 HR/48 RBIs/20 BB/62 K - will be 25 on Sept 5, spent parts of 2012 (98 ABs) and 2013 (487 ABs) at AAA Syracuse in the INT. Very even splits between RHP and LHP, .963 and .973 respectively. Walters is a switch hitter.
Joe Chengery
July 31, 2014 - 3:09 PM EDT
Indians are also sending cash to the Nationals according to Buster Olney.
Joe Chengery
July 31, 2014 - 3:06 PM EDT
Nick Camino reports the Indians receive SS Zach Walters in return.
Joe Chengery
July 31, 2014 - 3:01 PM EDT
It's the Nationals, according to Jordan Bastian. Still unknown who the Indians received.
Joe Chengery
July 31, 2014 - 2:59 PM EDT
According to Paul Hoynes, the Indians have just traded Cabrera- details coming.
Tony
July 31, 2014 - 2:21 PM EDT
Kluber had really elevated himself to stud status. The amazing thing is he is not even up for salary arbitration until the end of next season....so the Indians have four more years of control with him. Still way too early to consider a long term deal to lock him up through his arbitration years and potentially buy out a free agent year, but that time could come near the end of next season or offseason. He's a guy to build the rotation around. If Bauer and Salazar shake out that is three good pieces for the next 4+ years together. Need some luck for once with health and performance with these guys!
Michael
July 31, 2014 - 2:02 PM EDT
I should point out that the record is 14 straight 7 inning starts allowing two runs or fewer.
Rocky55
July 31, 2014 - 1:20 PM EDT
Hard to believe that no pitcher in AL history has had 14 straight starts of over 7 innings.As an example, Walter Johnson threw complete games in 90% of his starts. I'd bet that he must have had a stretch of 15 games of over 7 innings at least once.
Matthew
July 31, 2014 - 10:48 AM EDT
Michael--

Great point in the final graf of the Kluber section. I had a similar reaction when I saw Kluber drew Felix this week. Thinking "Damn. What a waste of a Kluber start."

You're absolutely right. Those days are over. Even against King Felix, Kershaw, whoever. If Kluber is on the hill, the thought is "Good. We've got a shot today."

What an exciting development. It's been 5 years since we had a SP on that level.

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