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Second Thoughts Game #121: Orioles 1, Indians 2

Second Thoughts Game #121: Orioles 1, Indians 2
Mike Aviles enjoys a home plate mobbing after his walkoff homer in the 11th. (Photo: AP)
August 16, 2014
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As one might glean from every past Second Thoughts that this author has written for the past several months, Michael Brantleyis the only player even comparable to Kluber in terms of overall production, and only if one ignore the respective players' year-to-date WAR totals (Kluber's 5.7 after Friday's game versus Brantley's 4.8) and willingly dive into the position player versus pitcher quagmire of despair does that contest appear all that close.

In fact, after Friday's performance is taken into account, the (FanGraphs) Major League Wins Above Replacement leaderboard is as follows:

1) Felix Hernandez: 6.2 WAR
T2) Mike Trout: 5.7 WAR
T2) Corey Kluber: 5.7 WAR

Greatest Baseball Player on Planet Earth, Mike Trout, is having a poor year, granted. Likewise, Best Pitcher on Planet Earth, Clayton Kershaw, was injured for approximately a month. This is not to say that Corey Kluber is the second best player in the league. It is entirely to say, however, that his year-to-date performance places him among the very best players in the game, and it vaults him into wonderfully sparse territory in Indians history.

Last Saturday's Kluber panegyric dealt with the relative metrics in an attempt to glean perspective on how dominant Kluber is relative to how dominant past Indians starters were; today's Second Thoughts will cast perspective to the wind and look merely at his absolute metrics, noting carefully that superiority in cross-era run prevention or strikeout ability does not imply a one-to-one superiority as a baseball player.

ERA

As of the end of Friday's game, Kluber's ERA stands at 2.41. Since the mound was lowered after the 1968 season, there has been exactly one qualified Cleveland pitcher-season with a lower ERA: Gaylord Perry's 1972 season, with a 1.92 ERA. Perry, incidentally, did not pitch in front of a defense that featured Ryan Raburn or third-baseman Carlos Santana. While there is a substantial gap between Gaylord Perry's FIP (2.50) and his 1.92 ERA, Perry pitched an indisputably excellent 342.2 innings. The point of this is not to argue Kluber's superiority relative to hall-of-famer Gaylord Perry; rather, to note that Perry was the only pitcher who has prevented earned runs at a better rate than 2014 Kluber since the mound was lowered. Even factoring context in, that is little short of remarkable.

Intriguingly, immediately behind Kluber is Gaylord Perry's 1974 season (2.51 ERA) followed by Cliff Lee's 2008 season. Lee's 2.54 ERA in 2008 is objectively impressive, but occur as it did in the last violent throes of the Pujols-and-A-Rod offensive game, it merits all the more reverence.

K/BB and K%-BB%

At face value, the two stats seem like they would be similar - they each deal with a relationship between strikeouts and walks, and they would appear to deal with how far apart the two are. Yet one of them, K/BB, strikeouts divided by walks, deals with only a fixed and constant ratio, whereas K%-BB% focuses on the actual difference between strikeouts per plate appearance and walks per plate appearance. Fielding Independent Pitching theory suggests that, given a large K/BB ratio, it is beneficial for the pitcher to have both walk and strikeout numbers be larger so long as it adheres to the ratio. K%-BB% captures FIP's tenets more faithfully than K/BB in the overwhelming majority of circumstances.

Nevertheless, K/BB does tell a story - the quality of a pitcher's stuff relative to his control. The top 5 in Indians history in K/BB tell an interesting and ambiguous story about the usefulness of the statistic. The top 5 pitcher seasons, in order, are 2007 CC Sabathia (5.65), 1991 Greg Swindell (5.45), 2014 Corey Kluber (5.18), 2008 Cliff Lee (5.00), and 2011 Josh Tomlin (4.24). Of the five seasons, two earned Cy Young awards, Kluber's presentlymerits Cy Young talk,  Swindell was good but not great, and Josh Tomlin ran a 4.25 ERA - which, in fairness, was nearer average in 2011 than it would be in 2014. A good K/BB ratio guarantees something near an average performance, and the best seasons frequently have a good K/BB, but it is far from a guarantee of success.

Turning to K%-BB%, on the other hand, the top five is far more unambiguously good. Corey Kluber's 22.1% K%-BB% is the best mark in Indians history - which is perhaps to be expected, given that strikeouts are at their highest mark in MLB history. The remaining top 5 seasons, however, are 2007 CC Sabathia (17.6%), 2006 CC Sabathia (16.0%), 2008 Cliff Lee (15.3%), and 1969 Sam McDowell (15.2%). The highest ERA in the group was Sabathia's 2006 at 3.22, which given the explosive offenses of the day, reflects the ace-like performances that Sabathia perennially brought. K%-BB% is not a one-to-one correlation with ERA, but relative to K/BB, it is an extremely clear indicator of pitching success. It is in this statistic that Kluber has surpassed all Indians pitchers since the lowering of the mound.

Other Kluber Statistics, After the Lowering of the Mound

  • WHIP ((Walks+Hits)/IP): 1.07, 3rd (1972 Perry, 1974 Perry)
  • K%: 27.2%, 1st
  • Strikeout Total: 197, 10th (1970 McDowell, 1969 McDowell, 1973 Perry, 1972 Perry, 1974 Perry, 2000 Colon, 2007 Sabathia, 2001 Colon, 1976 Eckersley)
  • Innings Pitched: 179.1, 96th

The last of these stats were included merely for perspective with relationship to strikeout totals. Kluber is within 20 strikeouts of 5th place, and within 50 strikeouts of 3rd. Even cracking the top five would be impressive, given that four of the top five pitched over 300 innings.

Kluber plays in an era wherein the strikeout is more plentiful than ever. This is undeniable. If there exist criticisms of Kluber, it is likely that he benefits from this shift in run environment, that he merely takes advantage of an existing strikeout tendency in the majors to the top. Perhaps this is in part true.

Nevertheless, it's not merely as though Kluber is a laggard whose pitching prowess is carried on the backs of the David Prices and Aroldis Chapmans of the majors - Kluber's 2014 resume is one of the three best in the majors. Kluber is one of the best pitchers in the best pitching era in nearly forty years. If newly-elected MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred, does decide to take corrective measures to combat the conflagrant strikeout rate, it is possible that Indians fans will never see another season quite like Kluber's 2014. For good or for ill, Kluber's 2014 is one of a kind.

John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimmHe can also be reached by e-mail at john.h.grimm@hotmail.com.

User Comments

Joe Chengery
August 17, 2014 - 11:11 AM EDT
Tony,

Agreed on Francona's stubbornness- hope he learns to be more flexible with his lineups and bullpen (specifically Shaw in the 8th inning- no one said Shaw was a set-up man- there was debate before 2013 he even fit in the back-end of a bullpen, let alone an 8th inning reliever).

Rich,

Maybe Francona is looking at career stats against a specific pitcher, but I think that has to be balanced by what has the hitter done of late. As you mentioned, Aviles is in one of those funks again (why I'd have Chisenhall playing more third and getting more at-bats- he has a greater chance than Aviles of being around long-term and still has some upside if he gets more at-bats. Chisenhall is not likely to come out of his funk by sitting on the bench, including against LHP).

Personally, I'd have the following lineup most games:

Holt RF (or have him in CF, Brantley in LF, and Walters in RF)
Ramirez SS
Brantley CF
Santana 1B
Gomes C
Chisenhall 3B (occasional DH)
Walters LF (occasional DH)
Kipnis 2B (occasional DH)
Bourn DH (temporary, alternate between DH and CF based on his hamstring- ease him back in and hope he can stay healthy and produce the final six weeks so that you have the viable option of trading him this offseason).

I don't like Kipnis in the 5-hole, and the fact he chased a 55-ft changeup or curveball from Jimenez with two strikes that landed in the grass in front of home plate further shows his plate discipline isn't that good to be in the top part of the order, while his inconsistency and lack of power should keep him out of the middle of the order. Based on Walters being a switch hitter and the fact he's put together good at-bats, I'd put him in between Chisenhall and Kipnis.
Rich
August 17, 2014 - 8:38 AM EDT
Tito looks at his hitters performance against the opponents starting pitcher when making out his lineup. Maybe Aviles had a good track record against the O's starter.

OTOH, Aviles went into Friday night's game with 4 hits in his last 32 AB's (.125). I was shocked to see him hitting second.

Then last night Tito has Bourn leading off after he went something like 1-for-15 in his minor league rehab assignment. He did not swing at a pitch his first two AB's (walk and sacrifice), but after that he looked pretty bad.
Tony
August 16, 2014 - 11:28 PM EDT
Yeah, a head scratcher with Francona's continued insistence to bat Aviles second. I love Tito, but my goodness is he stubborn when it comes to the handling of his veterans.
Joe Chengery
August 16, 2014 - 9:32 PM EDT
Robert,

Ironically, though, it is the "Columbus team" that has actually led to much of the Indians' offense of late - Walters, Holt, Ramirez, Perez - instead of the usual Brantley, Santana, Gomes, Chisenhall, all of whom have cooled off, so I think that young core will be more influential for the Indians reaching the postseason than you think, especially since I think some of our core guys are tiring, especially Gomes catching everyday and Brantley dealing with injury issues. Add in that Chisenhall can't find himself, Santana has been inconsistent, and Kipnis continues to underachieve, and I think the kids from Columbus will definitely factor into how well the Indians do down the stretch.

As for Aviles, I don't think he is the best choice for the two-hole (think Ramirez, even with his limited experience, is a better fit for the two spot), but I have no problem with Aviles as a player- he has value and has shown it several times this season, more so than Swisher, Bourn, and Kipnis. As for Francona, he continued batting Kipnis in the heart of the batting order when he wasn't hitting at all, and he continues putting Shaw in the 8th inning when he hasn't been effective there since May.

As I said before, if Francona has one weakness as a manager, he sticks with some guys too long when the recent performance and track record would strongly suggest a change is needed. Granted, loyalty to players is good at times, but there's a time when a change is needed, and several times this season, Francona has been slow to pull the trigger- he's done this with Swisher, Santana, Bourn, Kipnis, Gomes (not putting him in the heart of the order), Chisenhall (not putting him in the heart of the order when he was hitting .350+), Shaw, Axford. If there's one area that Francona can improve upon as a manager, that would be it in my opinion.
Robert
August 16, 2014 - 12:21 PM EDT
Tondo,

I do not get the angst re Aviles. IMO he is a very valuable player on the team and I think he should play more - perhaps in a platoon with Chiz until rediscovers at least some of the magic.

If there is a run to be made it is not going to be with the Columbus team.
Tondo
August 16, 2014 - 11:59 AM EDT
Congrats to Aviles, but if Tito keeps hitting him 2nd, then he's clueless. Dude has a career .300 OBP.

Francona is going to lose me, if he fills out a lineup with Bourn-Aviles leading off tonight. That has to be the worst combo in all of baseball and the Indians are paying them 16.5mil. Put Aviles 9th, if you really have to play him every day. Call up Urshela and either trade Aviles or keep him on the bench as the super sub that he is
shy
August 16, 2014 - 11:46 AM EDT
Perry's 1972 ERA - the only one lower than Kluber's in Indians history was achieved facing pitchers in the 9 hole, since the DH was instituted(sadly) in 1973. Kluber has morphed from a "ham and egger" to one of the elite pitchers in the game. I don't know anyone who could have seen this coming. Congratulations, Cory, you definitely da man. Please find time to train w Zach Mac this winter.

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