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Second Thoughts Game #50: Cleveland 9, Baltimore 0

Second Thoughts Game #50: Cleveland 9, Baltimore 0
Corey Kluber put up another strong start for the Indians and continues to be one of the best starters in baseball. (Photo: AP)
May 25, 2014
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Ubaldo Jimenez took the mound on Saturday against Cleveland, his former team that did not deign to resign him. In the world of narratives, this payback game would see Ubaldo show his vintage late 2013 form and show Cleveland just the sort of ace Cleveland missed out on.

Instead, Jimenez walked five and departed after recording twelve outs. Romanticism loses again, and the dominant Corey Kluberwants this frivolous sentimentality out of his cold steel dominion.

Corey Kluber, for the fifth time this month, struck out at least eight batsmen (on Saturday, he struck out nine) en route to a dominant performance. As a result of an offensive explosion, powered byCarlos Santana's idiosyncratic but excellent performance (1-2, HR, 3 BB, .000 BABIP) coupled with a team effort that saw every Cleveland batter except David Murphy get on base at least once, Cleveland scored enough runs in its 9-0 rout to ensure that Corey Kluber, surprisingly, earned a pitcher win for an excellent seven-inning performance.

Get In The Zone

It took two innings before Twitter began vehemently rolling its eyes at the strike zone being called by Home Plate Umpire Rob Drake, a sentiment shared by Orioles' Manager Buck Showalter. Showalter's perception, that Jimenez was shortchanged on a good many calls, is one directly countermanded by the following charts of which pitches were called balls and which were called strikes. (Note: graphics exclude all pitches that were swung at).

Strikezone plot vs RHH Strikezone vs. LHH

Credit: BrooksBaseball.net

In the above pictures, the solid lines indicate the by-the-book strike zone, whereas the dashed lines indicate the strike zone that major league umpires effectively recognize.

In the first plot, that of right-handed batters, one sees that there might indeed be something to the idea that Baltimore lost a few strikes high in the zone - the three green squares at the top of the zone represent three pitches clearly within the zone that were not called strikes; likewise, against left-handed hitters, the singular (well-hidden!) green square near the upper-right hand corner of the zone indicate a fourth pitch high in the zone for which Baltimore did not get the call. Perhaps, one considers, there was something to Baltimore's claim that they were unfairly disadvantaged by the umpires.

This consideration is quickly countermanded by the large number of low strikes Baltimore received. Against left-handers, Baltimore received one low strike and two outside strikes; against right-handers, moreover, Baltimore received two marginal strikes and two flagrantly out-of-zone strikes.

The hallmark of a good framer is the ability to keep as strikes those balls thrown within the zone and the ability to gain new strikes on pitches outside the zone. Despite Baltimore catcher Steve Clevenger having a rather poor day while batting at the plate, his work at framing behind the plate made his performance on the day entirely impressive.

While the out-of-zone strikes called for Baltimore put to lie the characteristic paranoia of managers in Showalter's particular case, Yan Gomes, a typically excellent framing catcher, was more consistent - for better and worse. While Gomes did not gain for Indians' pitchers the same out-of-zone strikes that Clevenger did - not a single out-of-zone strike contrasted to Clevenger's five to seven - he also surrendered only one pitch in the zone, and even that a marginal pitch off the plate against a lefty batter.

Given the divergent skill sets of the catchers, it's remarkable to consider how very nearly even the framing battle was - one gained a great many strikes but lost many, whereas the other kept all in-zone strikes but gained none. For a field of baseball analytics that has received renewed focus in recent months, the field of framing remains remarkably intuitive.

To no one's disagreement, however, the zone was inconsistent, and an inconsistent zone is something that all managers can feely complain about.

Kluber - Regarding BABIP

Corey Kluber's day on Saturday was unambiguously good. As an initiated, Yttrium-level backer of the Corey Kluber Society, this author has been unreasonably high on Corey Kluber since the conclusion of last year. Kluber has been elite thus far through 2014 at those things which are within his control (Ks, BBs); the question was whether his batting average on balls put in play, .355, was as a result of lack of line drive prevention, some tangible flaw on Kluber's part.

On Saturday, the answer was 'nope.' Corey Kluber had his fourth-best BABIP game of the season, with a game BABIP of .294 - four points below league average. What was interesting was that his BABIP was even that high.

Defense being equal (which it is clearly not in Cleveland's case, but more on that later), line drive rate is the primary driver of high or low BABIP - more line drives in play, intuitively, results in more hits. While the league average Line Drive rate is 20.2%, Kluber's LD% against on the day was 11.8% - yet the result of this extremely low LD% was not a BABIP well below league average, as one might expect, but a BABIP imperceptibly lower than average. Even though Kluber provably and tangibly did not surrender hard contact, batted balls fell for hits. The following illustrates just such a situation.

Left-Field Hit

Brantley made the play at second, and Clevenger was out - but a hit was still charged to Kluber because an out was not made on the fly. Whether this is as a result of bad luck (i.e.: where it falls) or defensive ineptitude is a matter of debate, but the fact of the matter is that Kluber was charged a hit on what was an averagely-struck outfield fly ball, providing a wholly plausible antithesis to the thesis of 'Kluber allows too much hard contact.'

Under the Hood of The Klubot

Regardless, Kluber's performance on all counts was excellent on Saturday. BABIP aside, Kluber's seven shutout innings, with nine strikeouts, two walks, and zero home runs vaulted him up the FanGraphs WAR leaderboard tofirst among all pitchers.

Remarkably, Kluber's strikeout ability on Saturday was even better than his prima facie strikeout numbers appear. Tallying 17 whiffs on 102 pitches, his 16.7% Swinging Strike rate made Saturday an exciting outing, not only because he tallied a very good strikeout count but because his swinging strike rate indicates that, not only is this strikeout rate sustainable, it would not at all be unreasonable to expect it to improve.

Worth noting, if not inherently worrying, is the fact that Kluber's velocity on his fastball was one of the lowest in the year. With a 'four-seam' average velocity of 93.4 MPH and an average 'sinker' velocity of 93.8 (pitch classifications by Brooks Baseball), Kluber's fastball velocity has only been lower twice this season: both instances being the first two games of the season.

Clearly, this velocity dip hampered Kluber's effectiveness not at all, and any possible injury or fatigue speculation would be entirely baseless without further information. Nevertheless, seeing Kluber's velocity dip to a point not seen since Cleveland's weather was 40 degrees when sunny is indeed curious, prompting one to ask whether some fragile human parts do indeed lie beneath the Klubinator's metal exterior.

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

User Comments

Rich
May 26, 2014 - 8:20 AM EDT
So we have Kluber for four more years AFTER this season? Awesome.

Now all we have to do is get Bauer and Salazar developed into aces and we could have three #1 starters, possibly as soon as 2015. Throw in Tomlin and McAllister on the back end and we could have the best rotation in the bigs, all in their prime and under team control for several more years (except maybe Tomlin).
John Grimm
May 25, 2014 - 6:20 PM EDT
Thing about Kluber is that he's under team control until the end of 2018, or his age 33 season, I believe. Pretty odd as far as FA situations are concerned.
Lisa
May 25, 2014 - 6:13 PM EDT
Kluber's rise to maybe ace level brings up the catch 22 of the Indians. If he gets too good he's gone after his contract is up we won't match what the Dodgers, Yanks, etc. will throw at him.

Pretty good and they may stay but...too good and they tend to go. The plight of the true Indians fan.
Matthew
May 25, 2014 - 12:46 PM EDT
Great stuff as usual, John.

That wipeout slurve, which is always a good pitch for Corey, was unbelievable yesterday. When he throws that to righties, he makes some very good hitters (Jones, Cruz) look absolutely foolish. Fun to watch!
art
May 25, 2014 - 12:36 PM EDT
Had the Orioles tv feed out here in California, and Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer were gushing over Kluber. Like the Toronto announcers last week, they were calling him an ace in waiting and a clear coming star.

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