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Second Thoughts Game #55: Colorado 2, Cleveland 5

Second Thoughts Game #55: Colorado 2, Cleveland 5
Corey Kluber (Photo: AP)
May 31, 2014
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The Indians have found a very clear and repeatable path to victory: start a Cy Young-caliber pitcher.

Make no mistake: Cy Young-caliber is what Cleveland right-handerCorey Kluber has become. With his 7.1 IP, 12 K performance in a 5-2 Indians win in their return to Progressive Field on Friday, Kluber has consistently given the Indians' offense an excellent chance to win ballgames.

On Friday, the Indians' offense took advantage of this opportunity on the back of a four-run fifth inning that had three extra base hits... which is two extra base hits more than Cleveland had in every other game combined since Kluber's last start. Friday was good for the offense. More of that.

Throne of Frames

Offensively, both Yan Gomes and Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario entered 2014 with similar offensive expectations - plus power projections, decent averages and altogether uninspiring OBPs. Rosario was thought to have a slight edge, but ultimately, the projections were similar.

While it's true that Gomes has gotten the better of Rosario on offense, the latter of whom has an OBP lower than Gomes has batting average, the bigger gap between the two - by far - has been their pitch-framing.

Over at Baseball Prospectus, they've compiled a sortable framing runs above average leaderboard. This leaderboard has Gomes at 3.8 runs above average, whereas Rosario stood 1.8 runs below average. It's not to say that the two were the best and worst in the league - Gomes was only 14th, Rosario 57th among all of this season's 75 catchers (including Kottaras) - but they represent opposite sides of the skill spectrum from a statisticsperspective. In fact, from the strike zone charts below, it's not clear who the better receiver was on the game (solid box is rule-book strike zone, dashed box is de facto strike zone; only pitches not offered at are included):

 Strikezone vLHH

Strikezone vRHH

The strike zone against LHH is fairly even with a probable advantage to Gomes - all in-zone pitches preserved, with six marginal out-of-zone calls gained; Rosario framed well outside, not as well as Gomes, gaining three strikes that were clearly out of the zone - but then there's that one obviously-in-the-zone pitch called a ball, a black eye on an otherwise decent performance.

Against RHH, however, the advantage would, at face value, decisively go to Rosario, with Gomes surrendering three in-zone balls. Yet, as has been noted previously, framing is as much about gaining out-of-zone strikes. Gomes did poorly to surrender three in-zone balls, but he made up for it, in a sense, with three very low strikes and a quite-inside strike. The day likely belonged to Gomes in framing, but breaking the strike zone down on a case-by-case basis, it was quite close.

From an aesthetic perspective, however, the two could not possibly be more polarized. Gomes has extremely stoic, extremely quiet ball-receiving; Rosario, on the other hand, has a tendency to violently stab at the ball, resulting in a shock that even a down-the-middle pitch would be called a strike. Rosario's body language is not always noisy, and for the most part, he's a fairly average framer whose very occasional paroxysms lead to marginal failure.

But this is pitch framing, where even the smallest marginal differences can balloon very quickly over a very large number of pitches into something far more substantial. If this author were to recommend one match-up to watch over the remainder of the series, it would be the differences between Gomes's pitch-receiving and Rosario's pitch-receiving. The difference between their body language is quite pronounced.

Let's Build Corey Kluber a Statue at Progressive Field

It's no longer the case that Corey Kluber's case for acedom is an underground cause, championed only by one particular FanGraphs writer and an equally-enthused IBI writer. Even at the start of the year, Kluber had drawn skeptics like moths to an inflated-ERA flame.

After Friday's performance (7.1 IP, 2 R/ER, 5 H, 1 BB, 12 K, 107 P, 14 SwStr), the skepticism has evaporated, and now Twitter assails Kluber enthusiasts with panegyrics manifold, shouting yearning praise for his achievements. Such panegyrics, many of them recited by Jordan Bastian, include the following facts:

  • Since 2005, Kluber becomes only the second pitcher in the majors to record 60 Ks in a month. The other member of this club is Yu Darvish.
  • Kluber, after Friday's performance, is one of only five Cleveland Indians to record 60 Ks in a month. PerJordan Bastian, the other four are Dennis EckersleyBob FellerHerb Score, and Sam McDowell.
  • Corey Kluber became one of four pitchers in Indians history with 50+ Ks and 9- BBs in a month with his 60:8 K/BB ratio.
  • Kluber now has 2.9 fWAR in 2014. Not only does this number rank as the single highest in the league, it's a total that also surpasses Kluber's own 2013 WAR total (2.7). Lest we forget, it's May.
  • Kluber is also the holder of the best FIP in the AL, at 2.20.

Bear in mind, once more, that the Rockies had been one of the least strikeout-prone teams in the majors; factoring out all pitchers, the Rockies' strikeout rate had been the second-lowest in the majors, though their Swinging Strike rate had been only 16th-lowest in the majors  and 5th-lowest in the NL.

Kluber had a tremendous 13.1% Swinging Strike Rate en route a 12 strikeout performance. Kluber put up excellent strikeout numbers against a team that very infrequently struck out, and who made one mistake: throwing his only changeup of the game to Carlos Gonzalez, who, when he is not doing his best imitation of fine china in the hands of a four-year-old (read: being broken), is a darn good power hitter. This two-run home run was the singular blemish on Kluber's game.

Moreover, Kluber's average two-seam fastball (or sinker as Brooks Baseball classifies it) reached the highest velocity of Kluber's career on Friday at an average release velocity of 96.2 MPH, getting up to 98.2 MPH - this from the pitcher with the 25th-best walk rate in the big leagues.

If you were curious: Cleveland has Kluber under team control until the end of the 2018 season. He's not going anywhere any time soon.

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

User Comments

C L Who
June 1, 2014 - 8:43 PM EDT
Tribe would make a mistaken to sign JM for more than a one year deal. A couple extra years of Kluber could be good.....strikes me right now as kind of a right handed Cliff Lee with his K:BB.

Those framing charts are really cool, but is there really tracking that exact of the pitch locations? Where are the cameras? The lasers, etc.?
Joe Chengery
May 31, 2014 - 9:47 PM EDT
"So e" should be "same."
Joe Chengery
May 31, 2014 - 9:45 PM EDT
Seth,

I almost forget that Kluber isn't that young because he is a late bloomer; still, I would not be opposed to extending him a couple of years, especially compared to spending that money on Masterson. And, that's the main reason; a franchise like the Indians has to sign frontline starters/aces early, which is all the more reason why the Indians were a long shot to sign Masterson before the season even started- it's less expensive the earlier you do it.

If the Indians think Kluber is worth an extension of even a few years, they need to establish that and extend him by the 2016 offseason at the latest- any longer, and he'll be too costly to extend. Certainly, there have been a good number of pitchers who have stayed strong at that age, especially those who have been late bloomers. I wouldn't be as opposed to that as I would be as extending Masterson, who I think would be too costly, never mind the fact he's been erratic again.

Keep in mind that many of the young pitchers who are not that close to Cleveland have not done well by and large: outside of Morimando, Sulser, maybe 1-2 others (Colon) at most, the rest have largely underperformed to this point: Kime, Brown, Lugo, most of the staff at Lake County, in fact. There isn't that much reliable depth to fall back on in the Minor Leagues at this point, and few will match the level that Kluber is pitching; unless you have the repertoire of a Bauer or Salazar, you're going to have a hard time matching him, and you can see the struggles Bauer and Salazar have had, so finding a pitcher dominating the way Kluber is doing and has been doing largely since last season isn't easy, even with depth, and we have questionable depth at this point. Any pitching draft picks that come at or near that ceiling we pick up in the draft this summer will be fortunate to be pitching and contributing by that point, since most pitching prospects take at least 3-5 years before they get to the Majors, let alone establish themselves and contribute in the fashion Kluber is doing. In baseball terms, 2019 isn't that far off, not for a franchise with the financial constraints the Indians have- the more time they wait, the more it will cost long-term.

If Kluber keeps this up throughout 2014 and, say, 2015, it would be prudent for the Indians to consider locking him up beyond 2018- there is little at this point to match that production, and the few who can (Bauer, Salazar) are far from certainties to do so. Plus, the closer we get to 2019, the harder it will be for the Indians to keep him, and we know how much difference an ace can make, especially when it comes to the postseason. Waiting until a year or two out virtually guarantees he leaves or is traded (why I was convinced the Indians weren't resigning Masterson before the season even started- too close to his becoming a free agent). Yes, there is a risk involved, but for small-market clubs like the Indians, that's the risk they have to take, especially if they have a bonafide ace in the making. The same logic has been used for guys like Gomes, Kipnis, Santana, Brantley, and in the cases of Gomes and Kipnis, they were both under Indians' control for so e time- neither had to be signed right now, but were. The same logic will likely be applied if Kluber keeps up this dominating level that he has since at least this time last year, if not earlier.
Seth
May 31, 2014 - 5:35 PM EDT
Joe, why would you want to see them extend Kluber? As it stands, he'll be a free agent in 2019, when he's 33. You want to take the risk of guaranteeing multiple years to a pitcher for the privilege of locking him up for his age 33, 34 seasons? If there's ever a guy you just go year-to-year with, it's Kluber.
shy
May 31, 2014 - 12:24 PM EDT
I'm a pretty good talent evaluator and I totally missed it w Kluber. Considered him a ham and egger- a garden variety almost capable major league pitcher w mediocre command, no out pitch and no direction forward. I figured his 5 years in the show would be as meandering and undistinguished as his 5 in the minors and then he would be relegated to the archival footnotes that future generations of Klubers would use to say, " Hey, did you know yer great uncle Corey used to pitch in the major leagues?" As a scout, if there is anything nicer than the feeling of recognizing talent when you see it, it's
being surprised by someone that transforms themselves before your eyes from the candle into the star. Humbling, and uplifting...
Joe Chengery
May 31, 2014 - 12:16 PM EDT
What I'd like to see: Have the Indians work on an extension for Kluber this offseason to extend that length of time. No, NOT Masterson- wasn't for that to start the season, and definitely not for that now. I'd track McAllister's progression and see if you can get him back on the right track- if he starts showing consistently the form he showed the first month when he was the best pitcher in the rotation, I would consider wpextending him this offseason or next year, next offseason, with eyes on Bauer, Salazar, House, even Carrasco.

Yes, the "young" pitchers; all due respect to Masterson, but that ship has sailed, and his erraticness has just solidified why the Indians cannot resign anywhere near where his agent is asking even if it's only for 2-3 years.

To do that would be making a likely mistake that the Reds have likely done with Homer Bailey that will likely cost them their best pitcher (Cueto) and possibly others (Leake, etc). The Indians can't afford to make that same mistake; as for the leadership aspect, I think Kluber has stepped into that role nicely, and McAllister did before that up until he started struggling and was injured. I think those two can take over for Masterson when he likely leaves after the season or if he is traded by the trading deadline.

One notable prospect to keep an eye on that Carolina faced last night on Texas' High-A Myrtle Beach team: 3B Joey Gallo- this guy hit a 3-run 2B off of D.J. Brown and a Grand Slam off of Clayton Cook- he's 20-YO in his first season in the Carolina League, is batting (a LHH) around .330, and in 172 ABs has 55 hits and 20 HRs ( double-checked).

If Texas came calling for any or two or three of Masterson, Cabrera, and/or Bourn, I'd like that guy included in the package, especially if we can't get a frontline pitching prospect for any of them (not sure we could for Masterson or Cabrera; maybe for Bourn because he's been decent to solid and because he's signed for a few more years, but even that's debatable).

Still, I'd keep an eye on this Gallo, as his numbers are eye-popping, especially for the notoriously pitcher-friendly, power-reducing Carolina League. It doesn't help that Texas is struggling themselves and not guaranteed a postseason berth and the fact I'm not sure who's their long-term answer at 3B, but unless they totally fall out of it in the next few months, they'd still likely go for it, especially on how close they were to winning the World Series just 2.5 seasons ago.
GSon
May 31, 2014 - 11:13 AM EDT
A very good W last night.. the parade in the fifth inning could be a sign of things to come.. Nice to see the good guys stringing together some hits..

Nice wallop by Droobs.. more to come?

Corey Kluber has become an assassin.. The amount of whining about strike calls is getting deafening...

Onto game two.. Franklin Morales, lefty going for the Rox..versus Bauer POWER..

For Bauer: Let's hope the kid has his command/control in tip top shape.. He can shut these guys down if he does... Bring on the swing and misses for the Rox..

For Morales just keep giving up runs at a consistent rate of one every inning and a half.. Bring on the RH'ers..for the Sons..

Perhaps today, the ball Aguilar hit to the top of the fence.. will fly over the fence?.. He's handling himself very well around the bag at first.. nice to see him progress..

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