Corey Kluber Is the Unluckiest Pitcher in Baseball

There are two pitchers on the same team, in the same starting rotation.  Pitcher A is second in baseball in innings pitched and third in the league in strikeouts.  Pitcher B has a 4.07 ERA and 35 less strikeouts than Pitcher A.  Pitcher B has only thrown 108.1 innings, a whole 25 innings short of Pitcher A’s innings total.  However, here is the twist: Pitcher A is 4-10.  Pitcher B is 10-7.

Pitcher B is the Cleveland Indians’ Carlos Carrasco.  Pitcher A is Indians’ ace and defending Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber.

Kluber pitched eight innings against the A’s on Sunday, giving up only two runs on just four hits.  However, he was the hard-luck loser (again) as the Tribe were shut out on two hits.  This has become a trend in Kluber’s starts, according to ESPN Stats and Info:

Yowzers.  The Indians offense has not been great this season (t-21st in runs scored, 20th in batting average) but the lack of run support it has given Kluber is startling.

Kluber’s numbers, as well as his season to date, should be an exposé to a simple fact: win-loss record is not important.  To demonstrate my point, I’ll give you a list of pitchers with better records than Kluber but far worse Earned Run Averages:

  1. Jeremy Guthrie, KC (7-5, 5.36 ERA)
  2. Drew Hutchison, TOR (8-2, 5.33 ERA)
  3. Colby Lewis, TEX (8-4, 4.77 ERA)
  4. Nathan Eovaldi, NYY (9-2, 4.50 ERA)

So how do they stack up with other pitchers with better ERAs and less impressive win-loss records?  Well…

  1. Shelby Miller, ATL (5-5, 2.38 ERA)
  2. Yovani Gallardo, TEX (7-8, 2.68 ERA)
  3. Wei-Yin Chen, BAL (4-5, 2.78 ERA)
  4. Francisco Liriano, PIT (5-6, 2.98 ERA)
  5. Corey Kluber, CLE (4-10, 3.38 ERA)

However, Kluber is not going to get the national attention he deserves; while he is still having a great season, win-loss record will be the only thing that matters when it comes to Kluber’s Cy Young Award chances.  Here are the last ten Cy Young winners from Kluber’s league, the American League.

  1. 2005: Bartolo Colon, LAA (21-8, 3.48 ERA)
  2. 2006: Johan Santana, MIN (19-6, 2.77 ERA)
  3. 2007: CC Sabathia, CLE (19-7, 3.21 ERA)
  4. 2008: Cliff Lee, CLE (22-3, 2.54 ERA)
  5. 2009: Zack Grienke, KC (16-8, 2.16 ERA)
  6. 2010: Felix Hernandez, SEA (13-12, 2.27 ERA)
  7. 2011: Justin Verlander, DET (24-5, 2.40 ERA)
  8. 2012: David Price, TB (20-5, 2.56 ERA)
  9. 2013: Max Scherzer, DET (21-3, 2.90 ERA)
  10. 2014: Corey Kluber, CLE (18-9, 2.44 ERA)

All of those pitchers have a positive W-L record.  Not that Kluber is going to or should win the award this year; Sonny Gray, Chris Sale, Dallas Keuchel and others are far, far more deserving.  But Kluber was assuredly deserving of making the All-Star team, and it’s a shame that one of the best pitchers in baseball was denied a spot in the game because of his record.

MLB.com Indians reporter Jordan Bastian wrote about this last week:

In 11 of Kluber’s 17 starts, Cleveland’s offense has scored two or fewer runs. The four runs he received while the pitcher of record Thursday were the most he’s had to work with since the lineup spotted him five runs May 28. Entering his start against Tampa Bay, Kluber’s 2.28 run support average was the worst rate in the Majors among qualified starting pitchers.
That has played a large role in Kluber’s win-loss record.

When it comes to peripheral statistics, it could be argued that Kluber has performed as one of the top five starting pitchers in the Majors. With his performance against the Rays, Kluber moved into a tie with White Sox ace Chris Sale for the most strikeouts (141) in baseball. The righty also ranked second in baseball in innings (118 2/3), third in WAR (3.5, per Fangraphs.com), fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (10.69) and sixth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.88).

Kluber is one of the top five pitchers in baseball.  Some other stats also support this statement.

In a statistic called FIP (fielding-independent pitching), Kluber ranks fourth in the Bigs at 2.51; this is in sharp contrast to his real ERA, 3.38.  This stat is used to isolate defense and luck from the player’s actual pitching.  It shows that were it not for bad luck and some shoddy defense, Kluber would be seen by everyone as one of the best pitchers in the game, which he obviously is.

Another stat that is very similar to FIP is xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching).  It is basically what we would expect a player’s fielding independent ERA to be over the course of a season.  Kluber’s xFIP is almost as spectacular as his FIP; it’s 2.66, which is fifth in baseball.  His xFIP is not much different than his FIP, which means that his excellence is sustainable.  He is clearly one of the best pitchers in the game.

Finally, the most simple stat that demonstrates how stealthily good Kluber has been is WAR.  WAR stands for “wins above replacement” and it is a figure of how replacing Kluber with someone else in the starting rotation would go.  Kluber’s WAR is 3.9, good for third among pitchers in the game.  The first and second best pitchers by WAR are Max Scherzer and Chris Sale, my choices for the Cy Young Award from each league.

By now, you probably get my drift; Corey Kluber is the most underrated (and least fortunate) pitcher in baseball. He is probably one of the top ten pitchers in the game, and even though his record does not give him the credit he deserves, all of his other statistics do.  He had better luck last year in his Cy Young campaign, and even though he isn’t having the same luck he did last year, that shouldn’t take away from the job he has done this season.

The only thing is, he’s the unluckiest pitcher in baseball.

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