What national media are saying about Corey Kluber’s Cy Young candidacy
Tribe starter Corey Kluber has emerged as an American League Cy Young favorite, and to illustrate the point, here are the opinions of five of the most prominent baseball writers in the country.
AL MVP Ballot
- Mike Trout, OF, Angels
- Corey Kluber, SP, Indians
- Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners
- Michael Brantley, OF, Indians
AL Cy Young: Corey Kluber
Chris Sale was outstanding this season, but he fell short in the end since he pitched 60-some fewer innings than the league leaders. That means the AL Cy Young race boils down to two top candidates: Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez.
Let’s go to the tale of the tape, starting with the basics:
- Kluber: 235.2IP, 269 K, 51 BB, 14 HR, 2.44 ERA
- Hernandez: 236, 248, 46, 16, 2.14
Pretty damn close.
How about the ballparks? While Cleveland’s Progressive Field has a bit of a reputation as a hitter’s park (dating back to when it opened two decades ago), various park-factor rankings consider it a friendly park for pitchers, just like Seattle’s Safeco Field.
A pitcher’s ERA can also be affected by strand rate, a stat that measures the frequency with which he leaves runners on base, and that can be heavily influenced by factors beyond that pitcher’s control, such as bullpen support or dumb luck. It’s tightly fought here, too: Kluber posted a 78.6 percent strand rate this season, compared to a nearly identical 77 percent figure for Hernandez.
We can also examine each pitcher’s quality of competition to see if either benefited from a softer schedule. Thanks to Elias Sports Bureau, we have weighted OPS figures for the collective opponents of Kluber, Hernandez, and several other top AL Cy Young candidates:
- Kluber: .739
- Sale: .736
- Hernandez: .729
- Lester: .729
- Scherzer: .728
- Price: .727
It’s still too close to call, so let’s go to our final tiebreaker: team defense. The Mariners were roughly a league-average defensive team according to Baseball Info Solutions’s proprietary Defensive Runs Saved ranking, at two runs saved below average, and ranked 22nd in the majors according to Ultimate Zone Rating, at 9.5 runs below average. Meanwhile, the Indians were … absolutely atrocious. Per UZR, Cleveland ranked second to last in team defense, costing its pitchers about 82 runs compared to league average. By DRS, the Tribe ranked last in the majors, at minus-68 runs. Kluber managed to excel despite riding a defensive Hindenburg for 34 starts this season.
Sure enough, if we strip out the impact of team defense, we find that Kluber gains a small but noticeable edge over his formidable Seattle rival.
- FIP: Kluber 2.35, Hernandez 2.56
- FIP-: Kluber 64, Hernandez 70
So, after weighing all of those factors, I’m going with Kluber by the slimmest of margins. Now, let’s go live to the press conference to see how the notoriously emotional Klubot is handling the news.
Yikes, was this tough. So tough that I actually had the name “Felix Hernandez” chiseled into this space three days ago, before King Felix threw this Cy Young derby into turmoil by allowing seven runs in one inning in Toronto. Even now, it’s still almost impossible to separate the King, Chris Sale and my pick, Corey Kluber. But here’s how I did it: Sale has been awesome — but in about 50 fewer innings than Kluber or Hernandez. And when it’s this close, those innings matter. Hernandez, meanwhile, has been fantastic. But has he really been more dominant than Kluber? That answer, I think, is no. If we define a DS (“Dominating Start”) as 7-plus innings pitched, two earned runs or fewer and at least 10 strikeouts, then guess what? Kluber has had nine DS to Hernandez’s five. Now let’s go to the history books. In the past 25 seasons, eight AL starters have had at least nine Dominating Starts in a season. Seven won the Cy Young — all but Randy Johnson, who unjustly lost in 1993 to Jack McDowell, based solely on “wins.” If you take an even wider view, Kluber leads all AL pitchers in Wins Above Replacement (at a Kershaw-esque 6.9 — half a win more than Hernandez), and can still win the strikeout title. And while Kluber doesn’t lead the league in ERA, he does lead in Fielding Independent Pitching, which reminds us how ugly the defense was behind him. It’s still hard for me to believe I’m not picking King Felix. But the most dominating pitcher of this season was Corey Kluber.
Just a week or two ago, it seemed that nothing could stop Felix Hernandez from winning his second Cy Young Award.
That was just the storyline, and storylines can have a powerful effect on the minds of the voters.
Still, I didn’t think the story was over. “I think it’s still wide open,” I wrote, “with the result hinging on whomever pitches even more brilliantly over these next two weeks.”
Well, the storyline changed some Tuesday night.
Last week, I identified Hernandez, Kluber, and Jon Lester as viable candidates.
Well, Lester pitched quite well in his next start. Kluber pitched well in his next start, striking out 14 batters for the second straight start. And Felix Hernandez has pitched twice since then, once brilliantly … and now, once badly. And at this point, I just don’t see the argument for King Felix.
In every important statistic, Kluber and Hernandez are essentially dead even: innings, strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed.
So then what do we look at? We look at ballparks. Hernandez pitches in a pitcher-friendly ballpark, Kluber doesn’t. We look at the opposing hitters. Statistically, Hernandez has faced weaker hitters than Kluber (granted, which might be the ballparks, and we don’t want to double-count). We look at the fielders behind them. As near as we can tell, the Mariners’ defense has been significantly better than the Indians’.
I’m not ready to say that Corey Kluber is the best pitcher in the American League. But he sure seems to be having the best season. And unless he gets badly hammered in his last start on Saturday, that’s not going to change.
It wasn’t that long ago that Felix winning the Cy Young felt like a sure thing. It wasn’t that long ago there was talk about whether Felix could and should win the AL MVP. For the longest time, Felix’s season was something out of a dream, or a nightmare, depending on your perspective. The highlight was a 16-start stretch between May 18 and August 11, where Felix didn’t once throw fewer than seven innings, and where Felix didn’t once allow more than two runs. That set a new baseball record, and though it wasn’t a record anyone talked about before, it’s something that’ll forever be a part of Felix’s 2014. The performance earned Felix widespread attention, and since then the Cy Young has almost felt automatic.
It’s just, holy cow, Corey Kluber. Since the All-Star break:
- Kluber: 3.7 WAR
- Hernandez: 1.2 WAR
Not a close race! Felix started allowing home runs, and Kluber stopped allowing home runs, and now, this is where the numbers lie over the full year:
- Kluber: 7.0 WAR
- Hernandez: 6.1 WAR
- Mike Trout
- Victor Martinez
- Jose Abreu
- Michael Brantley
- Robinson Cano
- Jose Bautista
- Corey Kluber/Felix Hernandez
I’m not revealing how I will order Kluber and Hernandez because it might tip off my Cy Young selection (which, truth be told, I have yet to make). One will be seventh, one will be eighth, both will be on my ballot. Voters specifically are instructed that pitchers are eligible. Whether one chooses to include them – and how one ranks them – is a personal, subjective choice.