My friends who don’t follow baseball would pronounce his name “Clubber.” Sometimes they wouldn’t even go that far, referring to him as “that one pitcher for the Indians.” Whatever they would call him, the important thing was that they knew him at all.
The reason they knew him, of course, is that Kluber from 2014 to 2018 was a Stone Cold Killer. Just two pitchers, by the name of Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw, accumulated more WAR over those five seasons; Kershaw, Scherzer and Jacob deGrom were the only three with lower ERAs. He won the Cy Young in 2014, and he won it in 2017 as well.
Kluber leaves the Indians for the Texas Rangers holding a veritable timeshare in Cleveland’s record books. In 119 years of Indians baseball, no one has ever struck out more batters as a ratio to batters walked. Only two pitchers – Bob Feller and “Sudden” Sam McDowell – have struck out more batters in a Cleveland uniform period. The only Indian with a lower career WHIP is Addie Joss. Joss’s WHIP (0.97) is the all-time MLB record.
Prime Kluber, however, transcended mere numbers – he was a master of moments. There was May 13, 2015, when he mowed down 18 Cardinals, equaling Bob Feller’s record set in 1938. There was Game 1 of the 2016 World Series, when he threw six shutout innings and led Cleveland to its first World Series win since 1997. And there were months where he would become nothing short of unconscious, signified by five AL Pitcher of the Month awards, including three in 2017 alone.
The Indians, in their eternal, utterly toxic mental state of poverty and frugality, did to Kluber what they did to each of their three previous Cy Young winners. They traded him, and this time neither Rick Waits (acquired for Gaylord Perry), Michael Brantley (CC Sabathia) nor Carlos Carrasco (Cliff Lee) are walking through that door. While Kluber was subpar and oft-injured in 2019 (2-3, 5.80 ERA, -0.4 WAR in 35.2 IP), it remains that he is only 33, doesn’t have an obscene amount of mileage on his arm (due to being a relatively late bloomer – he made his MLB debut at 25), and carries the big-game experience up-and-coming teams like the Rangers crave.
But this is ostensibly a celebration of Kluber, not an indictment of the Dolans (see Peter Khayat’s recap of the trade for a proper critique of the Indians’ front office). So without further ado, here’s a remembrance of Kluber’s ten finest Indians outings by win probability added. DJ, play the hits:
SEPTEMBER 12, 2017: INDIANS 2, TIGERS 0, .626 WPA
How fitting! Kluber dominated Detroit with a five-hitter, striking out eight and walking none as the Indians tied the American League record for most consecutive wins (20). His final September 2017 statline: 5-0, 0.84 ERA, 50 strikeouts. That’ll play.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2014: INDIANS 1, RAYS 0, .574 WPA
Kluber’s final word on an intense Cy Young race was nothing short of spectacular: 11 strikeouts in eight shutout innings, keeping Cleveland in the playoff race… for a couple more hours, before it was eliminated by an Oakland victory.
JUNE 16, 2013: INDIANS 2, NATIONALS 0, .560 WPA
Stephen Strasburg, returning from a lat strain, turned out to be the second-best pitcher in the building, as the young Kluber dominated with eight shutout innings and eight strikeouts. Bonus points for carrying a lineup that included John McDonald and Drew Stubbs.
JULY 30, 2014: INDIANS 2, MARINERS 0, .548 WPA
Yet another example of Kluber outpointing another big name. Felix Hernandez was good (four hits across seven solid innings), but Kluber was better (a three-hitter with eight K’s and no walks). As was also the case in the 2014 season.
AUGUST 4, 2018: INDIANS 3, ANGELS 0, .519 WPA
Kluber was stupendous (three hits, a walk and seven strikeouts in a shutout), demonstrating the prowess that would make him the Indians’ second 20-game winner of this century (Cliff Lee, in 2008, is the other).
AUGUST 15, 2014: INDIANS 2, ORIOLES 1, 11 INNINGS, .509 WPA
The fact that a Mike Aviles homer in the 11th gave Scott Atchison the win over Brian Matusz is immaterial here, as glorious a sentence as that is. Kluber was saddled with a no-decision despite ten strikeouts over 7.2 frames. Bonus points for Terry Francona’s effusive postgame praise, which identified him as “one of the premier pitchers in baseball.”
APRIL 9, 2018: INDIANS 2, TIGERS 0, .507 WPA
Eight innings, two hits, 13 strikeouts. A vintage Kluber rebound from a pair of tough outings to start the year, made all the more impressive by the fact that it was snowing.
OCTOBER 3, 2015: INDIANS 2, RED SOX 0, .499 WPA
Kluber saved the best of his bizarre 2015 Cy Young defense (a league-worst 16 losses and a 2.97 FIP, sixth-best in the AL) for last, throwing eight shutout innings and striking out nine.
MAY 18, 2015: WHITE SOX 2, INDIANS 1, 10 INNINGS, .490 WPA
Kluber’s hard-luck 2015 in a nutshell: five hits, 12 strikeouts, and just one run allowed over nine innings. The Indians scored just one run to back him up, and Carlos Sanchez walked it off for the White Sox in the tenth off Zach McAllister. Of course, asking Kluber to follow up his previous start would have been a tall task…
MAY 13, 2015: INDIANS 2, CARDINALS 0, .487 WPA
18 strikeouts. One hit. No walks in eight innings. While the numbers may not fully reflect it, this may have been Corey Kluber at his most dominant. From his emergence in 2013, to his Cy Youngs in 2014 and 2017, to his injury-plagued 2019, Kluber’s calling card was all the qualities emphasized by that scintillating May Wednesday: an unsettling calmness, a fierce competitive drive, a knack for big moments, and pure pitching power not seen in Cleveland since the days of Bob Feller.
Featured photo: Ken Blaze/USA Today