After a slow start to the season and his Yankee career, Corey Kluber had been very solid in the weeks prior when he took the mound in Texas on May 19th. He had put up a 2.39 ERA in his previous four starts, and there was hope he would continue that against one of his former teams.
Not only did he continue that good run, but nine innings later, he had written some new Yankee history with a no-hitter. It was the franchise’s first since David Cone’s 1999 perfect game. While it gave everyone who watched a fun memory, it was only part of his 2021 season with the Yankees, one that was in ways both good and a bummer.
2021 Statistics: 16 games, 80 IP, 3.83 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 4.38 xFIP, 9.23 K/9, 3.71 BB/9, 1.5 fWAR
2022 Contract Status: Free agent
As mentioned, Kluber got off to a slow start early on. In his first four starts, he never lasted longer than 4.2 innings, which isn’t exactly shocking for someone who had missed nearly all of the prior two seasons. While he wasn’t unusably bad, he just wasn’t sharp, putting up a 5.40 ERA while walking over six batters per nine in those four starts.
He then turned it around over his next five starts, culminating in the no-hitter. However, that’s when the “bummer” part of Kluber’s season kicks in. His next start after the no-hitter came six days later. He had to leave after just three innings with a shoulder injury, one which ended up keeping him out until August 30th. While he still wasn’t quite the two-time Cy Young winner he once was, Kluber seemed to have come around as a very good No. 2 behind Gerrit Cole. Then he went down.
Penciling in Kluber in the rotation was always a risk for the Yankees considering the injury issues that had plagued him in the previous two seasons. It was a risk that came back to bite them. Once he eventually came back, his remaining starts on the season followed a similar path to how he started the season. The first couple weren’t particularly sharp, but he seemed to come around, including shutting out Cleveland for six innings in one of his final starts of the season.
In Kluber’s very last start of the season, he threw 4.2 very important innings, allowing two runs as the Yankees eventually picked up a vital win over the Blue Jays. He wasn’t ace-like after returning from injury, but he would’ve been a key piece in the rotation had the Yankees won the Wild Card Game. Instead, they didn’t, and the Toronto win ended up being his likely final game with the team.
His issue in 2021 generally wasn’t performance. The average exit velocity he allowed was 86.9 — slower than Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, and a lot of other notable names. It wasn’t terribly far away from his peak seasons back with Cleveland.
The issue was the injury. The Yankees brought him in to be a mid-rotation arm behind Cole, but he just ended up missing so much time. The Yankees still ended up getting into the playoffs, and they went 48-34 (a 94-win pace) in the time he was out. From a pure winning standpoint, they probably wouldn’t have been massively better if he hadn’t gotten hurt. However, him being out also put more innings into the bullpen, which ended up costing the Yankees at points. It was an understandable gamble, and even with his pretty good numbers, you could argue it was a gamble that didn’t pay off.
Kluber’s contract was also for one year, meaning he is a free agent once again. With already a decent amount of uncertainty in the Yankees’ rotation next year, they probably shouldn’t take a gamble on him again. He certainly showed enough when he was healthy that some team will go for him, but it would be a big risk for the Yankees to pencil him into a mid-rotation spot again.
If Kluber never pitches for the Yankees again, he did give us a great memory, and that’s not nothing.