Not too long ago, people were worried about Corey Kluber’s rocky start of the season. His command was iffy, he was walking too many guys, and leaving pitches in the fat part of the zone consistently. But it was only a matter of time for him to turn things around. He’s Corey Kluber, and he’s healthy.
In three starts from April 3rd to April 14th, Kluber had a 6.10 ERA and 6.10 walks per nine innings. He is, traditionally, a slow starter, but people were concerned. He couldn’t earn strikes consistently, and he allowed too many homers, with 2.61 per nine innings over that timeframe.
Fortunately, things started to click. In six starts since ranging from April 21st to May 19th, the Klubot has noticeably improved both his control (2.93 BB/9) and command. He has been much stingier with the long ball, as evidenced by his 0.23 HR/9 in those six outings. If we move the search to his last five starts, his 1.78 ERA and 2.31 FIP are outstanding, as is his 33.1 CSW% (percentage of called strikes + whiffs) and the seven innings he averages over that span.
His resurgence became evident to the whole world on Wednesday, when he threw the first no-hitter for the Yankees since 1999. After the not-so-good beginning of the season, Kluber is locating his fastball well to the inner and outer parts of the zone and is earning lots of whiffs with his breaking ball.
There has also been a change in his pitch mix, per FanGraphs. During his first three starts of the year, he used his four-seam fastball 38.5 percent of the time, his cutter and breaking ball 27.2 percent each, and his changeup just 7.0 percent of the time. In his last six starts, he is throwing the four-seamer less (26.5 percent) and tossing significantly more changeups, at 16.6 percent. His cutter and breaking ball have been thrown with similar frequency.
The command improvement has been noticeable. Of the 27 pitches that resulted in outs on Wednesday, I counted only three that were middle-middle location-wise, two of those to Willie Calhoun. That’s how stingy Kluber was last night.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t make any mistakes during the rest of the game that the Rangers didn’t capitalize on, but it goes to show how much his command has improved since the early spring training days.
In those three or four outings to open the 2021 campaign, there were just too many walks and too many misses in the middle of the strike zone. Consider this home run he allowed to Bo Bichette of the Toronto Blue Jays:
Alejandro Kirk also punished a hittable pitch during that same game:
That seems to be a thing of the past now. Kluber is on a roll, and while he has certainly feasted on lowly offenses recently, he is currently pitching well enough to be a highly competitive starter that provides some length and quality innings regardless of the opponent.
The 30.6 CSW percentage Kluber has on the season is also similar, even slightly better, than the 30.4 mark he had in 2018. The number is on the rise, and while it is not a perfect forecaster for the future, it’s always good to be able to earn both called and swinging strikes.
On Wednesday, Kluber had everything working, including the breaking ball, which was particularly nasty. His command is officially back, and in retrospective, it’s understandable that it took him a few starts to find it. He hardly pitched in 2019 and 2020, and we are about to see the Corey Kluber that the Yankees hoped they would be signing.
The last time Kluber was this dominant was in 2018, when he pitched 215 innings to a 2.89 ERA, a 3.12 FIP, a 26.4 percent strikeout rate, and a third-place finish in the American League Cy Young Award race. I’m not setting in stone that he is all the way back to his 2018 form, but guess what his numbers look like through 50.1 frames this year? A 2.86 ERA, a 3.55 FIP, and a 24.3 percent strikeout rate. He is getting there, and is showing that even at 35-years-old, he has plenty of gas left in the tank.