In 2011, it was Corey Luebke and Brandon Beachy. Last season, I was all about Marco Estrada and Edwin Jackson. And now, heading into the 2014, Corey Kluber is the object of my affection. My affinity for most of these pitchers began after I picked them up off the waiver wire as they went relatively undrafted each year that I fell for them. Such was the case with Corey Kluber during the 2013 season. I picked up Kluber for a spot start against the Nationals on June 16th and he threw 8 shutout innings with 8 strikeouts. I was able to benefit from two months of Kluber's services before having to drop him when he went on the DL. During June and July, Kluber posted a 3.41 ERA with 64:17 K:BB rate in 71.1 innings. I'm hoping to grab him in my leagues this year and enjoy his numbers again.
Kluber is ranked around 60 at most sites. I've seen him ranked as high as 26 and as low as 84. He's being drafted as the 65th starting pitcher in NFBC leagues. I ranked Kluber 33rd in my personal rankings so it's pretty obvious that I see a huge opportunity for value in drafting Kluber this year. Kluber is only a year removed from a 5.14 ERA in 12 starts in 2012 and he was relatively unknown as a prospect. He was called up about a month into the 2013 season and didn't make a start until April 28th. After missing almost the entire month of August with a finger injury, Kluber posted a 5.33 ERA in September. It seems that people have forgotten how good Kluber was during the summer and that we can take advantage of that.
Of starting pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched, Kluber ranked 16th in K:BB rate and 15th in xFIP. The strikeout to walk ratio is important for Kluber. He reduced his BB% by a full percent and his K% jumped up 3%. He has a strong SwSt%, coming in at 10.6% for his career and he started 60% of at bats with a strike in 2013. Last year, Kluber did increase his groundball rate thanks to throwing more sinkers but it still resulted in an only slightly above-average rate. Since he gives up an above-average amount of line drives and is somewhat homer prone, it's important for Kluber to limit base runners.
The Indians were one of the best offensive teams in baseball in 2013. The team ranked 6th in runs scored, RC+ and wOBA. They were 10th in home runs, 7th in stolen bases and 8th in OPS. It's a good thing that they were so good offensively because they were equally as bad defensively, ranking 23rd in Defensive Runs Saved, 20th in errors and 10th in fielding percentage. It remains to be seen how Carlos Santana will play at third base though I'm not betting on him being Ryan Zimmerman. Progressive Field ranked as the 24th best offensive environment according to FanGraphs basic park factors and was 10th stingiest in terms of giving up home runs. It probably doesn't come as a surprise that Kluber pitched much better at home than on the road in 2013 (2.76 ERA at home vs. 4.98 ERA away).
I don't know that Kluber will be a superstar but I think he will be the best pitcher on the Indians staff in 2014. The Indians have enough fire power in their lineup to give pitchers a chance to win most nights despite their defense. Kluber's numbers last year were strong and if he can repeat that level of production or take another step forward, which I think he can, he will be a very valuable pitcher this season. I believe Kluber turns in 12 or so wins with a 3.50ish ERA and roughly 8 K/9. At the price you'll pay for him, Corey Kluber has the potential to be a value monster.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs
You can follow Zack on Twitter at @FantasyNinja8.