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September 23, 2013

Painting the Black

The Indians' Kluber Man

by R.J. Anderson


The American League Wild Card situation remains fluid entering the season's final week. Six teams are mathematically alive, with three close enough to taste a spot in next Wednesday's Wild Card game. Singularity remains the game's biggest drawback, but its impact on the victor's rotation is a close second. Most teams, when faced with the situation, will use their best starter to survive; yet, for the Indians, the Wild Card game could actually ensure that their top starter appears earlier in the Divisional Series than he would otherwise.

Assuming the Indians meet expectations and leverage a breezy schedule into a playoff berth, then Justin Masterson—who continues to rehab from a strained oblique—or Ubaldo Jimenez would likely start the Wild Card game, with the other name starter taking Game 1. A scheduled off-day between the play-in game and the next series would allow the Indians to bring back their initial starter in Game 3, but creates the question: Who starts Game 2? Terry Francona could turn to rookie Danny Salazar or the experienced Scott Kazmir; however, this being a start on the road against the AL's top seed, he might prefer the pitcher with the most WARP on staff this season: Corey Kluber.

Kluber is the unexpected standout on a staff which boasts three former All-Stars and a well-regarded prospect. Jimenez and Kazmir's resurgences are surprising in their own right, but both were in the Opening Day rotation; Kluber was not. Instead he started the season in the minors, before an early recall. Add in a sprained finger that cost Kluber about a month and there were a few reasons why he seemed unlikely to lead the Indians in WARP. Yet Kluber entered the weekend a few points ahead of the aforementioned Kazmir.

Overachieving is nothing new for Kluber. The Padres drafted him in the fourth round in 2007, and traded him three years later to the Indians as part of a three-team deal for Jake Westbrook. At the time, a scout assessed Kluber as a "fringe no. 5 starter," according to Padres beat writer Tom Krasovic. Kevin Goldstein and Jim Callis echoed the sentiment, with Goldstein writing: "His ceiling is as a back-end starter, but he's much closer to that projection than he was a year ago."

Goldstein's report is much closer to being outdated than it was a year ago. Kluber used to top out around 92-93 mph; now he touches 96. Velocity is an overrated attribute since it's the easiest thing about a pitcher to measure, yet the added oomph has netted Kluber additional margin for error. The Kevin Millwood lookalike credits mechanical tweaks, implemented by minor-league pitching coordinator Ruben Niebla, for increasing the temperature of his heater.

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Related Content:  Cleveland Indians,  Corey Kluber

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<< Previous Article
The Prospectus Hit Lis... (09/23)
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Premium Article Painting the Black: Th... (09/26)
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Premium Article What You Need to Know:... (09/23)

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