Let’s cut to the chase.
Corey Kluber has already proven his worth in the New York Yankee pinstripes.
Sure, there are still plenty of regular season starts and games until the postseason is even within sight, which is what New York is striving for. When they signed the former ace to a one-year, $11 million lottery ticket deal during the offseason, they did not expect the transaction to prove itself less than 50 games into the season. And besides – Kluber still has not even shown his postseason capability with New York should they clinch a berth in it.
In other words, the jury is still out.
However, the jury might not have to convene as frequently. At least, not right now.
As the Yankees and the rest of MLB realized on May 19, Kluber still has it. After all, twirling a no-hitter against his former club in the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field would certainly prove this. Even when looking past the franchise milestones, Kluber has given his new team exactly what they have yearned for – a veteran starter who can help shore up the middle end of the rotation behind their ace in Gerrit Cole.
New York has received precisely this kind of support from Kluber through the halfway point of May. But it goes beyond even this.
Instead, the team might have a more refined starter who could perhaps become more than a top-end innings eater as the season progresses.
How so? Well, let’s investigate.
In nine games started this season, Kluber has pitched to a 2.86 ERA in 50.1 innings pitched. His innings total ranks second among all Yankee pitchers, behind only Cole (64.2 innings pitched). While this alone illustrates Kluber’s importance to a starting staff lacking their young top-of-the-line starter in Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery), it does not emphasize how Kluber has exactly reformed himself after his two previous years were practically wiped away due to injury.
So, let’s look into some of the numbers.
Kluber currently maintains an 8.94 strikeouts per nine innings pitched (K/9) and 3.58 walks per nine innings pitched (BB/9). While these numbers certainly aren’t as elite as they were when the right-hander dominated the league from 2014-18 (he averaged a 10.14 K/9 and 1.84 BB/9 over the five-year span), they are still solid enough when accounting for his increased generation of ground balls – Kluber’s 47.0 ground ball percentage (GB%) so far this season is currently the second-highest mark of his career, after his 2014 season (48.0%).
It does not end there, as Kluber’s knack for not conceding long-balls has also helped the veteran succeed. His 0.72 home runs per nine innings pitched (HR/9) is currently the second-lowest mark of his career (Kluber had a 0.53 HR/9 in 2014).
Now, these numbers are certainly solid when looking at his age and injury context over the past several seasons, but how do they stack up to the rest of the league?
Let’s look back at Kluber’s totals when compared to all 101 MLB starters with a minimum of 40.0 innings pitched at the start of May 25 action. His ERA ranks 26th, while his GB% is 38th. His HR/9, meanwhile, is 27th and ahead of other marquee starters including Yu Darvish (0.73), Lance Lynn (0.76) and Trevor Bauer (1.13). When looking at Fielding Independent Pitching, which attempts to calculate a pitcher’s ERA in terms of factors he can control (including strikeouts and home runs), Kluber’s 3.57 FIP is tied for 44th and ahead of notable starters including Zack Greinke (3.67), Marcus Stroman (3.74) and Lucas Giolito (4.32). While this suggests Kluber is overperforming compared to what his ERA is, it still emphasizes that Kluber has twirled together middle-of-the-rotation production New York has desperately needed.
In terms of sheer ace-level production, Kluber is not what he was several years ago. What he was in Cleveland is not what he is now.
However, in terms of a 35-year-old coming back from past injury issues, it is quite impressive.
Saying this to the Yankees, though, would be fruitless. Not because Kluber is not what he was between 2014-18, but because they already are reaping the benefits of what Kluber is doing now.
He might not be the top-flight pitcher he once was, but the Yankees do not care. Kluber has stepped up when New York has needed it most, and it all culminated with a no-hitter.
What Kluber does on the mound from here on out is anyone’s guess, but his worth has already shown itself in more ways than one.