Corey Kluber is throwing fewer strikes, walking no one

Kluber has not walked anyone in a month

Alex Hooper
June 05, 2018 - 11:32 pm
Jun 5, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber (28) delivers in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Progressive Field.

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – A lot has happened since the last time Corey Kluber walked a hitter.

The Cleveland Indians were 17-18, just a half game up on the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central, and Prince Harry was still a single man. Plenty more interesting has happened, but the point is hopefully made.

Kluber won his MLB-leading 9th decision on Tuesday, tied with Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals and Luis Severino of the New York Yankees. The last time he walked a batter, five starts ago, that number was still just five.

It has been 35 1/3 innings since walking Milwaukee’s Domingo Santana at Miller Park, the longest streak of any Indians pitcher since Paul Byrd’s 48 innings without a walk from April 26 to June 6, 2007. The result for Kluber, aside from improving to a 1.96 ERA on the year, has been a career-low 2.9% walk rate (10 in 346 batters faced).

The idea that Kluber has somehow started throwing more strikes resulting in less walks seems counterintuitive given that hitters have become more aggressive against him. Kluber’s 76.1% contact rate is his highest since 2013, and the second-highest mark of his career. His 11 home runs allowed are half his career-high mark in a season. In 2017, Kluber’s 11th home run came on July 23rd (though he missed all of May with a back injury), and July 24th in 2016.

The increase in balls in play, other than the 38 strikeouts in his last five outings, is all a part of the plan according to Kluber.

“I think that regardless of whether a team is aggressive or not, my approach is still to pound the strike zone and put the pressure on them and make them put the ball in play,” he said. “I wouldn't say it's contributed to (the lack of walks), because I think that my goal is to go out there and pound the strike zone regardless of what their approach is. So, I think that maybe at times it helps me get some quick at-bats, which I guess in turn, if it's a two-pitch at-bat you can't walk a guy.”

As a matter of fact, in his four walk-free outings prior to Tuesday, Kluber had actually thrown fewer strikes than before the streak. Through May 8th, 46% of Kluber’s pitches were in the strike zone including 65% of first pitches. In his last four starts, the righty’s zone rating is at 41.5% with 59.8% first pitch strikes, a modest drop off but a drop off nonetheless.

On Tuesday, Kluber unofficially threw 57 of 112 pitches (50.8%) in the zone, actually above his 50.2% mark for the year. Just 13 of his 27 first pitches wound up strikes.

The key of course, as it always seems to be with Kluber, are the swinging strikes. In eight starts prior to his walk-less streak, the 32-year-old induced a 46.3% swing-rate including 10.5% swinging strikes. Since, those numbers are at 50.3% and 12.5%. Hitters are swinging at 38.5% of pitches outside of the zone in his last five starts as opposed to 31.2% prior.

Tuesday marked Kluber’s 13th consecutive quality start, the longest such start to a season for an Indians pitcher since Hall-of-Famer Stan Coveleski’s 16 consecutive outings in 1918. The righty has not allowed more than three runs in his last 25 starts dating back to August 3rd, 2017, the second-longest streak since Kluber’s debut in 2011 behind then-Chicago Cubs righty Jake Arrieta’s 29 starts.