The Cincinnati Reds were present at the showcase of former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber according to C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic. The bullpen session of sorts from Kluber this morning saw him throw 30 pitches in front of 25 teams. Jeff Passan of ESPN reported that he was sitting in the 88-90 MPH range with his fastball and showed all of his secondary offerings as well.
From 2014-2018 you could make an argument that Corey Kluber was the best pitcher in Major League Baseball. He went 83-45 with a 2.85 ERA in 1091.1 innings that saw him pick up 1228 strikeouts and walk 223 batters. His WAR, Fangraphs version, trailed just Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw in that span and he’s trailing them by less than 1 WAR for that time frame. During that stretch he won the Cy Young Award twice, first in 2014 and then again in 2017. In both 2016 and 2018 he finished third.
Corey Kluber threw over 200 in each season from 2014-2018, and then in 2019 he missed nearly the entire season. He threw just 35.2 innings for Cleveland that year after his arm was fractured when he was hit by a line drive and then an oblique injury as he was working his way back ended his season. In the 2020 season he appeared in just one game and threw just one inning for Texas. The Rangers declined his $18M team option for the 2021 season and Kluber became a free agent.
Coming back from a tear in a muscle in his shoulder, which sounds similar to the injury that Reds pitcher Brandon Finnegan suffered several years ago, Corey Kluber needed to show teams what he can do. Passan notes that he was sitting 88-90 with his fastball. That’s down quite a bit from where he’s been at in his career, where he’s averaged 92-93 – the last three years (2018-2020) he’s averaged 92.5, 92.4, and in his one inning in 2020 he was at 92.0. Of course, it’s also January 13th and he’s still building up and assuming he follows the path of nearly every pitcher, he should increase that velocity as he gets further into the year and into spring training and the regular season.
When healthy, Corey Kluber does just about everything well. He misses bats and he walks no one. His home run rate has never been elite, but it’s never been below-average in his career, either. For the most part of his career, he’s been a little bit above average when it comes to stranding runners on the bases, too.
The right-handed starter throws five pitches, mixing a 4-seam fastball with a 2-seamer, a cutter, a slider, and a change up. His sinker, cutter, and slider all have worked in that 20-30% range over the last handful of seasons, while he’s just mixed in a few 4-seamers and change ups each game.
In such a slow market it’s tough to know exactly what kind of deal that Corey Kluber is looking for and what is being offered to him. With that said, it would seem that a deal with plenty of incentives makes sense for both parties. If Kluber can return to form, the team that signs him is going to get all that they paid for and more. But given that he’s thrown 36.1 innings over the last two years and has dealt with a shoulder injury this past season, there’s a lot of risk involved in paying that kind of money up front. Kluber could benefit from a smaller guarantee with higher incentives based on starts or innings pitched than just taking a smaller guarantee without them that would simply get him onto a team.