New York Yankees: Corey can be the Yankees’ “Klubot”

William Parlee

The New York Yankees entered the game last night, not knowing what to expect from starter Corey Kluber; by the time the game was over, the Yankee fans knew that answer. Kluber was nothing short of brilliant in his fifth start of the season. I started this article long before the start of the game last night, and it was originally titled “It’s not time to give up on Corey Kluber.” After the game, I decided to change that title to “Corey can be the Yankees’ Klubot,” referring to the nickname he was given in this Cy Young years.

Last night we got just a taste of what Kluber can do for the Yankees.

The New York Yankees turned off the snooze button on January 15, 2020, and signed two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to bolster their starting pitching rotation. Kluber signed a one-year deal that will pay him $11 million. He will become a free agent again at the end of the year, after viewing a pitching demonstration for 25 teams at the Yankee’s director of player health and performance, Eric Cressey’s Florida facility, where Kluber had spent most of his offseason.

This was another one of general manager Brian Cashman’s low-risk signings that could have very high rewards. After having a relatively injury-free eight-year career with the Cleveland Indians, Kluber was hit by a comebacker near the end of the 2019 season. The hit caused a fractured right arm. He tried to come back before the end of the season, but his rehab, other than a couple of starts in the minors, would not allow it.  During the offseason, the Indians traded Kluber to the Texas Rangers. That didn’t work out well for Kluber or the Rangers as he pitched in only one game in 2020 after tearing a teres major muscle after just one inning.

Kluber dazzled scouts with his Florida demonstration and appeared very healthy. He commanded his pitches well, according to scouts, and flashed typical velocity for this point in the offseason. That performance caused the New York Yankees to take a chance on the then 34-year-old. They signed him just three days later. The Yankees didn’t sign Kluber blindly; they had been watching his rehab with Cressey very carefully.

It isn’t easy to make any determination as to how Kluber did in spring training because of the fact he hadn’t pitched in nearly two years. When the regular season rolled around, Kluber got his first start of the season on April 3, a good game for Kluber, but it was a 4 inning no-decision result. His next two games were not as good as he only went 2.1 and 4 innings in those games. Fans began to wonder if Kluber would return to form. But in his fourth start of the Young season, he went 4.2 innings, threw 91 pitches with a dozen flyouts, but even though he lost the game; he started to show sparks of the pitcher he could be.

One thing that is important to know about the 2 times Cy Young Award winner because even in his Cy Young years, Kluber has always been a slow starter in April. Last night we saw the rust fall off this once-best in baseball pitcher. He still has the stuff. He became the only second Yankee pitcher to pitch into the seventh inning. He earned his first win of the season, giving up only one run in 6.2 innings of work. He struck out 5, got 7 ground outs and 13 flyball outs. He lowered his ERA to 4.15.

Here are some important things to know about Corey Kluber:

  • His biggest strength as a premier pitcher is the number of different pitches he throws. He has a five-pitch arsenal.
  • Throughout his career with the Cleveland Indians, he had what was often described as “pinpoint control.”
  • His most successful is his breaking ball. MLB’s Statcast pitch-tracking system defines the pitch. It’s known simply as “Corey Kluber’s breaking ball.”
  • During his first Cy Young year, his four-seam and two-seam fastball sat in the mid-90s in 2014; it dropped into the low nineties during his second award year in 2017 to the low nineties. Last night he reached 94 mph.
  • He has had elite swing-and-miss rates; Yankee pitching coach Matt Blake says he is still demonstrating that.
  • As I said before, he is a slow starter in April and even May, but following that, his ERA for the remainder of the season is sub 3.00.
  • If Corey Kluber can return to the pitcher he’ was in 2014 and 2017, he can be every bit as good as Gerrit Cole, if not even better.
  • The Yankees need Kluber to build up and be at his best late in the season and the postseason when he and Cole can provide that one-two punch that can win championships.

Here is Corey Kluber’s story and how he got to the New York Yankees:  Kluber arrived on the baseball scene when the San Diego Padres drafted him in 2008. Like many pitchers, Kluber showed signs of brilliance but stumbled through his minor league years and ended up being traded to the Cleveland Indians in 2010.

But let’s start at the beginning. Corey Scott Kluber was born on April 10, 1986, in Birmingham, Alabama. He grew up in Coppell, Texas, where he played baseball for the high school there. Stetson University coaches recruited him after his performance drew their attention at the World Wood Bat Championships in Jupiter, Florida.

His junior year was his last year with the Stetson Hatters, during which he registered a 12–2 win-loss record and a 2.05 ERA with 117 strikeouts. In 2007, he was named the Atlantic Sun Conference’s ‘Pitcher of the Year’ and was selected as a member of the ‘Ping! Baseball All-American Second Team’ and the ‘American Baseball Coaches Association All-Atlantic Region Second Team. That would be the end of his amateur career as the San Diego Padres drafted him.

After being traded to the Cleveland Indians, he was assigned to the Akron Aeros of the Class AA Eastern League and was added to their 40-man roster after going through the Winter Development Program. He made his Major League debut for the Indians on September 1, 2011. In August 2012, he was brought into the Indians’ rotation, and that began a career that could only be dreamed about.

Here are some career highlights: 2013, 11-5, ERA 3.85. Two back-to-back 14 strikeout games. 2014, 18-9, ERA 2.44. Two more back-to-back 14 strikeout games, player of the month. Cy Young Award winner. 2015, April an 18 strikeout game. Due to no run support, 9-16, ERA 3.49. 2016, 18-9, ERA 3.14. All-Star, Sporting News Starting Pitcher of the Year. 2017, 18-4, ERA 2.25. All-Star and second Cy Young Award. 2018, 20-7, ERA 2.89.  20 win season. September was hit by a comebacker. 2019, 2-3, in only 7 games, ERA 5.80, failed rehab. Traded. 2020 0-0, pulled shoulder after only one inning with the Rangers.

Now the New York Yankees hope the star can return to his previous greatness. If he can’t, they haven’t lost much, small dollars and only for a year, and they move on. If successful, they have a second Gerrit Cole on their hands and are on the way to a World Series. The only question then is if the New York Yankees sign him to a longer-term deal.
New York Yankee fans will be delighted to watch Corey pitch. One of the reasons he is so successful is that he is a five-pitch pitcher that can complete games. Kluber throws five pitches: a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a cutter, a breaking ball, and a change. His strikeout pitch is his dominant two-seam sinker. He has been a workhorse and will be unfazed by playing in New York as he is stoic on the mound and doesn’t lose his cool. By all accounts, he is also a nice guy and a good teammate.
Corey Kluber celebrated his 35th birthday on April 10th. Kluber and his wife, Amanda, have three children, named Kendall, Kennedy, and Camden. They reside in her hometown of Winchester, Massachusetts. Corey’s hobby is golf that he often plays with his father. In 2018, he and his wife launched The Kluber Family Foundation to help families with seriously ill and chronically ill children.
Kluber is one of the most stoic pitchers you will ever see on the mound, he is seldom fazed by defeat or victory, but after last night’s game, ace Gerrit Cole greeted Kluber in the dugout, and Kluber greeted him with an extensive smile. The two talked for some time. Make no mistake, the portrait of Corey Kluber will not be completed until this season’s end. We hope that portrait includes him holding the Yankee’s 28th World Championship trophy.
EmpireSportsMedia.com’s columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.