Detroit Tigers Free Agent Review: Corey Kluber

Will the Detroit Tigers try to enhance their rotation with two-time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber?

As reported yesterday by ESPN’s Buster Olney, ($) right-hander Corey Kluber is set to throw in front of scouts on either January 12 or 13th. The Detroit Tigers haven’t confirmed whether their scouts will attend, but let’s take a look at if adding Corey Kluber is a good idea or a bad idea.

Adding Corey Kluber is a Good Idea:

  • Corey Kluber’s career numbers at Comerica Park in 11 starts and 70.2 innings of work are solid.
Ballparks — Game-Level
ISplitWLW-L%ERAGGSGFCGSHOSVIPHRERHRBBIBBSOHBPBKWPBFWHIPSO9SO/W
DET-Comerica Pk73.7003.951211000070.2713231790674012891.1328.57.44
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/28/2020.
  • Kluber has a pitch mix that includes a fastball, sinker, cutter, change, and a slurve. What makes his pitches so great is the spin on his four-seam fastball and slurve.
  • A good veteran presence on a young staff.
  • An innings eater, with five seasons of 200 IP or more pitched.
  • US Celluar Field is a hitters’ ballpark and lifetime there, he is 6-2 with an ERA of 2.68 with 92 strikeouts in 77.1 innings pitched. Seem like in 2020, every Detroit Tiger pitcher not named Spencer Turnbull got hit hard there. Also, lifetime against Tim Anderson, Anderson is 5-for-23 (.217)
Let’s go back to 2017, his second Cy Young award-winning season to take a look at how effective his fastball was as a pitch. Keep in mind, this does not include his cutter.  (there is a scroll bar on your right of the image)

According to Baseball Savant, batters hit just .182 against his four-seam fastballs (14-for-89), with a K% of 20.2. Why is this important to remember? Well, take a look at how his other pitches are effective.

      • Cutter: K% of 24.6%, average exit velocity was 83.7 and batters hit just .250.
      • Slurve: K% of 54.7%, average exit velocity was 81.0. The stat that stands out here is batters were hitting just .100 against the pitch (he threw it 821 times) and allowed just two home runs against it with a wOBA of .112. That is simply put, outstanding.
      • Slurve was still great in 2019 – batters hit .176 with no power and a 37.2% whiff rate.

That allows him to set up his fastball so well. The constant repeatability of his pitches from the same slot lets him keep hitters off-balance. When Kluber was right and healthy, this was what won him the Cy Young. It sounds simple, but in an age of power pitching, Kluber’s ability to use everything he had was reminiscent of Greg Maddux. Maddux did not overpower hitters, but his pinpoint control is what made him stand out above the rest.

Adding Corey Kluber is a Bad Idea:

  • He turns 35 in April
  • Has thrown just 36 innings since 2019
  • His all-important command abandoned him in 2019
  • That dominant 4-seamer was rocked in 2019 (.382 batting average against, and it wasn’t all bad luck – .353 xBA
  • What the Tigers will spend on salary.

Conclusion: If the price is right

If the Tigers are going to hand out one-year contracts like they just did with José Ureña, then Kluber is worth the consideration, provided what his salary demands may look like. The Rangers just declined his $18 million dollar option and according to Spotrac, his average annual salary is $6.5 million. That might be too much for Detroit to consider.

If Kluber is healthy, he is one of the most effective pitchers in the game. This might be more of a pipe dream than reality but if Detroit can get anything that looks like the Kluber of old, it would provide a top of the rotation starter.

It is easy to suggest based on the vibe the team is putting out there they are looking for the right fit and if the price is right. If the price tag is too high and his better days are behind him, then going for someone younger and cheaper like Julio Teheran, who also like Kluber, coming off an injury,  would be the better route.

I suggested this on the podcast when we spoke to Tony Paul of the Detroit News and he was the one who originally suggested it. The elbow and shoulder injuries give you pause.  We will not know anything till his session with scouts but with the San Diego Padres making moves in the recent days, it appears the dominos of the 2020 MLB off-season are starting to fall and the hot stove is heating up.