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Corey Kluber Rises to the Top

September 20, 2017

On September 7, in the middle of what would become a 22-game win streak, the Indians' Corey Kluber dominated the White Sox, giving up two earned runs over seven innings while striking out thirteen batters and walking just one. With this dominant performance, Kluber surpassed Max Scherzer (who himself had recently surpassed Clayton Kershaw) as the No. 1 starting pitcher in Major League Baseball according to Bill James’ World’s #1 Starting Pitcher Rankings.

This is the first time Kluber has taken the top spot in the rankings. Interestingly, the top three pitchers according to James’ rankings (Kershaw, Scherzer, and Kluber) at the start of the 2017 season are still ranked in the top three as the season draws to a close, just in the inverse order. Here are the current top 10, while the full list can be viewed on Bill James Online.

Bill James' World's #1 Starting Pitcher Rankings
Pitcher Current Rank Start of Season Rank Score
Corey Kluber 1 3 626.6
Max Scherzer 2 2 600.5
Clayton Kershaw 3 1 596.4
Chris Sale 4 8 587.9
Justin Verlander 5 6 568.9
Zack Greinke 6 13 568.8
Stephen Strasburg 7 22 546.6
Jake Arrieta 8 7 533.4
Madison Bumgarner 9 4 529.5
Carlos Carrasco 10 25 529.4
Note: through games of September 17

The rankings system is based on a pitcher’s Game Score, and although it weighs recent performances more heavily than past ones, it also considers the consistency and longevity of a pitcher over extended periods of time. A full explanation of the process can be found here at Bill James Online, although the basics of it are that for each game pitched, 3 percent of a pitcher’s total is taken away and 30 percent of his Game Score from that game is added to it. This results in approximately 63 percent of a pitcher’s total score being based on the past year, with the other 37 based on what he did before then.

There is a clear delineation point in Kluber’s performance this season. Prior to going onto the disabled list on May 3 with lower back problems, Kluber had gotten off to an uncharacteristically slow start, punctuated by a three-inning, five-run performance against the Tigers on May 2. When Kluber returned from his stint on the disabled list on June 1, he took his performance to another level and is now on pace to set career best marks in ERA, WHIP, batting average against (BAA), strikeout rate (K%), and walk rate (BB%).

Corey Kluber Before and After Disabled List
Before Going on DL (4/3-5/2) 78.0 5.06 1.37 .262 25.9% 8.2% 17.7%
Return from DL (6/1-Present) 154.1 1.69 0.73 .167 37.0% 3.7% 33.3%
Note: through games of September 17

To get a further idea of just how dominant Kluber has been since being activated from the disabled list, take a look at the starting pitcher metrics since June 1.


Starting Pitcher Metrics Since 6/1/17
Corey Kluber 154.1 1.69 0.73 .167 37.0% 3.7% 33.3%
Chris Sale 123.1 2.92 1.00 .210 35.6% 5.0% 30.6%
Clayton Kershaw 81.0 1.89 0.90 .185 34.9% 5.7% 29.2%
Max Scherzer 107.0 2.61 0.93 .174 34.7% 8.1% 26.6%
Robbie Ray 82.0 2.52 1.16 .200 36.1% 10.4% 25.7%
Chris Archer 154.1 4.29 1.32 .261 30.3% 6.3% 24.0%
Stephen Strasburg 95.1 2.36 1.01 .201 30.5% 6.8% 23.7%
Note: through games of September 17

Kluber has lapped the field in almost every pitching metric since June 1. When Max Scherzer surpassed Clayton Kershaw in mid-June, Kluber was 54 points behind the National's ace. Now remarkably, just three months later with no major injury and little drop off in Scherzer’s performance, Kluber has wrested the crown from Mad Max.



COMMENTS (5 Comments, most recent shown first)

Gotta love the way those Staring Pitchers stare in. . .
7:27 AM Sep 22nd
Typo: From 4/3-5/2, Kluber pitched 37.1 innings.

In this day, it would be REALLY special if he pitched 232 inning (plus a couple of more starts worth) in a season with a month on the DL.​
6:27 AM Sep 21st
Here is another set of unimpressive comps through age 29:

Danny McDevitt
Ken Kravec
Chris Nabholz
Wade Miley
Kerry Wood

Remember that Kerry Wood pitched 80-odd innings total over his age 28 and 29 seasons, so he is not someone you'd want as a comp at that age.

I don't know if Randy Johnson made the top ten in his age 29 season, but he did finish second in the Cy Young voting.

I suspect that Carrasco and Johnson both have unimpressive comps at that age because they were both late bloomers.
5:02 PM Sep 20th
......about Carrasco (BTW just to be clear, I don't mean this as any criticism of the ranking, nor of him -- these things are easily misconstrued)....

In line with how surprising one might find it that he's cracking the list, here are his yearly "by age" #1 comps on

Flint Rhem
Justin Germano
Roy Smith
Rollie Sheldon
Shane Reynolds

It's a good guess this is the least impressive such list for any pitcher who's ever cracked the list (i.e. reached the top 10).

I'm somewhat guessing on how unimpressive the list is, because I never heard of 3 out of the 5 and only dimly ever heard of one of the others.
3:50 PM Sep 20th
The big surprise to me (really the only) is how Carlos Carrasco has cracked the list -- the only pitcher there who isn't a "household name" (except maybe in Cleveland) -- and apparently moving up, if he continues how he's been.
3:35 PM Sep 20th
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