On May 2, 2017, Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians had finished his No. 6 start of the season, lasting just three innings while allowing 5 ER, bumping his ERA up to an uncharacteristic 5.06. The next day Kluber was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a back injury. Since his return on June 1, Kluber has been arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball.
In his 13 starts since returning from the DL, Kluber has been unhittable and has nearly cut his ERA in half to 2.65. Over that same stretch, he has had double-digit strikeouts in 11 starts, including at least 11 Ks in his last five. Altogether he leads the MLB by a significant margin with 142 Ks in that time frame.
The man closest to Kluber in the K department since his return just so happens to be the same man who has overshadowed his ridiculous season, Chris Sale. While Kluber was struggling through April and was hurt for basically all of May, Sale was dominating his competition. Through his first 11 starts, Sale had racked up 110 Ks, a 6-2 record, a 2.77 ERA, and had gone less than seven innings in just two starts.
Sale was a strong, early Cy Young candidate, and has remained the leader in a seemingly one-horse race as his performance has only improved in his last 12 starts. The problem is that while Sale still deserves to be the leader in the Cy Young race, Corey Kluber has pitched his way into the conversation but is getting limited recognition.
Since June 1st, Kluber has outpitched Sale and every other pitcher in the MLB. Kluber leads baseball in strikeouts, IP, OBP against, SLG against, wOBA against and is No. 2 to only Clayton Kershaw with a 1.70 ERA. He recently passed Kershaw and Max Scherzer into second place behind Sale for pitchers WAR according to FanGraphs with a 4.9.
While Kluber did struggle to start the season, his season long stats still nearly mirror Sale’s. What helps put Sale ahead of Kluber is the 28.2 extra innings he’s pitched along with his incredible 1.98 FIP. A couple of the two aces important rate statistics, K/9, BB/9, HR/9, and ERA, are all nearly the same showing that Sale’s strong WAR lead comes down to more playing time.
If not for Kluber’s DL time it would be interesting to see how close the gap would be between the two. Kluber and Sale are the only two SPs averaging more than seven IP per start this season so it seems to follow that Kluber would have made up the 28-inning gap over his four missed starts.
Last night Sale went eight innings with 13 Ks allowing no runs on two hits and one walk, following up his worst outing of the season in which he allowed seven ER against Kluber’s Indians. Kluber kept pace with Boston’s ace by going the distance for the second game in a row with eerily identical pitching lines. In both games he fanned 11, allowed 1 ER on a solo HR and held the opposing lineup to just three hits.
It’s impossible to correctly answer which guy is pitching better right now but the consistency of Sale rightly keeps him atop the Cy Young and WAR leaderboards. With another 7-8 weeks in the season there is plenty of time for Kluber to gain ground if Sale sputters because despite what the mainstream media has said, this is not a one-horse race.
For the fans, all we can do is hope that both stay healthy and dominant heading into the postseason. The AL East leading Red Sox and Central leading Indians are slated to face each other in the ALDS of the 2017 Playoffs and if they hold their division leads we could be in for one of the greatest postseason pitching matchups of All-Time will Kluber and Sale both toeing the rubber for Game 1 and possibly games 4 or 5.