CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Corey Kluber has had his fair share of success against the Yankees in 2017, with two three-hit outings that spanned eight and nine innings respectively.
That success came without having to face MVP candidate Aaron Judge in either game, and it is safe to say that with the 6-foot-7 slugger in the lineup Friday, a Yankee win may hinge on their breakout rookie.
The advantage of never having faced a hitter before, if there is one, goes both ways as Kluber pointed out on Thursday.
“I mean, I think the year he’s had speaks for itself. Obviously, he’s a great hitter,” the Cy Young favorite said. “I haven’t faced him yet, but I don’t think it’s any different from any point in your career when you’re facing somebody for the first time.”
One would think just by looking at the surface that Kluber has an obvious advantage in that he makes hitters swing and miss at an elite rate, while Aaron Judge swings and misses at an alarming rate.
Unlike most pitchers who are sinker-heavy, like Kluber’s Friday opponent CC Sabathia, the Indians ice does not lean low-and-away with the pitch. Kluber likes to use his sinker higher in the zone, with the majority of sinkers in his career in on righties, though he has stayed away more in 2017.
That is mostly because the sinker is used more to set up Kluber’s devastating breaking ball, which is used as a put-away pitch.
The pitch, which has inspired a great debate as to whether or not it is a curve or slider, is one of the deadliest in the game, accounting for 135 of Kluber’s 265 regular season strikeouts. The vast majority of its usage is low-and-away, which is no surprise.
Sure enough, the rookie-record holder for strikeouts has that issue in a particular part of the zone against righty breaking balls.
Kluber has talked at length this season about adjusting to the “elevation revelation” from hitters around the league. The fact that the All-Star has adjusted is evident by his numbers, and that breaking ball is the main byproduct of Kluber’s shift.
On a horizontal plane, the breaking ball is sliding the least of any year since Kluber’s rookie season. On a vertical plane, the pitch is diving less than ever before. The result is a pitch that stays on top of hitters’ bats, causing a drastic rise in IF FB% (20.7% in 2016 to 35.9% in 2017) and drop in HR/FB (10.3% to 2.6%).
Just as Trevor Bauer looked to attack Judge with fastballs high and out of the zone to set up breaking balls beneath it, Kluber will most likely replicate the approach.