CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Following one of Corey Kluber’s Spring Training starts in March, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona said something rather curious.
You see, he felt Kluber was positioned to become one of the best pitchers in the American League for a number of reasons — growing confidence, expanding repertoire, work ethic.
His statement, straight to the point, raised a few eyebrows at the time.
Considering the right-hander had only logged 36 starts in 41 career appearances entering the 2014 season, skepticism of Francona’s prediction was a justifiable emotion.
With a Cy Young Award to punctuate Kluber’s accomplishments in 2014, not a single person can challenge the statement made by Cleveland’s manager so many months ago.
“Part of the reason we talked about him so much is because we’re around him,” Francona said at the end of the season. “And you see what other people don’t get to see, or aren’t privied to, or aren’t able to. I think we all thought that as he put it together — because he was putting it together last year and I don’t know that you go 1-100 — but you could see it coming last year.
“It’s amazing, as it comes together and the confidence grows and the knowledge that I, not only belong, but I can be an elite pitcher or player, and then the work ethic that follows with it and continues and probably grows — I think we saw those things with Kluber and thought this was a possibility.”
The 28-year-old hurler became just the fourth Indians pitcher to claim the honor, being voted AL Cy Young by the Baseball Writers Association of America — in an extremely close race in terms of performance — over Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez and Chicago White Sox lefty Chris Sale.
Kluber netted 17 first-place votes, 11 second-place and 2 third-place votes while Hernandez finished with 13 first-place and 17 second-place votes in the balloting.
Kluber joins Gaylord Perry (1972), C.C. Sabathia (2007) and Cliff Lee (2008) as members of the Tribe to earn the coveted Cy Young.
The right-hander finished the season with an 18-9 record and a sparkling 2.44 ERA in 235.2 innings. He led baseball in pitching WAR (7.3), was second in strikeouts (269), and finished first in the AL in fielding independent pitching (2.35) — a metric that removes elements out of the pitcher’s control, such as defense and ballpark factors.
But beyond the stats — which all point to a superb 2014 campaign — Kluber grew in a number of other ways this season.
When the Indians dealt the struggling Justin Masterson to the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the July 31 trade deadline, the unofficial title of “staff leader” was passed on to Kluber. Although he was not rich in experience himself, he was tasked with the responsibility of setting the tone for a young and inexperienced starting staff.
Not only did Kluber accept it, he seemed to relish it.
The tone he set appeared to rub off on others — and the Tribe’s starting pitching staff seemed to find their groove in the final two months of the campaign, exciting fans for what may lie ahead in 2015.
But what was most refreshing was Kluber’s actions at the end of the 2014 season.
Sometimes, being a true leader is about the smallest of things. And being able to watch him say his goodbyes and interact with every player in the Indians clubhouse showed why so many of the young pitchers now look up to him and why it is easy to see this sort of success continuing to come.
Armed with pin-point control (1.95 walks per nine innings), a nuclear assortment of secondary pitches that make opposing batters weak (10.27 strikeouts per nine innings), an even keel mentality and an all-world work ethic — the Cy Young Award is not about the end of a finished product for the Indians ace.
2014 appears to be merely a foundation for Kluber. One that proved his manager’s Spring Training opinion correct.
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