What to watch for when Yankees' Corey Kluber takes the mound on Wednesday

Andy Martino
·3 min read
Corey Kluber Yankees pinstripes debut
Corey Kluber Yankees pinstripes debut

The Yankees have watched Corey Kluber surrender seven runs, including four earned, in his first 6 ⅓ innings with the team -- but under the surface, they see reason to expect immediate improvement.

Kluber and Jameson Taillon are massively important to the team’s success, the pitchers on whom the front office bet on to replace Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton in their rotation. Kluber starts on Wednesday afternoon in the series finale against Toronto, hoping to perform better than he did last Friday Tampa Bay, when he was unable to complete three innings.

Asked what he will be looking for as evidence that Kluber is progressing, manager Aaron Boone referenced a more positive internal view on Kluber’s stuff, likely drawn from a look at their proprietary metrics.

“I just want to see more of what I’ve seen,” Boone said. “Going back and looking at some things, I feel very good about where he’s at physically, where his pitch profiles are. The movement of his pitches. The crispness of his pitches. Continuing to be aggressive in the strike zone is important and trusting that he can go right after guys, because his stuff, the way it’s profiling, is absolutely going to play. I feel like he’s shown that, and look forward to him taking another step tomorrow.”

Was Kluber already trusting his stuff enough to be that aggressive?

“Yeah, I think he can be even more aggressive in really going after and attacking and not being fearful of contact,” Boone said. “Not that he hasn’t been, but his stuff is going to play and the movement on his pitches is where it should be and in a good place.”

Kluber has never been a power pitcher. Key to the success in his Cy Young prime was elite command of all pitches and a hard curveball/slider that Kluber resisted labeling as either; he merely called it his “breaking ball.” It was the best pitch in all of baseball in 2017, as measured by FanGraphs’ pitch value.

In two starts this year, Kluber has seemed to still be searching for command of that pitch. He views that less a matter of time missed due to injuries over the past two years and more about the typical early season process of feeling his way to it.

“I think the shapes are there,” Kluber said of the breaking ball. “I think it’s trying to pinpoint starting points or kind of that, reading the swing of the hitter, where it started, that kind of stuff. That stuff comes through game experience. I think it’s easy for me to say, or it’s easy for other people to say that I haven’t pitched in a couple of years. But I kind of go through that on a pretty consistent basis at the beginning of each year, just kind of trying to hone stuff in, get it all locked down, so speak.

“I don't want to make it sound like I’m not satisfied with the way I threw that pitch [in his first two outings]. It’s just, whether I go out there and get a bunch of swings and misses on it or not, there are still a bunch of things I’m going to want to improve on with it. That’s kind of trying to chase perfection, so to speak.”

In publicly available metrics, the spin on Kluber’s breaking ball is down from his prime, but not significantly. The velocity is also down, by about three miles per hour since 2017. The breaking ball pitch does have more break than it did four seasons ago. It is, of course, important to note the miniscule sample size of all data from this year.

In that tiny sample, the Yankees and Kluber feel good about what they see. On Wednesday, we’ll all see if their information translates to better results.