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Clayton Kershaw & Corey Kluber are not having bad seasons

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While Clayton Kershaw barely made it to the 2015 All-Star Game, Corey Kluber wasn't so fortunate. Are they still two of Major League Baseball's best pitchers?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It is official. As of today baseball is back—hallelujah! We survived the horrific changes that the Home Run Derby undertook, which actually turned out to be one of the greatest decisions rookie commissioner Rob Manfred has made yet. We survived the home-field advantage deciding dog and pony show that is the modern-day All-Star Game—where a game supposed to start at 7pm EST threw its first pitch closer to 8:30pm EST. We even survived having to watch those horrendous ASG hats for nine innings (no joke about that, because the hats themselves were humorous enough on their own). We got through all that, so now we’re almost set to start the second half! Almost.

I say almost because there was something at the All-Star game that just didn’t sit right with me. It just felt like it was missing one person, and I’m not talking about Barry Bonds’ lack of inclusion in the MLB Franchise Four. Not to mention that it was nearly without another person, if not for his late addition due to the technicality of Max Scherzer pitching the Sunday before the ASG. If you read the headline of this article, I am sure you can already guess the two I’m talking about: Cleveland Indians starter Corey Kluber and Los Angeles Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw.

I do not see inherent value in being named to an All-Star game. Although the managers and players determine pitchers and reserves, the overall process is often a farcical, overrated popularity vote influenced by the thought that old-school statistics—such as RBI, R, SB, ERA, and the ever-atrocious W-L record—do an accurate job of depicting how well a player has done in a season. To me, an appearance is nothing more than a neat total you can tally up at the end of a player's career to say, "Hey, Hank Aaron was a 25 time All-Star. That is interesting!" not, "Hey, Hank Aaron was a 25 time All-Star. That is why he should be a Hall of Famer!"

It would be hypocritical of me to describe how much I do not value the All-Star Game only to turn around and argue that Kershaw and Kluber should’ve been absolutely no-doubt All-Stars. At the same time, though, I believe the ultimate goal of the ASG and its voting process is to give recognition to the best players baseball has to offer from each league. For that reason, I am not arguing that Kershaw and Kluber both deserved to be All-Stars. I am arguing that it is time we stop claiming these two haven’t been productive this year and start recognizing them as having two of the best first halves Major League Baseball had to offer.

Imagine Clayton Kershaw had never thrown a pitch before 2015

Forget that Kershaw has put up some ridiculously good seasons in the past and forget that he has three Cy Young Awards at the age of 27. If you were to do so, and then looked at how he is pitching this season, could you even seriously consider calling it a ‘down year’?

Take a look at a blind comparison of Clayton Kershaw to five of his All-Star compadres:

Pick Your Poison
Pitcher IP K% BB% SIERA cFIP FIP xFIP fWAR
Pitcher U 119.1 20.5% 6.8% 3.45 92 2.77 3.32 2.8
Pitcher V 117.1 24.6% 5.9% 3.00 83 2.74 2.95 2.7
Pitcher W 113.2 25.3% 4.7% 3.04 82 2.63 3.04 3.1
Pitcher X 123.1 22.8% 4.3% 3.18 89 2.65 3.18 3.2
Pitcher Y 123.0 32.7% 5.5% 2.23 70 2.39 2.07 3.7
Pitcher Z 113.2 20.4% 7.5% 3.75 94 3.09 3.64 2.3

Pitcher U is Pittsburgh Pirates starter A.J. Burnett, while Pitcher V is Gerrit Cole—another Pirates starter. Pitcher W is New York Mets flamethrower Jacob deGrom, Pitcher X is Kershaw’s Dodgers teammate Zack Greinke and Pitcher Z is the up-and-coming Atlanta Braves starter Shelby Miller. Pitcher Y is Kershaw, who clearly looks like he is not having a bad season when compared to the best pitchers in the National League. In fact, the southpaw seems to have put up numbers so far that show he is having one of the better seasons of all the NL pitchers.

Thus far Kershaw has posted an fWAR of 3.7, which is second to only the 4.7 fWAR put up by Scherzer. While Scherzer might be the best pitcher in baseball this season, it shouldn’t be that far-fetched to put Kershaw in the conversation. That is not the case this season largely because ‘The Claw’ has become a victim of his own success. I’ll go ahead and apologize on Kershaw's behalf that his three luck indicators (BABIP, LOB%, and HR/FB) have all been worse this year.

And May the Luck be Forever in Your Favor
Season BABIP LOB% HR/FB
2013 .251 80.6% 5.8%
2014 .278 81.6% 6.6%
2015 .306 74.2% 14.9%
Career .274 77.9% 7.1%

/You can use all the fancy-pants stats you want, but he has a 2.85 ERA!

/The highest ERA out of that list of players is Shelby Miller’s 2.38!

/He has a 6-6 record!

Oh, so you are saying he isn’t pitching like one of baseball's best because he has a sub-three ERA that is over 2.38. Might I refer you to his 2011 season? Ah yes, good ole’ 2011, when Dan Uggla had a 33 game hit streak, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in one of the most thrilling World Series in recent memory, and Clayton Kershaw won the NL Cy Young with a 2.53 ERA. Although I don’t put much value into winning a Cy Young when compared to the overall output of stats, there is a whole heap of people that feel winning a Cy Young Award typically is a good judge of an excellent season.

Unlike Kershaw, Kluber was (#yosted) not fortunate enough to make the All-Star team. In fact, this marks the second straight year the Indians ace has not made the All-Star team despite a good season overall. So, just like we did with Kershaw, let’s take a look at a blind comparison of Kluber and five players who made the All-Star team:

Pick a Card, Any Card
Pitcher: IP K% BB% SIERA cFIP FIP xFIP fWAR
Pitcher A 121.2 30.4% 6.2% 2.61 67 2.65 2.57 3.2
Pitcher B 123.2 22.4% 6.2% 3.26 80 2.63 3.28 3.4
Pitcher C 117.1 24.1% 7.5% 3.13 90 3.27 3.05 2.2
Pitcher D 137.1 21.3% 6.4% 2.78 91 2.82 2.74 3.4
Pitcher E 133.1 28.8% 5.2% 2.66 66 2.51 2.66 3.9
Pitcher F 125.0 22.6% 4.9% 3.39 76 2.84 3.37 3.2

For Kluber, it isn’t about being the best pitcher on this list. It is instead about being recognized outside the sabermetric community as someone who is as good if not better than the pitchers on this list.

Pitcher A is Tampa Bay Rays sparkplug Chris Archer, while Player B is Oakland Athletics pitcher Sonny Gray. Pitcher F, Detroit Tigers lefty David Price, used to be teammates with Archer and played at the same school as Gray. Pitcher C is the king of the Seattle Mariners, Felix Hernandez, and Pitcher D is Dallas Keuchel from the Houston Astros. That leaves Pitcher E to be none other than the aforementioned Kluber, who appears more than deserving to be mentioned with the names on that list.

In fact, Kluber’s peers have even begun to take note. As Cleveland.com’s Paul Hoynes wrote on Monday, Clayton Kershaw felt that Kluber should be recognized as one of baseball’s best pitchers:

"The way he's pitched, he probably deserves to be here. He's in the top 10 pitchers (in the game) for sure."

Like Kershaw, Kluber’s 3.9 fWAR is good enough for second in his respective league. Trailing only Chris Sale’s 4.1 fWAR, Kluber has been perhaps one of the best pitchers in the American League. But why do so many think he is not?

Forget about Kluber's Win-Loss record

If I hear/read one more person bring up the fact that Kluber is 4-10 as if it has some type of bearing on his individual performance and not the Indians' horrid inability to score more than 2.32 runs for him every time he starts, I might lose my mind. Kluber is already doing the absolute best he can with the below average defense he has behind him; do you expect him to score all the runs needed to win a game, too?

Speaking of the Indians’ defense, another complaint with Kluber is that his 3.38 ERA is much too high. However, that typically happens when you have a high BABIP and a well below-average LOB%. Behind both of those, of course, is the Indians' defense, which isn’t playing poorly for just Kluber.

Last month I wrote about how the Indians’ poor defense (-11 DRS, -10 UZR) at key spots was beginning to hurt Carlos Carrasco’s ERA. As a team, the Indians have the fourth-largest difference between their ERA and FIP in the AL (0.31 lower FIP) and seventh in all of Major League Baseball.

The problem is not that Kershaw and Kluber are pitching poorly in the eyes of certain people. The problem is that if a player posts an elite season, most people immediately expect him to repeat it ad nauseam. The majority of people outside the sabermetric community don’t always factor in things like regression to the mean, poor run support, or poor defense in general as having an effect on a pitcher.

It is time we stop pretending that Corey Kluber and Clayton Kershaw aren’t two of the best pitchers baseball has to offer this season. Anything less is a blatant lie and could not be farther from the truth.

. . .

Shawn Brody is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score as well as a sophomore pitcher at Howard Payne University majoring in Business Management. He has the current misfortune of being Red Sox fan. If you would like to get a hold of him, please feel free to email him at Shawnbrody9@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @ShawnBrody.