Pittsburgh Pirates Free Agent Target: RHP Corey Kluber
The Pittsburgh Pirates could use a decent veteran starter and former two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber could fill that role.
The Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation has a decent amount of young talent. They might get even more youthful and inexperienced when Mike Burrows, Quinn Priester, and Kyle Nicolas eventually make their debut. The organization also will be on the lookout for at least one starting pitcher this offseason, and one arm I would look into is former two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber.
The veteran starting pitcher is coming off a relatively solid season for the Tampa Bay Rays. In 164 innings, Kluber worked to the tune of a 4.34 ERA, 3.57 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP. Despite his best years behind him, Kluber still managed to post a career-best 3% walk rate, the best among all qualified starting pitchers, and the eighth-lowest single-season mark since 2010 (min. 150 IP).
Although Kluber allowed no free passes, he had a sub-par 20.2% strikeout rate and 1.1 HR/9, both of which were career worsts in seasons he pitched at least 100 innings. Kluber’s 4.34 ERA might not be too pretty, but there’s not much backing it. For one, two starts bloated his ERA. The first was on May 10th, when he allowed eight earned runs in three innings. The next was the fourth to last start of the year on September 10th, when he surrendered six earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning. Outside of those two outings, he had a much healthier 3.67 ERA.
On top of that, Kluber had an above-average 3.85 SIERA. He was also good at limiting hard contact, ranking in the top 80th percentile and 75th percentile of exit velocity and hard-hit rate. Kluber adjusted his pitch style to compensate for the lost velocity, using his cutter as his most used pitch.
The downside is Kluber will be 37 next season, he’s faced his fair share of injuries, and it shows. While the right-hander was never a flamethrower, Kluber has lost a good amount of velocity. His sinker used to sit 91-94 MPH but now averaged out at 88.9 MPH this past season. Even though he seems to have found a way to circumvent his loss of velocity, completely embracing a soft-contact/all-command approach, how much more mileage Kluber can put on his arm before severly declining is a question that must be asked.
Kluber might also benefit from improved catcher defense. Tampa Bay catchers didn’t do much to help their pitchers out, having -0.1 framing runs. Pittsburgh Pirates backstops on the other hand had +5 framing runs. If the Pirates open the year with a catching tandem of Jason Delay and Tyler Heineman, they would have one of the better defensive duos in the league.
But Kluber would be a decent arm to anchor a young rotation. The veteran may not be what he was when he was consistently finishing top-3 in Cy Young voting, but he’s still a decent pitcher. If he gives the Pirates 160 innings of 3.80 ERA-ball, he’d be exactly what the Pirates need to lock down the rotation.