Corey Kluber is shattering franchise records this season, and even putting himself among the likes of Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan in a few categories. However, he’s playing in the most over-inflated strikeout era in baseball history. So how impressive are his numbers, really?
I actually set out to look up these numbers because I thought Kluber’s 2017 stats would stand out, regardless of the inflated strikeout rates across the league. He is currently averaging almost two strikeouts per game more than any other starting pitcher in franchise history—surely an increased rate to that extreme holds up across all eras, right?
But I was surprised by what I found. The increased strikeout rate across baseball is so massive that even Kluber’s ridiculous 12.41 K per 9 average appears far less impressive than some other Tribe hurlers in previous eras.
To be clear, the stats I’m going to post don’t diminish what Kluber is accomplishing today by any means. He’s among the league leaders in all strikeout-related categories. So regardless of the strikeout environment, he’s one of the best and clearly in a heated battle for the Cy Young Award. But in terms of historical context, maybe we shouldn’t quite elevate him among the elite strikeout kings.
To compare players across eras, I took each pitcher’s K per 9 rate and compared it to the league average K per 9 rate from that particular season. Kluber’s 2017 rate, despite being far and away the best in franchise history, plummets on this list:
There’s certainly no shame in Kluber averaging nearly 50% more strikeouts per game than the average pitcher. That obviously puts him in an elite category. But it’s also clear that he’s no Herb Score or Bob Feller, who each had multiple seasons in which they more than doubled the league average.
I was also surprised to see that Kluber doesn’t even hold the top mark among recent Indians, falling well below Bartolo Colon’s impressive 2000 season in which he was 61.1% above the league average.
Dennis Eckersley’s 1976 season also came a surprise to me. I knew he had some nice years here in Cleveland, but did not realize he was such an elite strikeout pitcher for his era.
Anyway, as I said, this wasn’t meant to diminish Kluber’s accomplishments within the context of the 2017 season at all. He’s up there with Sale, Kershaw and Scherzer as the four most dominant starters in today’s game. But it is interesting to see the extent to which strikeouts have risen across the league, and how much more dominant guys like Score and Feller were relative to their peers.