The Corey Kluber Pitch That Turned the Cubs Into Mush

Several hours before the first pitch of the World Series opener in Cleveland on Tuesday night, a reporter opened the press conference with Indians Game Two starter Trevor Bauer by asking him what it was that he enjoyed about watching Game One starter Corey Kluber when he was at his best. Probably nine in 10 pitchers answer this question with some form of stock response, praising Kluber for the way he competes, his intensity on the mound, or his routines in between starts (Indians players love Kluber’s routines). Whenever nine out of 10 someones would say any one thing, Trevor Bauer is always that 10th guy.

“I like the two-seam fastball,” Bauer said, matter of factly. “That’s a pitch I’m fascinated with. A pitch I started throwing mostly by studying his, and figuring out exactly why it moves and all the science behind it. So I enjoy watching that because sometimes it moves a lot, and it’s really fun to see the reactions to it.”

Bauer spent blocks of time during the 2015 offseason watching film at 1,000 frames per second of Kluber’s two-seam fastball, studying its spin axis and the way Kluber achieves that spin and movement based on the way it comes off his fingers. That year, Bauer threw more than 350 two-seam fastballs, having thrown just seven in his career before learning it by studying Kluber. This year, the two-seam fastball trumped the four-seam as Bauer’s go-to offering, and he threw it more than any other pitch, turning himself into a completely different type of pitcher in the process.

On Tuesday night, we saw just why Bauer went to such lengths to mimic Kluber’s two-seamer, as it was the biggest reason Cleveland’s ace was able to carve up perhaps baseball’s best lineup, allowing just three baserunners in six scoreless innings while striking out nine, and turning Chicago’s biggest threat, Anthony Rizzo, into mush.

The first batter of the game, Dexter Fowler, went back to the bench after watching a Kluber front-door two-seamer start out by looking like it was going to come in on his hands, before suddenly veering back toward the plate like a 93 mph screwball and catching enough black to be a strike:

This pitch set the blueprint for how Kluber would go on to attack Cubs lefties all night, and what’s funny is, this is more like the way Bauer uses the two-seamer than how Kluber traditionally does. More often, when throwing the two-seam to lefties, Kluber starts it out over the plate and runs it to the outer-third. It’s how he gets his ground balls and his weak contacts. When Bauer throws the two-seamer, he’s often throwing it as a freeze pitch, looking to get called strikes, often to end at-bats. In a way, this was like the master mimicking the apprentice after teaching the apprentice everything he knows.

The second batter, Kris Bryant, went back to the bench the same way Fowler did, only this time on a four-seam fastball spotted on the outer black:

This seems like as good a time as any to talk about Roberto Perez. The pitch that Kluber threw was a good pitch. For what it’s worth, Gameday had it catching the corner of the zone, with just about no room to spare. It was a good pitch, a close pitch. Perez made it look like a great pitch. Perez has been making close pitches look like great pitches throughout the entire postseason, and he’s been one of the unsung heroes of this playoff run since long before he became the fifth catcher in World Series history to hit two homers in the same game.

Chris Gimenez may not be a part of the Indians’ active World Series roster, but that doesn’t mean he’s not an active part of the team. Gimenez is one of the six non-pitchers who sits in on the pre-series game-planning meetings when the team decides how they’re going to attack the opposing lineup. The 33-year-old backup-catcher-turned-player/coach studies both Perez and opposing hitters during the game from the bench, reading their footwork and their swings, and then meets with the third-year catcher between innings to serve as a second set of eyes.

In other words, Gimenez is watching Perez as closely as anyone in the Indians’ dugout. And once you get him talking about what he sees, it can be hard to get him to stop.

“He reminds me so much of the Molina brothers,” said Gimenez, who played alongside Jose Molina in Tampa Bay and was coached by Bengie Molina in Texas. “It’s ridiculous. He is an elite pitch-framer. It makes all the difference in the world.”

Kluber got 24 called strikes against the Cubs on Tuesday — four of which for third strikes — marking his second-highest total of the season, and his season-high on a per-pitch basis. And while some of that is simply Kluber executing nasty stuff, and some of that is the Cubs’ patient tendencies, the pitch chart reveals that some of that, as always, is Perez, who had only four catchers steal more strikes than him on a per-pitch basis this year, according to Baseball Prospectus.

And while it’s difficult to quantify the effects of game-calling, Gimenez, Kluber, Andrew Miller, or just about any member of the Indians organization are eager to rave about Perez’s ability to call the right pitches and manipulate a game plan on the fly. He put on a clinic in exploiting batter weaknesses in the first two series against Boston and Toronto, and he and Kluber put on a clinic in exploiting Anthony Rizzo’s weakness last night.

Rizzo was the third batter up in the first, after Kluber got Fowler on the glove-side two-seam and Bryant on the glove-side four-seam. And not only did another glove-side two-seam get Rizzo to pop out to end the first inning, a glove-side two-seam got Rizzo to pop out in the fourth and the sixth, too:

Cubs starter Jon Lester said after the loss that “the first inning was tonight’s game.” What he was referring to was the two-run bottom of the first, in which he threw 26 pitches and faced eight batters. That quote can just as easily be applied to the top-half of the inning, though, as in retrospect, it set the tone for what would happen the rest of the night when the Indians were in the field. Kluber would bust fastballs and cutters in on the hands of Cubs’ lefties, and it would lead to either a swing and weak contact, or it would lead into the soft glove of Roberto Perez for a called strike. Kluber, Perez, and a two-seam fastball chewed up and spit out Cubs hitters for six innings in Game One of the World Series, and the man who learned the two-seam fastball from Kluber takes the mound in Game Two tonight.





August used to cover the Indians for MLB and ohio.com, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at august.fagerstrom@fangraphs.com.

newest oldest most voted
booj11
Member
booj11

kluber threw a lot of really great pitches.
perez made them look better than they were.
that’s a skill, just a really really silly one to value.
i, for one, embrace our new robot ump overlords.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/zoneTrack.php?&game=gid_2016_10_25_chnmlb_clemlb_1/&innings=yyyyyyyyy&month=10&day=25&year=2016

Other than the brandon guyer called strike 3 being terrible, ump was solid last night.
3 for each team clearly in the zone but catcher might have had to move glove a ton. He consistently gave low strike.

jw757
Member

Well, that Andrew Miller called “ball” right in the middle of the plate, 2/3 of the way toward the bottom of the strike zone was also a hideous call. That weird green square surrounded by red squares and triangles. But yeah, in general the numbers say it was decent aside from those 2 pitches. Both of which hurt the Indians.

some guy
Member
some guy

Robo Perez rules
Ryan Ludwick for Corey Kluber?
Roast Cub for supper