The World Series is here and the Chicago Cubs are ready. In Game 1, they will face the Cleveland Indians’ ace pitcher. How can they win?
Chicago Cubs fans, we are hours away from Game 1 in the World Series! Doesn’t feel amazing to say those words? However, the games must be played before a champion can be crowned. And, that means performing well against the Cleveland Indians top starter, Corey Kluber.
Two years removed from his Cy Young campaign, Kluber is now a proven top-of-the-rotation pitcher. After losing an American League leading 16 games in 2015, Kluber won 18 games this season. With a 3.14 ERA, 227 strikeouts, and a WHIP of 1.06, he a solid candidate for his second Cy Young in three years.
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Corey Kluber’s arsenal consists of 4+ pitches. Of the 3,181 pitches he threw this season, 52.9% of them were a fastball, whether it was a sinker or four-seam. His sinker is his standard pitch, used 37.4% of the time; However, with an average velocity between 90 and 94 miles per hour, teams have batted .277 (106 hits in 383 at-bats) on these fastballs.
In addition to his fastballs, Kluber features a slider as his secondary pitch. Averaging close to 88.9 MPH, he used this pitch 23% of the time. Teams may have 40 hits off this pitch, but also 37 strikeouts. His true strikeout pitch is a curveball, which provided 96 strikeouts in 189 at-bats. His curveball averages 82.8 MPH. Finally, Kluber rarely uses a changeup (4.7% of his pitch total).
The true challenge batters face is Kluber’s ability to work the corners of the plate. Of all pitches thrown, 55.1% are over the plate. He works down and in (16.3%) to left-handed batters and inside (11%) to righties.
The Chicago Cubs need to jump on the fastball/sinker as much as they can, which is their strength. For example, Dexter Fowler averages 8.9 runs better than average on sinkers (wSI) for the year. Kris Bryant‘s wSI is 6.9, Javier Baez is 5.0, and Anthony Rizzo is 3.7. Other teammates with positive wSI’s are Jorge Soler (3.3), Ben Zobrist (3.1), David Ross (1.5), Chris Coghlan (1.1), and Addison Russell (0.2). Hence, this is the best chance for the Cubs offense to score.
Add to this that each of the mentioned players, except Russell have positive run production on curveballs, and the Cubs have an advantage in this match-up. Furthermore, Rizzo (9.6), Bryant (7.7), and Willson Contreras (2.6) have performed well against sliders.
With Kluber working the corners of the plate, Cubs batters are susceptible to swinging at pitches outside of the zone. That is something they do from time to time. However, with the exception of Soler, all players on the current roster make contact over 50% of the time on pitches outside the zone. The top two? Zobrist at 76.7% and Jason Heyward at 75.1%. The Chicago Cubs are also the most patient team at the plate, earning a league leading 656 walks. As a result, the Cubs batters should perform well against Kluber.
Finally, the Cubs have faced several pitchers of Kluber’s quality lately, including Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Johnny Cueto. Each are similar in fastball velocity, accuracy, and using a curveball. The Cubs will be ready.
If they don’t hit, it will be a long series. Nonetheless, it will be a fun series to watch.