Draft or Pass: The Return of Corey Kluber - Former Glory or Doomed to Fail?

A disastrous 2019 season seems very difficult for Texas Rangers pitcher Corey Kluber to overcome. Can he find his former glory or is his return already doomed to fail.
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The still-to-be-determined start of the 2020 MLB season has added an interesting wrinkle to fantasy baseball draft prep. We here at SI Fantasy want to provide you with the best information possible heading into your drafts in these unprecedented times.

Our "Draft or Pass" video series takes a closer look at a fantasy player that will be debated often leading up to fantasy drafts, in many cases, because of the delayed start to the season. Are our hosts targeting this player specifically? Are they avoiding him entirely?

Today's feature focuses on Texas Rangers Starting Pitcher Corey Kluber.

Draft or Pass at current ADP: 91 (SP/RP 28)

From 2014-2018, former Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber was baseball's equivalent of Ron Popeil's Ronco Showtime Rotisserie & BBQ: "Set it… and forget it!"

If the reference is before your time, it's understandable, but the fact remains that Corey Kluber was as automatic as pitchers come over those five seasons.

He cleared 200 innings all five years, averaged 245.6 strikeouts per season, and led the American League in walk rate in 2017-2018. In an era where more starting pitchers leave the game before having a chance to face the lineup a third time through, Kluber would be a near-lock for seven innings most nights he took the mound.

In 2019, however, the Kluber Machine didn't just stop working; it spontaneously combusted.

In seven starts, Kluber pitched to an ERA of 5.80, a WHIP of 1.65, and ended his year with a walk-rate that more than doubled from a season ago (8.93 to 4.04). His velocity continued to dip to the lowest of his career, and injuries (forearm, oblique) halted any return.

This offseason, the 34-year-old right-hander was shipped to the Texas Rangers for OF Delino DeShields and pitcher Emmanuel Clase. While Texas has found its fair share of reliable starting pitchers over the years, the majority have struggled in the hitter-friendly confines of the old Globe Life Park.

This year, we may see a trend back towards the pitchers, as the new Globe Life Field holds a retractable roof, providing a climate-controlled environment inside the stadium.

SI Fantasy insider and high-stakes guru Shawn Childs broke down Kluber in his 2020 Rangers Team Outlook:

Over the last five full seasons, Kluber went 96-55 with a 3.09 ERA and 1,423 strikeouts over 1,306 innings. He's won 18 or more games four times over this span while developing into a workhorse arm (over 200 innings pitched in five straight seasons). In 2017 and 2018, he led the AL in walk rate (1.6 and 1.4), but his K rate (9.3) did regress in 2018. His best pitch continues to be his slider (.103 BAA) while his changeup (.222 BAA) and four-seamer (.191 BAA) offered an edge in his last full year.

With an ADP (91), Kluber appears to be a value arm if he pitches over 200 innings even with a 3.50 ERA and 200-plus strikeouts. The change in ballpark and division is a downgrade.

Right now, Kluber slots as a mid-eighth round pick. While he certainly has the capabilities to be a dominant top of the rotation starter, I have a difficult time buying, especially after seeing him fall off a proverbial fantasy cliff a season ago. The pitching environment may be better than for old Rangers teams, but Kluber is now pitching in an improved division during a shortened season while returning from two significant injuries. Tread lightly.

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