Kluber is the MVP of the Cleveland Indians

Dan Armelli

The 2016 Cleveland Indians are a story that shouldn’t be happening.

Their most consistent hitter or player from the last four years and 2014 Most Valuable Player Award finalist, Michael Brantley, played only 11 games this season due to a lingering shoulder issue that wouldn’t go away.

Catcher Yan Gomes, who hit 21 home runs with a .278 batting average in the 2014 season, struggled to hit even .200 and had his season ended after he was hit by a pitch and had to go to rehab.

Their three big free agent signings – Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis and Juan Uribe – were each in their mid-30s.

Before the season, there were question marks up and down the Indians’ roster. But now they’re knocking down the door into the postseason, seven games away from winning the division.

This fact makes it weird that no one on the Tribe will be seriously considered as a MVP candidate. And while that’s irrelevant to the big picture, it’s still a fun debate as to who on the team has been their MVP.

It’s not an obvious choice; there are a handful of players to choose from, unlike if you were to look at the rosters of other American League teams, where there are clear-cut choices. Some of these include the Blue Jays (Josh Donaldson), Houston Astros (Jose Altuve), or Boston Red Sox (Mookie Betts).

While arguments can be made for four or five players on the team, starting pitcher Corey Kluber would get my vote for MVP of the Indians.

Kluber was off to an inauspicious start by his standards this season, heading into June with a plus 4.00 ERA. But then he got cooking and has been looking like the Kluber that made pitching look really fun in 2014.

What’s all the more impressive is that Kluber’s hot streak, post All-Star break, has been without Gomes, who got hurt the day before Kluber’s first start, after the Midsummer Classic. Pitchers, coaches, and media have always raved about how well Gomes has handled his pitching staff, even when he was struggling at the plate.

With Roberto Perez and Chris Gimenez behind the dish, Kluber lowered his first half 3.61 ERA to 3.12, for a 2.40 second half ERA.

Even more telling, Kluber leads all MLB pitchers in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 6.54. For reference, Kluber won the Cy Young Award two seasons ago with a WAR of 7.4. Kluber also leads all AL pitchers in fangraphs’ version of WAR (fWAR) at 4.9.

You can look at Francisco Lindor’s all around game, his 5.4 WAR. You can point to Mike Napoli’s career and team-high 34 home runs. You should also be giving credence to Jose Ramirez’s incredibly clutch .354 average with runners in scoring position.

The offense has needed a bunch of different guys at different times. While there have been frequent offensive heroes that have won them games, it’s the Tribe’s ability to have multiple players come through in crucial situations that makes this team special.

That said, the steady and dominant second half pitching from Kluber has been invaluable to the Indians, and it has been for the last three years.

Any perception of him not living up to the hype this year is a byproduct of how much he spoiled Indians fans in 2014.

Kluber has a great case to win the Cy Young Award for the second time in three years, and should be the clear favorite, with strong performances down the stretch.

Kluber is the MVP of this team, and with Carlos Carrasco out for the season now, he’s going to have to keep pitching like it.

Dan Armelli is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].