He’s never been counted on as an ace of any staff while playing in America. Nor has he ever been the highest-profile name coming from his home country. He wasn’t even the biggest name on the day he was signed this past offseason, but Hiroki Kuroda has been the best free agent acquisition the Yankees have had in a long time. It’s easy to see the reasons Kuroda has flown under the radar throughout his career, but he’s a solid pitcher nonetheless, and a savior for the Yankees staff in 2012.
He made the trip from Japan to Los Angeles in 2008 in his age-33 season, and posted a 9-10 record with a 3.73 ERA (3.59 FIP). That would be Kuroda’s schtick throughout his short MLB career so far, a mid-3.00 ERA and providing double-digit wins. He uses the heavy sinking movement on his splitter and two-seam fastball to induce groundballs, which is a must in Yankee Stadium.
That being said, he’s induced groundballs on nearly 52% of balls in play so far this season. In 2011 with the Dodgers, he only produced 43.2% in a much easier division. Furthermore, Kuroda’s never been a strikeout-type pitcher and has hovered around seven strikeouts per nine innings throughout his career (6.85 K/9 in 2012). Meanwhile, he’s kept his walks down to around two per nine innings, which has made his WHIP (1.15 in 2012) consistent throughout his career (1.18). Basically, for those who are scoring at home, while he allows hits and walks here and there, he limits the damage and makes his infielders work. That’s a perfect recipe for a pitcher in Yankee Stadium.
Perhaps the biggest contributions have been his consistency and stability. He’s absolutely kept this rotation from falling apart while CC Sabathia has visited the DL twice and Andy Pettitte‘s long-term injury. He’s also been a rock while Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes floundered to open the season. Meanwhile, he’s stepped up when Ivan Nova, who many thought, including yours truly, was going to be the Yankees #2 on the staff. Instead, Kuroda solidified himself as a legitimate pitching threat in the AL East.
Against teams in the AL playoff hunt (Texas, Baltimore, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Oakland, Anaheim, and Detroit) Kuroda has a 7-4 record. He’s allowed one or fewer runs in six of the nine games, and shutout opponents in four of those games. That’s unbelievable! As a Yankees fan you cannot ask for much more than that; he’s been this year’s ace thus far. He’s held that vaunted Texas Rangers lineup to only two runs in 16 innings of work. Again, ace-like.
With a pitching staff that seems to be on the verge of failing without their big guns, there’s Kuroda keeping it together. He’s been absolutely dominate and deserves much more recognition than he’s given. To think back on January 26 he was playing second fiddle to the flashier and sexier free agent acquisition, Michael Pineda, seems foolhardy now. However, no one could have predicted Kuroda doing this well in the AL East and he’s a big reason the Yankees are six games up on the Baltimore Orioles as of today.