After four seasons of average to above average pitching in Los Angeles, Hiroki Kuroda made his way over to the East Coast. Many Yankees fans were excited with the prospect of Kuroda’s propensity to induce groundballs at a good rate. As we all should know by now, groundballs keep runners off base and runs from scoring. Kuroda was perhaps the biggest surprise for the Yankees this season, as he was the team’s most consistent pitcher and was flat-out dominant for a few months before cooling off in September. The best part is he’s re-signed with the team for 2013 to a one-year $15 million deal plus incentives equaling less than a $1 million. Let’s focus on this season and how he performed.
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First, Kuroda pitched to a 3.32 ERA (3.86 FIP) in 2012, which is below his career average in the ERA department (3.42) and a tad higher in FIP (3.62). At any rate, both those numbers showed how great of a pitcher he was compared to his peers, and by throwing in the 79 ERA- (100 is average, the lower the better) metric, it solidifies just how great of a season he had.
It’s especially telling since he isn’t a strikeout-type pitcher, but rather a pitch-to-contact guy who can punch batters out at a decent rate (6.84 K/9). As with any pitcher, strikeouts decrease as they age due to a decline in velocity, but Kuroda was above his career rate (6.76 K/9), but down from his previous two seasons where he posted 7.29 in 2010 and 7.17 in 2011. A little bit deeper look reveals Kuroda made batters make contact with pitches outside the zone and hitters made contact with fewer pitches within the strike zone. In 2012, Kuroda’s O-Contact% was five percentage points fewer than his 2011 totals (62 percent versus 67 percent rounded up). Meanwhile, his Z-Contact % dropped three percentage points (89 percent versus 86 percent). Both are very positive trends, especially for an aging pitcher.
Kuroda became a better pitcher as the season wore on. In fact, his nice first half which included a 3.50 ERA, was dwarfed by the monster second half of the season. However, let’s not forget his incredible June he had when he went 4-1 with a 1.98 ERA. After the All-Star Break Kuroda was a beast and it’s too bad he fell down the stretch because he was doing some serious damage on the mound when the Yankees needed him most, especially with CC Sabathia landing on the disabled list.
During those months he pitched three complete games with two of those being shutouts. One of those shutouts came at Yankee Stadium against one of the best offensive teams in the league, the Texas Rangers. He only gave up two hits, two walks and struck out only five during that performance. It was a microcosm of how he pitched for the Yankees the entire season; he stepped up when they absolutely needed him.
- Completes work on time
- Works neatly
- Thinks and works independently
- Prepares homework well
Kuroda is one of Brian Cashman’s best signings, bar none. Sure he’s gotten mileage out of scrapheap players such as Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, but it’s refreshing seeing the caliber of pitcher such as Kuroda find success in New York. Far too often fans of the Bronx Bombers see pitching performances from those past their prime fall flat a la Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson. But, Kuroda was secretly the ace of the staff this year because he was around the entire season without injury and pitched better than the injured Sabathia. Make no mistake, Sabathia is the ace of the staff, but Kuroda showed he still has plenty left in the tank and is ready to make another run with the Yankees in 2013.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs