Is Hiroki Kuroda the Yankees’ most reliable starter?

The New York Yankees starting pitching as a whole has been a bit inconsistent recently. Up until last nightCC Sabathia had looked a bit rocky ever since June started. Freddy Garcia’s role is really just to keep the team in the game and more often than not, he can do that. Ivan Nova has been just flat out strange lately, maybe causing a bit of concern for Joe Girardi. Phil Hughes has had his ups and downs, but for the most part is coming into his own as a starter. That leaves Hiroki Kuroda. Ever since his transition from the NL to the AL, Kuroda’s 2012 Yankee season was really a mystery. How consistent would he be? Could he pitch well against the power bats of the AL? Kuroda has answered these questions emphatically and has shown us that as of late, he’s the real deal and may be the one starter the Yankees can fall back on. 

Kuroda had a few rough outings in July, but overall has pitched well. On the season, Kuroda is 10-7 with a 3.28 ERA, 107 strikeouts in 137.1 innings pitched with a WHIP of 1.17. Kuroda’s ERA and WHIP are the lowest out of any of the other starters on the team. The one thing Kuroda has going for him is that despite being 37, he still can go long into games, and usually pitches anywhere between 6-7 innings a start. Most teams, unlike the Yankees, also aren’t as fortunate to fall back on their bullpen in case a starter has a bad outing, but that hasn’t been necessary with Hiroki.

Hiroki Kuroda has been a great addition to the rotation. (Image: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE)

In his last 22 innings pitched, Kuroda has only given up three earned runs while going 2-0 with 18 strikeouts. His experience in the MLB, playing with the Los Angeles Dodgers before this year, actually shows up a lot in this rotation. One name that gets mentioned with successful Japanese starters in the MLB is Hideo Nomo, also a former Dodger. While this is only Kuroda’s fifth year in America, overall as a pitcher, he’s done been successful and relies heavily on his splitter and shutto (similar to a slider) to strike out batters. Is he a Nomo? Well, no, but that doesn’t mean he’s bad. He just doesn’t have as much experience under his belt as Nomo did.

Looking at the Yankees rotation for the rest of the season, Kuroda almost automatically steps up as having the potential to be their most consistent starter. This is a rotation that heading into October, may not have a very healthy Andy Pettitte, who has the most wins in postseason history with 19. Kuroda will have to step up his game and I think in this rotation, he has to stay as the number two behind Sabathia.

The latter half of the rotation, consisting of Nova and Hughes has been a mystery. Nova’s outings lately are a concern. He’s reaching high pitch counts in short five or six inning outings. His walk count is up to 43 (he only had 57 in 2011), which is putting him in bad spots which he is not getting out of as frequently as he did in 2011. I think Hughes has been turning it around and much like Kuroda is becoming a reliable starter.

Kuroda’s next outing is this afternoon against the Seattle Mariners, a team in which he has done well against this year. In 2012, Kuroda holds a 2-0 record, alongside a 1.93 ERA against the Mariners. He’s also held them to a .188 batting average. Not only has Kuroda done well against Seattle at Safeco Field, but he’s also performed well against them in Yankee Stadium, where he’s had success all season. At Yankee Stadium, Kuroda is 7-3 with a 2.63 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 82 innings pitched.

Looking to the future, will Kuroda carry the confidence that he has been all season? I’d like to think so because the Yankees’ starting rotation is starting to look a little rough around the edges. He’s been exceptional at home and been decent on the road, so overall 2012 has been a successful campaign for him. The Yankees are hoping he can continue producing quality starts from now right through the postseason.