Kuroda shows that some NL pitchers can transition to AL


(Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

It happens every time media reports connect the Yankees with an NL pitcher, and one success story won’t change that. There is a seemingly widespread belief that pitchers who succeed in the NL cannot succeed in the AL, or at least cannot succeed in the AL East. Hiroki Kuroda has proven doubters wrong. After a rough start to the season he has become one of the Yankees’ most reliable pitchers. His results even line up pretty well with his career numbers, despite the league shift.

In 2010 and 2011 Kuroda produced a 3.23 ERA, which amounts to a 117 ERA+ (which accounts for league and ballpark factors). While his raw ERA is a tick higher this year at 3.34, the league and park factors change the picture. After last night’s victory over Seattle Kuroda owns a 127 ERA+. That’s good for 12th in the AL, just one spot behind CC Sabathia.

Not only has Kuroda delivered in results, but his peripherals seemingly line up well. His 19.4 percent strikeout rate matches up almost perfectly with his numbers from the last two years. The difference, of course, is that he doesn’t face opposing pitchers any more. Against pitchers in 2011 his strikeout rate was a hair under 40 percent; in 2010 it was 37 percent. Viewed in that manner, his strikeout rate has virtually increased this season, since he doesn’t have the benefit of facing that pitcher 60 times a season.

Kuroda does have two-plus months remaining, and perhaps AL lineups figure him out by then. But they haven’t been able to do so in the past two months. Starting with his May 16th start against Toronto (as to exclude his previous one against Seattle) and through his start July 18th (for the same reason), he has a 3.40 ERA with a 7.94 K/9 rate (21.5 percent). That’s a pretty hot run through some tough opponents.

The next time someone decries the Yankees’ interest in a pitcher because he’s an NL guy, try to think of Kuroda’s success. He might not disprove the theory, but he does show that certain types of pitchers can succeed in any league.

Categories : Pitching


  1. jjyank says:

    Kuroda has been awesome this year. I never thought about his K rates like that, Joe, good point.

    I don’t want to think what the rotation would look like without Kuroda, especially for the period when CC and Andy were both on the DL.

  2. Kosmo says:

    IMHO teams are not going to figure him out. He features 4 very good pitches and can touch 94-95 on occasion. If you look around the AL alot of teams have a couple of punch and judy hitters in their respective lineups.
    Power hitting is down. As far as the AL East goes the days of Manny and Papi are over.

  3. yooboo says:

    He is a surprising signee. He pitches so effectively when his team scores 3 or more runs. He still struggles against AL East teams.

  4. Eddard says:

    He’ll be a vast improvement as #3 starter in the playoffs over what we had last year. Last year we ran Freddy out there in game 3 and of course AJ in game 4. This year we’re much deeper as long as Andy returns. We’ve improved our outfield defense and team speed. Joba will make the pen deeper. Now we just need a competent catcher.

    • yooboo says:

      Rotation will be a lot of better as long as none of them is hurt. Martin is still a competent catcher and he only need a strong 40 playoff PA to be a competent catcher.

  5. Pinstripes In Cali says:

    “certain types of pitchers can succeed in any league.”

    Yep. they’re called good pitchers.

  6. vin says:

    I still want to see some gif’s of the inside 2-seamers he threw for strike three last night. I believe one was to Ackley, and the other was Wells in the 5th and 6th innings. They had ridiculous movement, and both hitters were frozen. It was beyond Bartolo-esque.

  7. JobaWockeeZ says:

    While I agree with the premise of the article I also hear the very same arguments against Wandy Rodriguez because he’d “get killed’ in the East despite having similar FIPs and xFIPS to Kuroda.

    • jjyank says:

      I like Wandy. I wanted the Yanks to make a trade for him before that contract extension, but I think there’s too much risk now.

    • G says:

      His stuff is nowhere near the caliber of Kuroda’s. Kuroda has changed styles to succeed in the AL East, but I don’t think Wandy would do so successfully.

  8. OMG! Bagels! says:

    I was at Opening Day and I could have sworn Hiroki pitched and pitched well. Am I hallucinating?

  9. RetroRob says:

    I don’t think there’s a widespread belief that pitchers who succeed in the NL cannot succeed in the AL/AL East. There is a belief that certain types of pitchers can not succeed, and at the very least certain types of pitchers will be impacted more by moving to the AL East.

    Here’s where talent evaluation come into play. Most believed that Kuroda would have be effective in the AL East because unlike many pitchers who come to Japan, Kuroda consistently pounds the strikezone, staying ahead of batters, allowing him to use his splitter and sinker effectively. Many pitchers coming out of the Japanese leagues pitch backwards and then try living off the plate expecting hitters to expand the strikezone to get themselves out. We’ve even seen this with Darvish at times. Kuroda does not fit that mold and most of the talent evaluators correctly called it.

    I am little surprised how well he’s done, figuring he’d have an ERA in the higher 3′s, but then again as you noted, there is still plenty of season left for some regression. His ERA+ of 127 is the highest of his career, but not by much. He scored a 120 ERA+ in 2011. He’s been good since he game to the States, but based on the last two seasons, he seems to be getting better.

    • Cappy says:

      Not that I’d ever willingly want to see the Rangers in the playoffs, but I hope Kuroda gets a chance to square off against Darvish on a big stage. Ever since I read that NYT article about Kuroda I’ll always be in his corner because the dude’s been a grinder his whole life and never got any of the hype as other vaunted Japanese pitchers.

      • RetroRob says:

        They did face off against each other earlier this year, with Darvish coming out on top. That said, Kuroda pitched quite well against the Rangers, with Darvish putting up perhaps his best start of the year. Kuroda more times than not will win games similar to what he pitched that night.

        Not sure Darvish and Kuroda will line up rotation wise. Darvish right now will probably be the Rangers #1 unless they make a trade for someone like Greinke, and even at that Darvish still might hold the #1 slot depending on how he pitches the rest of the way. It’ll be interesting where Girardi slots Kuroda. I think most assume Pettitte will hold the #2 position assuming he returns and is effective, with Kuroda holding the #3 slot. I’m not sure of that. Girardi in 2009 showed he liked having Pettitte in the #3 position, making him available to pitch a game seven.

  10. BK2ATL says:

    While this is certainly one case against that narrative, there are many more that support that narrative, although in recent years, it isn’t as prevalent.

    I think this is a case of Kuroda being a more mature, experienced pitcher with a repertoire of pitches, control, command and background that suggests that he wouldn’t be rattled much. Kuroda isn’t/wasn’t an AJ Burnett or a Randy Wolf type. That was apparent when he was in LA.

    I think him being on a team of professionals and in an environment where excellence is the goal, works into his own narrative. There’s no BS involved, as would be with other clubs trying to go to a “youth movement” or “ownership issues.” There’s stability in his workplace, so he can concentrate on just pitching his best.

    He’s done a great job and Cashman is finally being rewarded for doggedly going after this guy for years. I wouldn’t be opposed if they brought him back next season as well.

    I still don’t think NL pitchers like Ryan Dempster and Wandy Rodriguez would work in the AL East. Maybe they could survive in the West, but the AL East demands a certain type of pitcher.

  11. IWannaBeAHirokstar says:

    He’s a Hirokstar.

  12. STACOE44702 says:

    Good point…..I’ve been one of those ‘doubters’. Hats off to Kuroda.

  13. tommy cassella says:

    sabbathia was’nt the ace the last two months of last season and he is’nt our ace now. in games he pitched against the red sox, in the first innings of those games he has an e.r.a. over eight.and in his last four starts against the sox he has given up six or more runs in every start.

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