Hiroki Kuroda, impact free agent

Kuroda two-hits Rangers, Yankees win 3-0
The Curtis Granderson Slump
(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The Yankees have had their share of free agent pitching duds over the last few years, as guys like Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, and Kei Igawa shuffled through the Bronx on big money contracts with little impact on the field. Hiroki Kuroda is the exact opposite. The veteran right-hander is on a bargain one-year deal and has been one of the very best pitchers in baseball this season. After all that time spent wondering if he could transition to the AL East and Yankee Stadium, he owns a 3.06 ERA (3.71 FIP) in 159 innings this year. That’s impact.

Last night’s complete-game shutout of the Rangers was Kuroda at his very best. He exploited a right-handed heavy lineup and a home plate umpire who was willing to call the ball off the outside corner a strike by pounding away with sliders. The YES booth joked that hitters would need a boat oar to hit some of the pitches Hiroki was feeding those guys, but the umpires made the same calls for both sides and only one really took advantage of it. Texas didn’t hit a ball out of the infield until the fourth and didn’t record a base hit until the seventh.

“One of the best lineups in the game right there,” said Russell Martin the game. “You could see their best hitters taking weak swings; it just shows you that his stuff was that good today. A lineup like that, that’s stacked like that, you might think they might run into a couple on any given day. But today he was just too dominant.”

Kuroda has now pitched to a 2.81 ERA (3.43 FIP) in 141 innings since his fourth start of the season, coincidentally a stretch that started against the same Rangers he dominated last night. Those first three starts were a little up and down, but let’s chalk that up to an adjustment period. I think he’s earned the benefit of the doubt. It seems obvious that Kuroda has been the Yankees’ best starter this year, especially given CC Sabathia‘s two DL stints and merely very good instead of great performance. Is it crazy to say that he’s their best number two-type starter since the days of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Mike Mussina in the early-2000s? It might be a stretch, but I don’t think it’s insane.

I feel like I had been tooting the Kuroda horn for about two years before the Yankees landed him this offseason, and it’s kinda neat that he hasn’t made me look like an idiot. Pretty much the only complaint I have about the guy at this point is that he’s already 37, otherwise we’d be talking about a big fat multi-year contract extension to keep him around for the next few years. Then again, maybe that’s not such a bad thing considering the general risk involved with pitchers. I’m sure the Yankees would welcome him back with open arms in the future if he’s willing to keep taking one-year deals. I know I would.

Obviously last night is likely to be the high point of Kuroda’s season — it’ll be tough to top a two-hit shutout of the highest scoring team in baseball — but he’s been so steady and effective that you can’t help but feel good whenever he’s slated to start. As Chad Jennings noted, Kuroda lead the Majors with six starts of at least seven innings and zero runs this year. That’s unbelievable for a guy pitching in Yankee Stadium. Hiroki has been a bit overshadowed his entire tenure in pinstripes, dated back to the day he actually agreed to sign — otherwise know as the day Jesus Montero was traded for Michael Pineda. Kuroda is one of the many reasons why the Yankees have the best record in the AL, the rare free agent signing who is actually exceeding expectations.

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Kuroda two-hits Rangers, Yankees win 3-0
The Curtis Granderson Slump
  • Eddard

    I’ve already revised Cashman’s best FA pickup ever from Chavez to Kuroda. Hiroki was just so dominant last night against an elite offense. He is so tough at home and the only reason he doesn’t have a better record is because they don’t score as many runs for him. Great pickup by Cashman, hopefully they keep Hiroki around another year.

    • jjyank

      “I’ve already revised Cashman’s best FA pickup ever from Chavez to Kuroda.”

      Of course you’ve madde revisions. It is a new day, after all.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        From the possively-developmentally-appropriate short attention-span to the insistence that, in the 15 years or so that Cashman’s been GM, that ERIC CHAVEZ was his best signing, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing less of Eddard once the school year starts.

        • Joey V

          This.

        • jjyank

          Heh, probably.

        • goterpsgo

          I’ll help the chap out… Eric Chavez was previously the best free agent signing in terms of VALUE.

          With that in mind, personally I’d go with CC then Mussina, but Kuroda and Chavez are definitely up there.

          • DERP

            You are my new favorite poster.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Now I’m in full procrastionation mode.

            I actually looked up every FA signing Cashman made on, I kid you now, briancashmanistheworstgm.com.

            I’m not putting these in any order, but all of those deserve some sort of consideration as “among the best.”

            Mussina, Matsui, Lieber, Gordon, Damon, Pettitte, CC, Tex, Kuroda, Chavez. That’s even leaving out some very good ones.

            I love Eric Chavez, but was signing him to a minor league deal and having him make the team last year something that even makes the top half of that list? I don’t think so. At all.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Yes, I do know how to spell “procrastination.”

              I’d definitely put Kuroda close to the top of the list, FWIW.

            • Pasta Stumbling Sojo

              Does Chien Mien Wang count as a free agent signing? He was an amateur. But if so, his value was pretty great: $300k and $400k in his first two years giving them 4.8 and 5.8 WAR.

              • Robinson Tilapia

                I left out the amateurs. I mean, Robbie Cano was an amateur FA. That worked out well.

            • YanksFanInBeantown

              I don’t think Tex should be on that list. He was a good signing, but a 125 wRC+ from a 1B isn’t extraordinary. He hasn’t been significantly better than Giambi was this far into his deal.

    • Magilla Gorilla

      Not Sabathia?

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I think you’re going to hear some gunshyness right now because of the elbow but, based on what we know, CC’s still my #1 signing he ever made.

  • 28 this year

    If Hiroki is willing to keep doing one year deals with the Yankees, its a testament to how amazing the clubhouse has gotten that their is a sense of loyalty even among guys who are only here for a year. Chavez and Jones are examples of guys who have signed cheap one year deals and comeback to do the same again even though they were only with the team for that year. Its a good situation.

    • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

      Yup. Add to that the “Yankees or retire” approach Chavez evinced and your point stands that much more.

      So glad too this is happening post-Torre. I remember when the narrative was that all the aging vets wanted to come here to play for him, snag a ring, and retire. The ring part may still hold. But clearly this is an organization/clubhouse thing, not a Joe Torre thing.

      • gc

        Or maybe Torre set the tone (which apparently, let’s be honest, hadn’t been the norm in the Yankee clubhouse for many many years). Remember, Girardi was a player in that clubhouse with Torre from day one, as were guys like Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte. The tone gets set at the top, trickles down to the players, and the players begin to maintain the tone even as others retire or are traded, come and go, etc. Including when Torre left. The good thing is, Girardi was the guy they hired to replace him and he was Torre’s bench coach. Wouldn’t you think Torre’s influence might still be a part of how Girardi does things? Just a thought…

        • Robinson Tilapia

          But what he’s saying above is true of veteran teams seen to be in a position of winning on a yearly basis where an aging vet can come in, play a role, and be part of a championship when their bodies probably couldn’t handle more. We saw that with the Lakers. We’re seeing it with the Heat.

          • jsbrendog

            the thing to me is will it continue when steadying presences of mo and jeter are gone. that’s when you’ll know fo sure

            • Robinson Tilapia

              At some point, this becomes a different team with a new core, feel, and narrative behind it. It’s happening already. Can’t fight change.

              As long as the team continues to be viewed as one that’s in a position to win big every year, and there’s a strong core of players present, I don’t see why it wouldn’t.

            • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

              Kind of like the Steve Jobs question vis a vis Apple. Has the DNA of a sufficiently large number of “good guys” been implanted on the Yanks organization to transcend their ultimate fade? Time will indeed tell but my money is on Yes.

        • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

          Yup I can see that but I would also posit that “the top” you speak of contains more people, and in higher places, than the team’s manager, at least in terms of organizational culture, I.e. beyond just clubhouse culture.

          I do think Torre made “a difference” and in many ways was the right guy for the right time in the confluence of events that included the slow fade of GMS III, the ascendancy of Cashman and diminution of the Tampa faction, the ascendancy of the core 4, etc etc etc.

          I just don’t deify Torre for what happened from 96 – 2000 the way some do, and for me that includes not giving him most/all of the credit for what kind of organization the Yankees are today.

    • Steve (different one)

      And in Boston, it’s probably going to be the opposite for the short term. Dont see Ellsbury re-upping in that zoo.

      • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

        I have to admit that I can’t stop visiting OTM. Dating back to last September it’s been like watching one of the longest slowest train wrecks ever.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I think Chavez was looking to find a niche when it was clear he couldn’t be an everyday guy, banking that a bit of improved health, and a lot of rest, would keep him effective. He hit a snag last year, but not this year. It’s been a perfect marriage.

      Year-by-year would be smart. I do think he should always be approached with some level of caution.

  • I Love Hirok & (Ichi)Ro (formerly & Futurely Cris Pengiucci)

    While CC is considered the Yankee’s “ace”, based on this season’s body of work, I’d prefer Kuroda get the game 1 start in the playoffs.

    • The Real Greg

      He’s our number 2 starter for sure in the playoffs. I think in case CC gets rocked in a game 1, we would feel very secure handing the ball to Kuroda in a game 2.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        My sentiments exactly.

        • Sayid

          Understand the sentiment, but not the logic. If we feel more secure with Kuroda, he should start game 1. Shouldn’t start him game 2 out of fear that CC implodes game 1.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Then you’re disagreeing with Cris, not me. I actually disagree with Cris and agree with Greg.

            • I Love Hirok & (Ichi)Ro (formerly & Futurely Cris Pengiucci)

              No, he disagrees with you (and Greg) and agrees with me. He understands why Hiroki should or could start game 1. Doesn’t agree that he should be held back for game 2 in case CC implodes in game 1. While that probably wasn’t the full intent of the comment Greg made, it is what he stated.

              • Robinson Tilapia

                But I’m not saying that I think CC is going to implode in Game One. I’m saying that, if Game One were to go badly, it’s nice to know he’s getting the ball for Game Two.

                I actually hope them being 1-2 leads to a nice 2-0 lead in any series. :)

    • Kosmo

      Kuroda has outpitched CC for most of the season.

      • Slugger27

        not really.

        kuroda: 18.8 K%, 5.9 BB%, 3.06/3.71/3.69 e/f/x line, 3.2 WAR

        sabathia: 23.5 K%, 5.9 BB%, 3.56/3.32/3.23 e/f/x line, 3.5 WAR

        • I Love Hirok & (Ichi)Ro (formerly & Futurely Cris Pengiucci)

          The numbers appear close enough that either has a strong case to start game 1. That being the case, CC will get the nod, unless he comes back and is ineffective. In which case, the team is most likely in trouble.

          However, if for some reason Kuroda starts game 1 of the playoffs, I’d be comfortable with that for that game. He’s been outstanding most of the season. Would love for him to come back for one more and allow the team to see what they’ve got in Phelps, Pineda, Nova and Hughes and also allow Banuelos another season to build innings in AAA.

          • jjyank

            Yeah, CC is is still the ace in name, so he will get the start regardless. Still, this is a good problem to have.

          • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

            I definitely think he’ll be back next year with a raise to say $13-14mm.

        • Kosmo

          “most“ being the key word . Since June 1st Kuroda has been the better pitcher. Like JJ said below a good “problem“ to have.

  • DERP

    Fourth in rWAR behind Verlander, Cueto, and Sale. Monster signing.

  • The Real Greg

    The best part of all, he is also a transitioned starter from the NL to the AL, and after a shaky first month and a half, he has adjusted splendidly.

    I agree with you Mike, if he wants to come back on a one year deal, let him. I might even go to two, depending on the price.

    • goterpsgo

      “…He is also a transitioned starter from the NL to the AL East.”

      FTFY.

      • Kosmo

        What is the fuckin big deal about the AL East right now ? NY is the only good hitting team followed by Boston an Orioles team that doesn´t hit that much, the Rays ? and a triple A team for the most part in Toronto. AL east is not what it used to be.

        • YanksFanInBeantown

          The Jays have scored the fifth most runs in baseball despite running out a AAA line-up for the last 3 weeks. No other division has 2 teams in the top 5 in runs scored. The AL East has 3.

  • Steve (different one)

    So can we finally admit that Kuroda over Jackson was the way to go?

    • Slugger27

      ill be on board with that, until kurodas next bad game of course.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    Kuroda has won me over. I was not expecting the results that he has pitched to. But as our number two pitches he has been marvelous (should sound like Billy Cyrstal).

    Does Kuroda enjoy the Bronx scene enough to accept a one year deal in 2013. I hope so based on this years performances.

  • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Drew

    Kuroda is the sole reason why I believe the Yankees will be successful in the playoffs. Having Kuroda being the solid game 2 starter in the playoffs is huge.

    • I Love Hirok & (Ichi)Ro (formerly & Futurely Cris Pengiucci)

      “Kuroda is the sole reason … ”

      Well, that and the offense scoring a lot of runs. And CC coming back and pitching well in the playoffs. Pettitte too. Oh, and DRob & Soriano closing out games when(if) necessary …

      • I Love Hirok & (Ichi)Ro (formerly & Futurely Cris Pengiucci)

        Definitely agree that Kuroda pitching well (all else being equal to previous seasons) could be a major difference maker.

  • Jag

    Back in spring training when either Cashman or Girardi (I forget who it was) said that everyone in the rotation outside of CC and Kuroda was fighting for a spot, I figured Kuroda only had it because of his $10m salary since he wasn’t pitching that great just yet.

    Throughout the season though he’s more than proven that he deserved that automatic entry, and he’s exceeded my expectations of him. I thought he’d be good, but he’s been great.

    Excellent signing.

    I do think he may be willing to take one year deals after this too, since he has been quoted that it’s up to him to perform and earn his contracts. But, I wouldn’t be opposed to a 2 year deal either. Even at 37 he’s still dialing it up to 95mph when he needs to.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    If he’s willing to go year-to-year, that would be amazing. However, do we think Kuroda’s the kind of pitcher who could be effective, with his style of pitching, as he approaches 40? If so, to now go back and endorse what I previously gave Darren shit about on another comment, would a two, even three, year deal be wise? Curious as to what people think.

    I’d gladly drive him myself to sign a two-year deal.

    • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

      My take is that we obviously need him next year at the very least.

      We have Nova and Hughes who are consistent only in being inconsistent. We have Pineda who is injured. Pettitte who is injured and has the retirement question over his head. And now CC is injured (gulp). So yeah 2013 is a must. Okay duh.

      Beyond? I’d take it for sure but I can’t help but think the $189mm thing is going to come into play. He’s worth a ton and we can’t pay him full value. 2/22? 3/33? I’d do either IF the rest of the roster worked out, especially the OF situation.

      My hope: he’s content to continue year to year and we sign him for say $11mm for 2013. Then, make the decision for 2014 based on how the rest of the roster does or doesn’t come together under $189mm for 2014.

      I’m stating the obvious here but Cashman is REALLY going to earn his pay in the next 18 months to sort out the roster in a strong way for $189mm in 2014.

      • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

        And sorry forgot to answer your question. Yes, I do think he will hold up. He throws hard for a guy his age. Not saying he’s Nolan Ryan but he’s obviously a bull and we know he’s tough as fucking nails from the stories of his child hood. I think he holds up easily another 2-3 years, maybe more.

        I’d sign him to 3 years no problem absent the $189mm thing. Given $189mm, it depends on how the OF and the rest of the roster evolves…

        • I Love Hirok & (Ichi)Ro (formerly & Futurely Cris Pengiucci)

          While I’d prefer year-to-year deals for him, I’d still be all in for a 2 year deal (provided it fits within the budget realities). Not as sure I’d want to go for a 3 year deal however. I think he does quite well next season, still is valuable at 39, but I’m not sure how he’ll do at 40. I also wonder if he’s got the desire to hang around in the MLB (on any team) for 3 more years.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        It could be that, in 2014, whoever you planned on slotting in behind Sabathia was going to make the type of salary Kuroda would command anyway. A lot of “if’s” there, though, and one of them is certainly “if” he’s still the best guy to slot behind Sabathia at the time.

        • Darren

          Still not sure what you were giving me shit about but whatevs. I went to the game Monday and you didn’t nah nah.

  • blake

    Kuroda has been a good pitcher for several years and has also done 1 year deals I think 3 years in a row….I’ve read because he wants to be able to go back to Japan when he wants.

    The Yanks should already be talking with him about doing another one if he is willing…..I would think the Dodgers would want him back now that they are good and now that they seem to have endless money burning holes in their pockets….

  • blake

    excuse me….he’s done 1 year deals in both 2011 and 2012 so only 2 years in a row

  • Steve (different one)

    Funny that Mike mentioned Moose, was thinking the same thing all last night.

  • Klemy

    Not noted here, Mike actually wrote this story the day that Kuroda was signed and has been holding it back for the right moment. :)

    But really, what a great signing. Turned out to be much better than anyone really thought it would be at the time.

  • blake

    Assuming that Sabathia is really ok and that Andy can come back healthy then Sabathia, Kuroda, Pettite, Hughes/Nova is a pretty good 4 man for October.

    • I Love Hirok & (Ichi)Ro (formerly & Futurely Cris Pengiucci)

      Yes, if Sabathia returns to what he’s provided so far (even better if he reverts back to his Cy Young-type ways) and Pettitte returns to what he was earlier in the season, that’s a pretty strong 4. Best of all, there are valid reasons to expect that.

    • CS Yankee

      Agreed, except that Phil in the 4th spot consideration…thinking 80% chance of Nova and maybe, just maybe…Phelps?

      :::ducks head:::

      • I Love Hirok & (Ichi)Ro (formerly & Futurely Cris Pengiucci)

        I’d love to see him get more opportunities to start the remainder of the regular season and see if perhaps he is a better choice than Nova or Hughes. Again, that would be a good problem to have. Like the choice of ARod or Chavez at 3rd against a RH SP.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Don’t duck. Phelps pitching so that he pushes the argument would never be a bad thing. Hell, Freddy, ANYONE, pushing the argument isn’t a bad thing. Hear that, Derek Lowe? Pitch your ass out.

        • LiterallyFigurative

          That might hurt, no?

  • JLC 776

    I love what he’s been doing so far. I just really hope he keeps it up in October! And gets some run support while he’s at it…

  • http://yankeesblogtbnl.blogspot.com Derek

    Kuroda has been awesome. His splitter and slider have been unhittable, and his sinker is actually rated the top in terms of pitch values on fangraphs.

    The wOBAs and wRC+ against these three pitches are really low. And it’s not like he’s failing the eye test, either. Have to praise Cashman and hope we can bring him back on another one year deal next season.

  • Nathan

    Kuroda will be in for a nice pay raise next season and maybe even an extra year.

    I hope the Yankees consider bringing Hiro back!

  • Squints

    Dude has been the most reliable this year and Im sure hes a great person, but would could he spend some of that money on Rosetta Stone?

  • smurfy

    You mentioned they mentioned, Mike, that they couldn’t hit it with a boat oar. I admired the sinkers, with that last second inny, that Kinsler was swinging his boat oar at all night.

    Dunno what he caught in the ninth, but he almost got him.