Yanks need Kuroda to rebound against Blue Jays

(Jim Rogash/Getty)

(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Later today, the Yankees will send their ace to the mound in the rubber game against the last place Blue Jays. It won’t be CC Sabathia. He’s pitched his way out of ace-hood this year. It’ll instead be Hiroki Kuroda, the All-Star snub who led the AL in ERA up until a few starts ago. The veteran right-hander heads into tonight’s game with a stellar 2.71 ERA and 3.45 FIP in 26 starts. Excellent numbers no matter how you slice ‘em.

Lately though, the 38-year-old Kuroda has been something less than an ace. He gave up seven runs and a career-high four homers against the Rays last time out, and in his start before that he surrendered a career-high eleven hits to the Red Sox. Every pitcher has a bump in the road at some point, it’s inevitable during the 162-game season, but seeing Kuroda go through it is a little unsettling. He isn’t exactly young and the Yankees need every win possible. If he suddenly became ineffective, their playoff hopes would be crushed.

Kuroda, as you surely remember, was dynamite for the Yankees last season as well. He did run into a wall right around start #25 though, enough of a wall that he stopped throwing his usual between-starts bullpen session in September. That’s a pretty big deal. When a pitcher has to alter his routine to remain fresh and effective, you know he’s running on fumes. Here Hiroki’s pre- and post-wall numbers for reference:

Starts 1-25 6.2 2.96 3.60 18.6% 5.7% 0.275 0.144 0.674
Starts 26-33 6.2 4.44 4.48 19.1% 5.9% 0.314 0.198 0.801

Despite the fatigue, Kuroda’s velocity did not drop off down the stretch. You can see his start-by-start fastball velocity graph right here. No decline at all. Instead, the fatigue showed up in a BABIP and power spike. Not every increase (or decrease) in BABIP is luck-related. Kuroda may have been more hittable down the stretch because he was gassed and hitters were able to get better swings against him. Tired pitchers tend to make more mistakes, and more mistakes usually result in more hits allowed. That’s typically how it works.

“It was really strange; [Kuroda] just didn’t have his stuff tonight,” said Joe Girardi to Mark Feinsand following the team’s loss to the Rays on Friday. “He kept trying to find it and find it, but I didn’t think his slider was extremely sharp and I didn’t think he had the great command of his fastball tonight.”

Stuff that wasn’t as crisp as usual could be a sign of fatigue, but we really don’t know. After all, two subpar starts against the Red Sox and Rays shouldn’t be all that surprising. Those are two of the five best offenses in baseball. That said, Kuroda’s age and the fact that he hit a wall around this time last year make his performance something worth monitoring going forward. That’s obvious, right? If he starts to stink every five days, it’s a problem.

The Yankees were in much better shape at this time last year because Sabathia and Phil Hughes were pitching anywhere from good to great. Nowadays they’re getting pounded every five days and Kuroda’s importance to the team is much greater. He has to be the stopper, the guy that extends winning streaks and ends losing streaks. If he runs out of gas these last few weeks like he did last season — for what it’s worth, Kuroda did rebound and was excellent in the postseason, including one start on three days’ rest — the Yankees playoff odds will go from tiny to zero. They need their ace to bounce back in a big way against the lowly Blue Jays tonight.

Categories : Pitching
  • JLC 776

    Hmm… my assumption was that fatigue must be playing a part in the decline, but you would think that would impact velocity a little bit. Maybe he’s overthrowing a bit to keep the velocity up and the location is slightly off (thus becoming more hittable, as you suggest).

    Or maybe he just had a couple of bad starts at a very visible point in the season.

    Hopefully he finds it today. You know… for the sake of the season.

    • trr

      THIS…and a vibrant offensive showing again would help!
      Hope we see Romine tonight

      • Long-Past-His-Day-Rod

        You’re forgetting Stewie “caught a guy stealing” on a terrible call last night. That should buy him a few more days of consecutive starts.

  • Eddard

    Robbie or no Robbie, in a game they must have they should win Hiroki Kuroda vs Tim Redmond 100% of the time. There’s no Jose Bautista, no Melky, they’re down to Encarnacion, Reyes, Lind and a bunch of nobodies. CLE has a tough matchup, maybe Detroit shows up tonight, BOS and BAL play each other, Tampa out west so it’s a good night to gain some ground with a win.

    • ropeadope

      Tampa will be “out west” beginning Friday. Still at home today and tomorrow.

      • Sweet Dick Willie

        Are you new here?

        Eddard never lets facts get in the way of his narrative.

        • ropeadope

          Yeah, pretty new. Think I have the gist of Eddard’s comment style, but needed to make that correction as some will note the Rays playing the Angels and assume it’s on the west coast.

        • JCK

          To be fair, Tampa is west of New York.

    • Kramerica Industries

      This Tim Redmond thing is gonna be your new schtick, isn’t it?

  • gc

    Kuroda is the KEY right now to their season. If he doesn’t pitch well from here on out (as he has the past two starts), they have NO chance. And I don’t think that’s hyperbole either. If he had pitched in Tampa and Boston the way he had all season long, or even reasonably close to that standard, that’s two games in the division right there and their overall chances look a lot better for a playoff spot than they do now. If Hughes and CC are going to stink, as everyone expects, all we can do is pray that the other pitcher is worse and the offense puts up some crooked numbers. But when Kuroda is out there, not only do they have to WIN, but he needs to pitch well.

    • John C

      right now, losing 2 of 3 in SD and getting swept in Chicago was a killer. Just think how much closer they’d be if they had won both of those series.

      • JLC 776

        It’s tough to really choose what loss or series hurts the most – in the end, they’re all in the ‘L’ column and weigh equally.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Yeah, pretty much.

          Monday’s loss hurts a ton to me, but it’s one game in the grand scheme of things.

          It’s about winning as many games as possible, no matter the matchup or day of the week.

        • OldYanksFan

          Yeah… but you have to beat up on bad teams. TB has the best record in the AL against sub .500 teams. So they got where they are by taking advantage of weak teams.

          You can look at any loss as bad, but I do agree with John C. If we just miss the PS, I will look at the SD/Chicago series as how-we-choked-ourselves-out-of-the-Post-Season.

          You can not always step up against TB and Boston. But we had no excuse to play so poorly in those 2 series.

      • nsalem

        And don’t forget those 4 nights in May against the Metsies. Every team on the fringes of the pennant race this time of year has those if games to point too. We can also ask what if CC and Phil were somewhat closer to their career numbers?

        • JLC 776

          That, and the horrible road trip where we were swept by the A’s and (nearly) swept by the Angels are the ones that stand out to me.

          Especially given that the A’s are between us and that second WC…

          • Kramerica Industries

            That 18-inning ballgame where the Yankees blew countless opportunities is the difference between 2.5 and 4.5 right now, so, yeah, pretty stark contrast.

            • JLC 776

              Ugh. That fucking game.

              I kept thinking, 1) these guys swept us last year in Oakland, we can’t let them do it again; 2) our bullpen will be toast for the Angels series (and it was); 3) I hate going to bed unhappy after an extended west coast game.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I am so beyond the point with this team of saying “If this guy doesn’t do X, there’s no chance.” I was even trying to tell people outside of here last night that they could do this WITHOUT Cano. It’s less devaluing the contributions of the individual players and more sheer shock that we’re still within striking distance of a playoff spot when this team was supposd to be dead in the water without reinforcements in May.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        May March.

  • John C

    I’m guessing they won’t play Nunez tonight as a precaution, especially on the turf, so Reynolds will play 2nd tonight. He looks like he can hold his own there. Turned a nicd DP pivot to end the game last night. Need to score like they did last night. HOpefully, they’ll have Robbie back on Firday vs. O’s

    • Mike HC

      From what I have seen, Reynolds has been a pleasant surprise so far defensively. He might just be on a hot streak though. I haven’t watched every pitch though. Have I missed some errors/misplays?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I’m still in shock tha DP actually happened. It was a nice pivot.

    • MannyGeee

      ‘Trade teh Robby Canoz! Re-sign teh Marc Renoldz!!!’

  • DF

    Considering that his K% ticked up a little bit while his BB% barely moved, I would argue, contra your statement, that this bump in the road was entirely luck-related.

    He struck out essentially the same amount of batters while walking essentially the same amount of batters, with identical velocity. That’s almost the textbook definition of BABIP randomness.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      Just for the record, those 4 HRs don’t figure into BABIP.

      • DF

        That’s a good point.

  • LarryM. Fl

    I calling the last two starts the bump in the road. Boston and Rays are excellent offenses as Mike indicated. If Kuroda’s pitch location is off then he will be hit. If his slider is less active he will b hit. Professionals hit mistakes. I’m going for a good game tonight and Yankee bats responding to the call.
    He’s 38. He can not be on his game for 35 starts. CC and Hughes should pick up their game when they get the ball. Since their is no one to replace St. Phil. He should be pitching for his baseball life on the next turn.

    • Mike HC

      “Since their is no one to replace St. Phil. He should be pitching for his baseball life on the next turn.”

      As a competitor, I’m sure you are probably right. But for his financial future, he shouldn’t try to do too much. His season is going to blow no matter what. Just get to the off season with your arm in one piece.

      As a Yankees fan, I hope he comes out throwing 95 from now till the end of the season.

  • matt b

    Sorry, somewhat tangential to the topic, but in just looking at the scheds of some of the clubs in front of us:

    Goes without saying Yanks need to play like every game’s an elimination game (personally I think they’re gonnga need 93 wins, which means 23-7).
    They’ve got seven left against the Sox, and they want to make this truly fun, they should plan on winning five or even better, 6 of them. Only face Tampa three more times at home, goes without saying, those goes games need to be won, hopefully it won’t be such that a sweep is absolutely necessary, but it’s possible. Three other things stand out for me:

    1. All these games are important, and let’s polish off Toronto tonight. But sweeping the Baltimore series spanning August 30-September 1 would be huge for two reasons. First, moves us ahead of Baltimore. Now I think we’ll pass ‘em eventually, but it’s important to do it now, ’cause then you can become an O’s fan and let them help us, with all their divisional games. Second, it coincides with Tamoa playing out in Oakland, so just one of the the very few chances (other than winning headed to head) to win and know and you’re gaining ground on someone.

    2. Tampa-Boston, Sept. 10-12 – last time they meet, same premise. Yanks have baltimore over the same span, those games can’t be lost, can’t lose the games where a win guarantees you’re gaining on a club ahead of you (of course the same holding true with the head to heads).

    What I wouldn’t give for a Dan Haren. They really do need a starter, has the potential to make a world of difference.

    • nsalem

      Washington still has a chance in their WC race so I don’t think Harren is going anywhere.

  • Captain Turbo

    No worries. Hirok will pitch a gem tonight. Book it.

  • nsalem

    When you reach 18 and if you can get hold of a credit card you can book it your self.

    • Captain Turbo

      If you’re going to insult someone, learn how to properly reply, idiot. LOL

      • nsalem

        Being under 18 is not an insult. Don’t take it that way.

  • CS Yankee

    Wonder if the Yanks thought of saving Kuroda til Friday and go with Huff/Warren/Misc for tonights game? It could help in several areas;
    1) Redmond is weak.
    2) Bullpen is fresh and they get Thursday off to rest.
    3) Kuroda could likely use a few extra days.
    4) Keeps Fhil from pitching in the O’s series.
    5) Creates a decent segway to bring in Marshall and forget Hughes.
    6) Uses the Ace against an actual foe.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Slightly overthinking it, I guess? Every game is just as important to me.

    • Kramerica Industries

      The off-day could also already help keep Phil a long way away from the Orioles.

    • LarryM Fl

      The Yankees must win the game that they are playing or as many as possible. So we focus on tonight’s game. Be concerned about Friday on Friday. All hands are on deck from here to the end of season. The Yankees can not win this on their on unless they run the table which is not going to happen. We need help from every club who is the hunt to help by winning when its advantageous to the Yanks which isn’t always the case. So win,win and win with some luck from the other clubs misfortune.

    • nsalem

      Not Pitching Kuroda tonight would mean he would not be online to start next Sunday against the Red Sox unless you also gave him 6 days rest to open up the series next Thursday against the Red Sox. I don’t look at tonight’s game or any game as easy. We may be going into it without a real second base man and if Nunez can’t play we will only have a two man bench. Unlike Mr. Happ-hazard the Jays starter tonight does have strong track record for hitting people. I think it’s about 1 per six inning in the minors (59 in about 1200 milb innings). Odds are someone might get hit tonight and we can ill afford to lose another player. We have 10 games left between tonight’s Jay’s game and 3 vs Astros, Giants and White Sox. Those ten games have to be treated with equal importance as all of the others.

      • Captain Turbo

        They have these great things now called paragraphs.

    • Eddard

      I think with the day off tomorrow they can prevent Phil from pitching in the Os series anyway. CC, Nova and Andy can pitch the Os series.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    He’s no Big Game Dave Phelps but, really, who is.

    I also count on #HIROK righting the ship, and this being the right night to do it. I also have Andy’s resurgence is for real.

    • LarryM Fl

      The Phoenix will rise on the shoulders of St. Phil. What a story that could be!

  • MannyGeee

    Yeah, goes without saying that Hiroki needs to get back on his game. Not as much as we need CC to stop sucking so much ass, but still.

    • Captain Turbo

      Let’s hope CC can pull some of that old magic out of his hat down the stretch. Please.

  • mt

    After Kuroda’s Rays game debacle, I think the catcher (can’t remember Romine or Stewart) said TB had professional at bats all day and did not swing at a lot of pitches Kuroda normally gets swings on – they made him throw strikes. Hopefully this more inexperienced Toronto line-up (except Encarnacion, Reyes and Lawrie) will be in more of a swinging mode.

    Anxious to see Reynolds at 2b – he is very good at 1B and not so good at 3B – maybe he’ll split the difference and just be OK at 2B – fingers crossed.

  • nycsportzfan

    I think Hiroki will be great tonight, as hes due for another stellar start, to make us all realize just how awesome hes been this yr.