Scouting The Trade Market: Hiroki Kuroda

(AP Photo/Charles Cherney)

There were not many viable free agent alternatives to Cliff Lee this past offseason, so when Hiroki Kuroda took himself off the market in November, arguably the second best free agent pitcher was no longer an option for the Yankees. The Dodgers currently sport the third worst record in the National League, and their -43 run differential says they’ve been the third worst team in baseball overall. Owner Frank McCourt is in the process of being phased out by MLB whether he likes it or not, and there are legitimate concerns about his ability to make payroll within the next week or two.

Just because McCourt might not make payroll doesn’t mean Dodgers’ players will be up for grabs. MLB will foot the bill and further push McCourt out, but they showed last year with the Rangers that they’re willing to be flexible with payroll in situations like this. That’s not to say they’ll be buyers at the deadline, but they won’t necessarily have to sell off everything not nailed to the stadium concrete. The Dodgers have some strong starting pitchers they could shop, but Clayton Kershaw is as untouchable is gets and I doubt they’re looking to move Chad Billingsley just weeks after signing him to an extension.

The trade deadline is just over two months away, so let’s get a jump on things by looking at Hiroki Kuroda, one of those pitchers that might actually be up for grabs…

The Pros

  • Kuroda has been consistently excellent since coming over from Japan. His 3.94 FIP this year is the worst of his career, but that’s still a fine mark. His unintentional walk rate has hovered right around two men per nine over the last few years while batters have swung and missed at his offerings at least nine percent of the time in all four seasons of his MLB career.
  • He also generates a healthy amount of ground balls, 50.4% for his career and 47.3% in 2011. Unsurprisingly, that’s helped keep his homerun rate to a manageable 0.78 per nine.
  • Kuroda throws pretty hard, with both his four-seamer and two-seamer sitting sitting comfortably in the low-90’s. The former tends to creep up into the mid-90’s as the season goes along. A mid-80’s slider is his primary secondary offering, and he’ll use a mid-to-high 80’s splitter as a changeup. He also started mixing in some upper-70’s curveballs this year after learning a grip from YouTube.
  • It’s a short commitment at a reasonable salary, the definition of a rental. Kuroda signed a one-year deal worth $12M this past winter, but his salary is only $8M. The other $4M is a signing bonus that will be paid out from 2012-2013. He can earn another $500,000 in incentives, but that’s no big deal.

The Cons

  • Kuroda is not young; he turned 36 in February and he does have a bit of injury history. He spent two weeks on the DL with shoulder tendinitis in June 2008 and then missed ~100 total days of the 2009 season with an oblique strain (two weeks), a concussion (two months), and a neck sprain (two weeks). The concussion was the result a line drive to the head, so that’s a fluke thing we shouldn’t count against him. An ugly start over the weekend (5.2 IP, 6 R) apparently had to do with a cut on his finger.
  • Despite some gaudy swing-and-miss rates (10.0% career), Kuroda has only struck out 6.59 men per nine innings in his career (6.89 K/9 this year). Left-handed batters have also been a little tough on him, though it’s not a crazy split.
  • Kuroda has a full no-trade clause, and the fact that he agreed to re-sign with the Dodgers during the exclusive negotiating period this past offseason suggests that he’s not in a rush to leave town.

There’s no indication that the (soon to be) MLB-operated Dodgers are looking to sell of any players right now, but Kuroda is probably their only big money piece with trade value. He’s pitched just as well on the road as he has at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, and for what it’s worth his peripherals stats in eight interleague starts have been strong. Kuroda’s a power pitcher with playoff experience, and he’s been amazingly consistent in his three-plus years in the States. The Yankees haven’t had the best luck when it comes to Japanese starting pitchers, but Kuroda doesn’t carry the same risk as Hideki Irabu or Kei Igawa because he’s already made the transition to MLB and has proven himself to be an above-average starter. Now it’s just up to the Dodgers to put him on the market.

The RAB Radio Show: May 24, 2011

It was a tough loss last night for sure, but it was one of those “it happens” losses. Mike and I don’t spend too much time on it, but we do bring up the IBB issues. They’re really the only standouts of the game. Really, we spend most of the time talking about CC vs. Romero, and praising Curtis Granderson.

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About that intentional walk (no, not that one)

Were the chances of this happening worth the IBB? (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

I try not to evaluate things in hindsight all that often here, just because it’s easy to sound smart when you already know what happened. That said, let’s have a little fun and play a game of “what if” with last night’s intentional walk. No, not the one to Juan Rivera (which made little to no sense), but the one to Jose Bautista earlier in the inning.

The game was tied at one when Corey Patterson led off the sixth inning with a double over the head of Chris Dickerson. Baseball Prospectus’ run expectancy matrix tells us that a team with a runner on second an no outs is expected to score 1.035 runs in the inning. Let’s say the Yankees pitched to Bautista and he did hit a homerun in that spot, making it a 3-1 game. He just added two runs to the ledger, but they were already expected to score 1.035 runs in the inning anyway. The net gain from the homer would have been 0.965 runs (2 – 1.035). The inning then “restarts” with the bases out and no one out, which has a run expectancy 0.4646. The total impact of the homer would have been 0.965 runs plus the 0.4646 runs, or 1.4296.

The Yankees didn’t pitch to Bautista though, they put him on first base intentionally. The run expectancy of first and second with no outs is 1.3986, so the impact of the free pass was just over a third of a run (0.3636 to be exact). That’s the situation they chose over pitching to Bautista, which in the worst case scenario (homer) would have resulted in an additional 1.4296 runs above expected. Of course Bautista wasn’t guaranteed to go deep (even if it felt like he was), the guy had “just” 19 long balls in 178 plate appearances coming into that at-bat, so the odds of him hitting one out were 10.6% based on how his season had played out to that point.

If we crudely multiply that 1.4296 worst case run expectancy by the chances of it happening, or 10.6%, we get a 0.1515 runs. That’s less than the 0.3636 runs the Yankees gave the Blue Jays by putting Bautista on, so yeah, the math says they should have pitched to him. Of course it didn’t play out according to the run expectancy, Toronto ended up pushing five runs across in the inning, making those totals of 0.1515 runs and 0.3636 runs seem silly. Remember run expectancy doesn’t tell us what will happen, just what is expected to happen based on historical data. In hindsight, pitching to Bautista and hoping he didn’t hit a homer was a better option than walking him, but that’s much easier to say now than it was last night.

The Overworked Relievers

"Hold on kids, they want me to pitch again." (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

If there’s anything good to come out of last night’s loss, it’s that the Yankees were able to sit and rest their core relievers for a day. I mean completely rest them, they didn’t even have to get up and walk to the bullpen mound thinking about the possibility of warming up. Joe Girardi said before the game that Joba Chamberlain was not going to pitch given his recent workload, which included six appearances in the last eleven games. David Robertson has also worked quite a bit lately (five appearances in the last ten games), and even Mariano Rivera has been used heavily at times this year.

Rafael Soriano‘s injury has made those three, especially Joba and Robertson, that much more important this month. The problem is that these guys can’t go on like this forever, they’ll be burnt out by season’s end. Mike Jaggers-Radolf at The Yankee Analysts looked at these three yesterday and showed that they were on target for some serious innings totals, but I want to dig a little deeper. Innings are nice and convenient, but they are most certainly not all created equal. What’s really important is the number of pitches thrown by each, because as the old saying goes, there’s only so many bullets in those arms.

Let’s look at each pitcher individually, and compare their cumulative pitch totals this season to last season. Might as well follow The Formula™, so first up is the seventh inning…

[Read more…]

Rare Colon meltdown costs Yanks series opener

Meh. Coming off two straight wins over the Mets (the last of which included that great comeback and eight-run inning) and five wins in six games, I have a hard time getting worked up over a loss like this. The Yankees didn’t hit well and they didn’t pitch well, a combination that will often lead to bad things.

Meltdown

Bartolo Colon has pitched so well this year that he gets a pass for having a meltdown inning like he did in this game. It all started with a Corey Patterson leadoff double in the sixth, which was predictably followed by a intentional walk to Jose Bautista. What followed was a little … odd. Yunel Escobar bunted the two runners into scoring position, and for whatever reason Juan Rivera was deemed too dangerous to pitch to, so he was put on intentionally as well. This is the same Juan Rivera that came into the game with a .225/.315/.331 batting line. Furthermore, it set up the bases loaded situation for Aaron Hill, who is one of the most extreme fly ball hitters in the game. He’s not exactly a double play candidate.

(AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

Ironically enough, Hill did hit a ground ball, but it scooted through the 5.5 hole for a run. Okay fine, it happens, but four-pitch walks with the bases loaded to Eric Thames (the next batter) should not. The game was essentially over when J.P. Arencibia jumped all over a first pitch fastball for a bases clearing double.

I mean, when there’s men on second and third with one out, you’re going to give up a run. It’s basically inevitable. But why would you walk one of the worst hitters in baseball to give the other team a free baserunner? That just doesn’t add up. Bottom line though, Colon can not be walking some kid with the bases loaded on four pitches in his sixth big league game. The double was just salt on the wound.

Even More RISPFAIL

Two hits in 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position this time around, and those hits came back-to-back in the eighth. Alex Rodriguez‘s infield single didn’t even score a run. The offense was basically Curtis Granderson (who drew three walks) and Robinson Cano (who drove Grandy in each time), who teamed up for all three Yankees’ run. Blah blah blah, can’t manufacture runs, whatever. At least they didn’t waste a strong starting pitching performance this time.

It's only fun when he does it to someone else. (AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

Leftovers

Heh, you think Michael Kay needed a new pair of pants after Jeter’s long fly ball to end the fifth? Yeah, I thought it was gone too, but at least I can blame the YES camera work. They made it look like it was going to land 14 rows deep.

Remember when I wrote about Colon and whether or not he’d stick to the fastball-heavy plan of attack against the Jays? Well PitchFX was not working early in the game for whatever reason, but it had Colon throwing 20 sliders and one changeup out of the 79 pitches it did record. He threw nine sliders and five changeups in his first start against the Jays, so yeah, they definitely incorporated a few more offspeed pitches this time around.

Bautista’s first inning homer sucked was sheesh, it was a first inning solo homer. Who cares? I saw people saying that they should have intentionally walked him in that spot, and I’m sure a few of them were serious. Even the Walk Bonds Chart says to pitch to him there. One run in the first, what’s the big deal? Just complaining for the sake of complaining.

Brett Gardner had two hits and two stolen bases, but the second steal was a joke. It was basically a defensive indifference in the ninth inning. Total gift from the official scorer. He’s up to .274/.344/.422 on the year, and it’s about time they move him back up to the leadoff spot. You know, 1. Gardner, 2. Granderson … etc.

Hector Noesi tossed three garbage time innings and gave up his first big league run. For shame, I thought that 0.00 ERA was sustainable. Oh well, for some reason this loss doesn’t bother me that much. I guess it’s easier to take when the Red Sox and Rays lose as well. Colon’s allowed a stinker every now and then, it happens. Just forget about it and go get ‘em tomorrow.

WPA Graph & Box Score

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs has everything else.

Up Next

Same two teams in a battle of ace left-handers tomorrow. CC Sabathia gets the ball against Ricky Romero, so that should be fun.