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.

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Yanks kick off Ichiro era with win over Mariners


Source: FanGraphs

So that was a rather interesting Monday in Yankeeland, no? The 4-1 win over the Mariners is an afterthought following the acquisition of Ichiro Suzuki, a classic surprise move that came out of nowhere in the late afternoon. The team’s new left fielder — who’s playing right while Nick Swisher (groin/hip) is on the shelf — helped his new team beat his old one to end a four-game losing streak. Let’s recap…

  • Autopilot: Games like this are Hiroki Kuroda at his best. The veteran right-hander carved up an inferior lineup for seven innings, allowing just one run on three hits and walk while striking out nine. All but two of his 21 outs were recorded on the infield. Joe Girardi may have been able to squeeze another inning out of him after 107 stress-free pitches, but there’s no sense in pushing it. Kuroda did what he’s been doing pretty much all year.
  • Ichiro!: Ichiro’s first day in pinstripes (well, road grays) went pretty well. He singled back up the box in his first at-bat and promptly stole second base, but his teammates were unable to drive him in. Ichiro then popped up to second his second at-bat, hit a rocket ground ball to first that Justin Smoak dove for and turned into an out his third time up, then lined a shot right at the second baseman in his fourth trip to the plate. He wasn’t tested with anything difficult in right. Pretty solid debut.
  • Runs: The Mariners pushed a run across in the third and the Yankees responded immediately with a trio of their own in the fourth. Alex Rodriguez started it with a hustle double before Robinson Cano walked, Mark Teixeira doubled (one run scores), Raul Ibanez singled (one run scores), and Andruw Jones singled (one run scores). Five straight reached and the first three scored. A-Rod tacked on an insurance run with a solo homer to deep left-center in the eighth.
  • Leftovers: David Robertson rolled his right ankle during a pitch in the eighth, but he remained in the game to throw one last pitch to end the inning. He’s fine as far as we know … Teixeira was on everything all night and smashed three balls over the shift for base hits … everyone in the starting lineup had at least one hit except for Curtis Granderson, who struck out three times … the final out of the game was made when former Mariner Rafael Soriano got former Yankee Jesus Montero to fly out to former Mariner Ichiro Suzuki. Baseball.

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the advanced metrics, and ESPN the updated standings. The Orioles and Red Sox both lost while the Rays and Blue Jays were idle, so the Yankees increased their lead in the division to seven games over Baltimore and at least nine games over everyone else. Freddy Garcia will have his work cut out for him on Tuesday night when he gets the ball against Felix Hernandez.

Two new designs added to the RAB Shop

It’s been a while since we’ve updated the RAB Shop, but we’ve got two new and simply designs for you. Both play off some rather popular Yankees-related Twitter hastags — #untuck for whenever Rafael Soriano nails down a win (and untucks his jersey) and #HIROK for whenever Hiroki Kuroda is generally awesome. That’s more often than not, obviously.

Click the image above for a larger view of both designs, but like I said they’re very clean and simple, and both come courtesy of RAB graphics guru Tyler Wilkinson. These aren’t just limited to t-shirts either; you can get coffee mugs, onesies, messenger bags, hats, all sorts of neat stuff in a variety of colors, styles, and sizes. Check out our shop with this link or at all times via the nav bar above. The link is right below the street sign in the banner.

Yanks finish off sweep of Jays in rain-shortened shutout

Mother Nature did the Yankees a solid on Wednesday afternoon, sparing their bullpen with some late-inning rain and lightning. The Yankees and Blue Jays played just six and a half innings, long enough for the Bombers to finish off the three-game sweep and the 5-1 homestand.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Hirok ‘n Roll

Hiroki Kuroda has now made five starts during the day this season, and he’s yet to allow a run in 30 innings. Wednesday’s effort featured seven shutout innings and virtually zero stress; he was never in any kind of danger at any point. Kuroda struck out five, allowed four hits (just one for extra bases), and recorded all but one of his 21 outs on the infield. He retired 12 of the first 14 men he faced with the two exceptions coming on an Alex Rodriguez throwing error and an infield single.

Kuroda technically threw a complete-game shutout, the third of his MLB career. These rain-shortened ones don’t really count as a true shutouts in my opinion, but that shouldn’t take away from his performance. It was a pretty great start … awesome to see Hiroki shake off those last two duds and get back to being the guy he was in May and June.

(REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine)

Early Runs

It took all of three batters for the Yankees to extend their streak of consecutive games with three or more runs to 42. Derek Jeter doubled off the right field wall to leadoff the first, Nick Swisher followed up with a single to right, and Mark Teixeira make it three-zip with a homer. Just like that, the Yankees had a nice little lead and the second longest single-season streak of scoring 3+ runs in baseball history. They’re six away from tying the record and seven from setting a new one.

That wasn’t all the offense though. Left-hander Ricky Romero looks nothing like the guy he was just last year, getting hit hard and leaving way too many pitches out over the plate. Andruw Jones singled off the wall to drive in Robinson Cano three batters after Teixeira’s homer and Dewayne Wise plated a run with a ground-rule double in the fourth and then another with a single in the sixth. Dunno if you heard, but his bunt turned the season around. New York had baserunners in every inning but the fifth.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Leftovers

Cano extended his hitting streak to 21 games and his on-base streak to 24 games — both career bests — with a double off Rajai Davis’ glove in the first inning. Davis should have caught it, not for nothing. This is the longest hitting streak by a Yankee since A-Rod hit in 23 straight back in April 2007. Four more games and it’ll be the second longest hit streak by a Yankee since Joe DiMaggio’s 56-gamer back in 1941 if you can believe that.

Jayson Nix had himself a nice little series, going a combined 5-for-7 with a double in two spot starts against the left-handers. Then again, he did get picked off first in the first inning on Wednesday after getting throwing out trying to steal third (with no outs!) on Tuesday, so maybe it wasn’t so great after all. Eh, whatever. It seems like whoever Joe Girardi pencils into the lineup these days does something productive. Everyone’s contributing, even the bench guys.

As for the rest of the offense … Jeter had a double and single, Swisher a single, Teixeira a homer and a single, Cano a double, Andruw a single, Nix a single and double, Russell Martin a single, and Wise a double and single. Twelve hits (and two walks) off Romero in just six innings. They worked him over pretty well.

The 3+ run streak is getting all the attention, but the Yankees have now scored at least five runs in ten straight games. That’s the longest streak in baseball since the Mets did it in 12 straight back in August 2007. It’s the longest such streak by the Yankees since they ran off ten straight the same month the Amazin’s had their 12-gamer. The all-time record is 18 straight by the 1950 Red Sox.

One last note: The Yankees have already swept eight series this year. They swept nine all of 2011. Now that’s a fun stat.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score, and ESPN the updated standings. Spoiler Alert: The Yankees have a really big lead in the AL East.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

The Yankees are going going, back back, to Cali Cali. They’re off to the West Coast for a seven-game trip starting with four against the Athletics in Oakland. Freddy Garcia gets the ball against rookie right-hander A.J. Griffin in the opener Thursday night. Griffin will be making his fifth career start, Garcia his 335th.

Must Click Link: Hiroki Kuroda’s Baseball Hell

Hiroki Kuroda has settled in as a reliable starter for the Yankees in recent weeks, silencing concerns about his ability to adjust to the rough-and-tough AL East. As it turns out, switching leagues is hardly the toughest thing he’s had to endure in his baseball career. David Waldstein of The NY Times published a piece looking at Kuroda’s baseball upbringing in old school Japan, where physical abuse was an accepted and common form of punishment for failing at a game based on failure. It’s a great and in its own way, a terrifying read. Check it out, it gets RAB’s highest level of recommendation.

Kuroda silences White Sox as lefty bats hammer Peavy in win


Source: FanGraphs

The first two games of this four-game series against the White Sox were rough for similar yet different reasons, but the Yankees got back into the win column with a rather convincing shutout victory on Saturday afternoon. Let’s recap…

  • KU! RO! DA!: Hiroki Kuroda is singlehandedly smashing every stereotype about NL pitchers, Japanese pitchers, older pitchers … you name it. His latest gem featured seven shutout innings against the White Sox on Saturday, with just five baserunners — three in the first inning — and 11 strikeouts. That’s a new season high, ditto his 22 (!) swings and misses. Kuroda now owns the ninth best ERA (3.17) in the AL (min. 80 IP) and second best in the AL East (David Price at 2.92). He was everything the Yankees needed and more in this game.
  • Lefty Power: Jake Peavy is a pretty good pitcher, but he’s also a pitcher with a sizable platoon split. New York’s left-handed batters took advantage of that by going 8-for-21 (.381) with a double (Dewayne Wise) and three solo homers (Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Wise). The right-handed bats countered by going 0-for-10 with five strikeouts. Peavy threw an eight-inning complete game with 11 strikeouts and no walks, but the Yankees made him pay when he made a mistake by hitting the ball out of the park. Gotta do that against good pitchers. Where have I heard that before?
  • Bullpen: David Robertson rebounded from Wednesday’s blown save with an uncharacteristically efficient 1-2-3 eighth inning (12 pitches), so that was good to see. Boone Logan walked Adam Dunn — Dunn’s sixth walk of the series — before Rafael Soriano bailed him out with a double play. Seven up, six down. Much better than Friday’s pitching nightmare.
  • Leftovers: Cano just missed a second homer — technically it would have been his first of day — by lining a ball down the line and watching it sail just foul by no more than a foot … Wise went 3-for-3 and was a triple away from the cycle, and he’s now 7-for-11 (.636) with a double, a triple, and two homers on the homestand … that’s pretty much it. Pretty quick (2:25) and uneventful game outside of the dingers.

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights, FanGraphs the nerd score, and ESPN the updated standings. The Yankees will go for the series split on Sunday afternoon when Phil Hughes gets the ball against Gavin Floyd, but first they’ll celebrate their history will Old Timers’ Day. The festivities starts at 11am ET, so remember to set your alarm and check RAB Tickets for last-minute deals.

Kuroda makes a month-long statement

No matter his performance, Kuroda always displays an A+ pitchface. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Why did fans label Hiroki Kuroda as an inconsistent pitcher? Mike and I discussed this on The RAB Radio Show last week, but it bears further mention. It seems that after poor starts mixed with some very good ones, fans started to call Kuroda inconsistent. This persisted while his numbers and performances improved following his poor outing against the Twins, and it gained further steam with his implosion against Toronto. But perhaps inconsistent wasn’t the best term.

While Kuroda did turn in some phenomenal performances early on, overall he had not pitched that well. Though his first nine starts he threw just 53.1 innings, or a hair under six per start. In that time his ERA was a bit over 4.50, and opponents were hitting .281/.345/.481 off him. His strikeout rate was under 6 per nine, and he had a K/BB ratio of less than 2:1. Those are not the marks of a quality pitcher, never mind the guy expected to be the No. 2 for the Yankees.

In Oakland things started to turn around. On May 27th he pitched eight innings of shutout ball, leading the Yankees to a 2-0 victory. That might not seem like much, shutting out the A’s. Keep in mind, though, that they have scored more runs than any other AL team in June. So Kuroda got to them just as they were heating up. After that he turned in another three excellent starts before giving up four runs against the Braves — the first time he’d done that in over a month. Last night he redeemed himself, though, allowing just one run in seven innings against the Indians.

In the last month Kuroda has started six times, averaging seven innings per start. He has struck out 7.5 per nine and has a K/BB ratio of 3.5:1. His ERA is just 1.93, and opponents have a .589 OPS against him. That is, they’ve gone from being nine Mike Moustakases to being nine Sean Rodriguezes. Might the first nine starts of his season been an introduction to the American League, and we’ll start to see more of this Kuroda in the future?

While I’d love to believe that, there are problems with that statement. He has, for instance, faced two National League teams during that span, covering three games. They weren’t bad NL teams, not at all — the Braves rank third in runs per game and sixth in OPS, while the Mets rank fifth in runs per game and eighth in OPS. But the competition is simply different, as evidenced by the AL’s dominance over the NL in interleague play (142-110). At the same time, the Indians rank 11th in the AL in OPS, while the A’s, while hot in June, rank dead last.

The last month has certainly been a revelation for Kuroda. He is a big reason why the Yankees have gone 17-5 in June. Going forward, though, it’s tough to expect such stellar performances. That’s a pretty obvious statement, of course, since few pitchers today can sustain a 1.93 ERA. Unfortunately, any dip from here could again raise the accusations of inconsistency. It’s not that, though. Every pitcher goes through stretches. The only real complaints about Kuroda will come when the bad stretches start to outweigh the good.