Archive for Hiroki Kuroda
The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with the team’s nominal ace for two years running.
It’s hard to believe that once upon a time, there was legitimate concern about how Hiroki Kuroda would handle a small Yankee Stadium and the AL East after opening his big league career in spacious Dodger Stadium and the generally pitcher-friendly NL West. Those are two extremely different run environments, nevermind the general concern associated with a pitcher on the wrong side of 35.
Kuroda showed last season that those concerns were unwarranted by pitching to a 3.32 ERA and 3.86 FIP in a career-high 219.2 innings. He fit in so well that the Yankees gave him a nice big raise and brought him back for 2013, and pretty much no one had a problem with it. Why would they? Kuroda’s awesome. He was getting up there in age but it was a one-year contract. The risk was small, the reward potentially high.
It’s easy to forget that the start of Kuroda’s season was only a fraction of an inch away from being disastrous. In the second inning of his first start, he reached for a Shane Victorino line drive with his barehand and took the ball right off his fingertips. Joe Girardi and the trainer came out to look at him, but Kuroda ultimately stayed in the game after a few test pitches. It was obvious he wasn’t right though, he plunked two of the next four batters and walked another on four pitches. He was removed from the game after that.
Tests showed no break thankfully, just a contusion that needed a few days to heal. Kuroda made his next start five days later and still seemed to be showing some lingering effects from the liner as he walked four in 5.1 innings against the Indians. The Yankees took advantage of an off-day to give the right-hander and his bruised finger some extra rest, and the results were immediate. In his third start of the year, Kuroda held the Orioles to five singles and zero walks while striking out five in a complete-game shutout.
That game was the beginning of a nine-start stretch in which Kuroda allowed only 13 runs (1.92 ERA and 3.28 FIP) in 61 innings, holding batters to a .204/.234/.321 batting line. He completed seven full innings of work in seven of those nine starts. Believe it or not, his worst outing of the season — five runs on eight hits in only two innings against the Orioles — is included in this nine-start stretch.
Kuroda had an effective but ultimately average month of June (3.92 ERA and 4.43 FIP in 39 innings across six starts) before putting together an utterly dominant month of July. He made five starts — one apiece against the Orioles, Twins, Red Sox, Rangers, and Dodgers, so not exactly the easiest competition — and allowed two runs total, pitching to a 0.55 ERA and 2.33 FIP in 33 innings. Kuroda went at least seven full innings in four of the five starts and the only reason he didn’t work deep into the other game was a lengthy rain delay that cut his outing short.
In 19 first half starts, Kuroda pitched to a 2.65 ERA (3.60 FIP) in 118.2 innings. Only Felix Hernandez (2.53 ERA) had been better at preventing runs among AL hurlers, and obviously he enjoys a much more pitcher-friendly atmosphere in Seattle. Kuroda did not make the All-Star team mostly because his teammates never scored runs and his win-loss record sat at a forgettable 8-6. Chris Tillman, he of the 11-3 record (3.95 ERA and 4.94 FIP) got the final pitching spot on the AL squad.
As neat as an All-Star Game berth would have been, Kuroda probably needed the rest more than anything. He was able to take a full week off between starts thanks to the break and he continued to dominate early in the second half — 1.25 ERA and 2.02 FIP in 36 innings across his first five starts. Following eight shutout innings against the Angels on August 12th, Kuroda owned a league-leading 2.33 ERA (3.20 FIP) and was a legitimate Cy Young candidate. Not an “he’s good and a Yankee so he should be a Cy Young candidate,” a real live Cy Young candidate.
Unfortunately, Kuroda hit a wall in mid-August, the same wall he hit in mid-August last year. I assume it is due to his age and his workload — he stopped throwing his regular between-starts bullpen session in an effort to stay fresh late in the season — and a million other things. Regardless, his Cy Young hopes crashed and burned with eight dreadful starts to close out the year. Here is the carnage in table form:
|4/1 to 8/12||24||6.4||2.33||3.20||1.02||3.79||0.70||.226/.265/.338|
|8/13 to 9/29||8||5.8||6.56||4.46||1.62||2.86||1.54||.316/.364/.551|
I wasn’t exaggerating, that’s really awful! Kuroda was an absolute disaster in his final eight starts. That batting line against is in the neighborhood of what Robinson Cano hit this summer (.314/.383/.516). Kuroda turned every batter he faced in his final eight starts into Cano with more power. Seriously. As soon as the Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention, they effectively shut him down for the season. They never called it that, but they did skip his final start.
The Yankees faded out of the race partly because of Kuroda’s poor finish, but then again they wouldn’t even have been in the race in the first place had he not pitched so well during the first four-and-a-half months of the season. Those disastrous last eight starts, exactly one-quarter of his season, doesn’t erase all of the good he did before then. That he pitched to a 3.31 ERA and 3.56 FIP in 201.1 innings overall despite that ugly finish is a testament to how outstanding he was for much of the summer. The guy was truly dominant and the anchor of the staff.
It will take quite a bit of research to answer definitively, but my hunch is that Kuroda was one of the best one-year pitching contracts in baseball history. Not just Yankees history (that’s a given), but all baseball history. Heck, he might be on that list twice for these last two seasons. He’s been that good. New York made Kuroda a qualifying offer before the deadline earlier this week, so if he leaves for another MLB team, they’ll receive a draft pick in return. There is reason to be concerned about him going forward given his age and how he finished, but there’s not doubt #HIROK was one of the few things to go right for the Yankees in 2013.
The Yankees have officially extended qualifying offers to Robinson Cano, Hiroki Kuroda, and Curtis Granderson, the team announced. Qualifying offers are worth $14.1M this offseason. Players have until next Monday to either accept or reject the offer. If they reject and sign with another MLB team, the Yankees will receive a supplemental first round pick as compensation regardless of whether their new team has a protected first rounder. All three guys are likely to reject the offer and test the open market.
As I mentioned this morning, eligible players officially became free agents at 9am ET this morning. They still have to wait five days to sign with new teams, however. The MLBPA released a list of all 147 free agents this afternoon, which you can check out right here. Among those 147 players are 13 Yankees: Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Curtis Granderson, Travis Hafner, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan, Lyle Overbay, Andy Pettitte, Mark Reynolds, Mariano Rivera, Brendan Ryan, and Kevin Youkilis.
There are currently 28 players on the 40-man roster, though Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Corban Joseph, Jayson Nix, Francisco Cervelli, and CC Sabathia all have to be activated off the 60-day DL by Monday. So, in reality, there are 34 players on the 40-man.
Got six questions this week, so I tried to keep the answers short and go rapid fire. If you want to send us questions or links or complaints or whatever, the Submit A Tip box in a sidebar is the best way to go.
Joe asks: If Joe Girardi leaves who would be on your short list of replacements?
I don’t even know where to start. There are no great candidates out there. You’d need someone familiar with being in a big market just because it’s completely chaotic, or it can be if the manager lets it. Bench coach Tony Pena seems like an obvious candidate and I guess the just-fired Dusty Baker is as well. Triple-A Scranton manager Dave Miley and Double-A Trenton manager Tony Franklin seem like long shots. I want no part of Mike Scioscia (if he’s fired) or Don Wakamatsu, who has big league managerial experience (with the Mariners) and works in the Yankees front office. I don’t see a ton of obvious candidates out there. Pena is clearly the best at this point.
Joey asks: B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla are both well-paid and under-performing for Atlanta. If the Braves cover most of the salary, do you think the Yankees would be interested in either player and would think its a good idea?
I don’t think the Braves would eat a ton of money to move Upton after just one year. Not with his brother still on the team and a roster that still managed to win 96 games despite his terribleness. As for Uggla … I don’t think I’d touch him. He hit .179/.309/.362 (91 wRC+) with 22 homers in 537 plate appearances this season, and he’s also 33 years old (34 in March). That’s right around the age second baseman tend to fall off the cliff. This sums up where his career is heading:
Go look at Uggla’s graph page on FanGraphs and notice how pretty much everything has been trending in the wrong direction for three years now. The Braves left him off their NLDS roster and they own him $13M in each of the next two years. Yeah, the Yankees could use him as a backup corner infielder/DH, but even if Atlanta eats so much money that he’s a $4M a year player, I wouldn’t touch him. The Bombers already have one Vernon Wells, no need to add the infield version as well.
Anthony asks: Say #HIROK decided to retire, could the Yankees still offer him a qualifying offer and get a pick?
The only way the Yankees would get a draft pick for Hiroki Kuroda (or any other player who turns downs a qualifying offer) is if they sign a Major League contract with one of the other 29 times before next summer’s draft. That’s it. They don’t get a pick if the player retires, goes to Japan, or signs a minor league contract.
Mr. Fish Fingers asks: Any interest in/chance of acquiring Jason Castro this off-season or (more likely) at some point in the season? Got to cost an arm and a leg, but he had a nice season in Houston and is under team control.
Theoretically, the Astros would want to build around Castro going forward, right? He just turned 26 and hit .276/.350/.485 (130 wRC+) with 18 homers this season, plus he’s a standout defender behind the plate. That’s a cornerstone player. If you’re a rebuilding team, you keep him. That said, the Astros seem to have completely given up on being competitive and are instead focused on having a strong farm system, so who knows. I’d take Castro in a heartbeat — he is arbitration-eligible for the first time this year and can’t become a free agent until after 2016 — and would open up the farm system to give Houston whatever they want. Gary Sanchez and Rafael DePaula? Sure thing. You hope that in six years, Sanchez will be what Castro is right now. Slade Heathcott and J.R. Murphy? Tyler Austin and Mason Williams? Done deal. No-brainer for me. I think Castro is the one guy the Astros will keep, however.
Jon asks: MLBTR got me thinking about Asdrubal Cabrera as a possible 2014 shortstop target. If I remember, Brian Cashman was hot on him previously, only one year left on contract and coming off a down year. Possible buy low, would the Yankees want the Indians to kick some money in to offset $10M ’14 Salary? What would it take in prospects?
Cabrera would make sense as a shortstop target if he was actually a shortstop. The 27-year-old is an awful defensive player — pick any defense stat and it’ll say he’s been terrible for several years running now — and to make matters worse, he isn’t hitting all that much either. Cabrera put up a .242/.299/.402 (95 wRC+) line with 14 homers this year, which is way better than what the Yankees got from the position this year but way below what his reputation would lead you to believe. He’s better than Eduardo Nunez, but we’re not exactly setting a high bar there. Is he so much better that it justifies the massive salary and a trading away a prospect or two? Asdrubal is someone worth looking at more in-depth if he actually ends up on the block at some point. My short answer is: meh.
Elliot asks: If Derek Jeter declines his option (crazy talk) do you see a situation where he wants a longer contract guaranteed, but will spread out the cost over more years and help the team get under $189 million?
I don’t know if Jeter will want that, but there is a scenario in which opting out and signing a multi-year deal would help the Yankees get under the luxury tax threshold. Right now his option is worth $9.5M and can be worth as much as $16.5M with awards-based incentives. The team would have to treat him as a $16.5M player in 2014 — you can’t plan on him costing only $9.5M and then have him blow the whole thing up by finishing fifth in the MVP voting or something. They could, I suppose, guarantee the extra $7M (instead of basing it on incentives) and spread it out over multiple years. Instead of a one-year deal worth $9.5M and potentially $16.5M, it could be a three-year deal worth $16.5 guaranteed. That would lower the average annual salary (and his “tax hit”) from at least $9.5M and possibly $16.5M in 2014 to $5.5M flat. It’s worth considering, but remember, it takes two to tango.
Brian Cashman held his annual end-of-season press conference on Tuesday afternoon and, unsurprisingly, there were no announcements made. Not even a minor one. He fielded questions for about an hour and in typical YankeeSpeak, the GM said a lot of words that had little substance. The team’s higher-ups have a knack for dodging questions and giving vague answers while talking a whole bunch. Anyway, let’s recap the presser:
On Joe Girardi
- Cashman confirmed he met with Girardi “for a while” yesterday and will meet with agent Steve Mandell tomorrow to continue talks. “After tomorrow, I think I’ll get a real good feel for where we’re at,” he said. “I think he likes it here. We’re going to give [Girardi] a real good reason to stay.”
- “His effort and his efforts in pre-game preparation for each series and how he runs Major League Spring Training … he’s been consistently tremendously at it,” said the GM while also crediting Girardi for working with such a poor roster this season. “[His] job as a manager is to make sure these guys compete on a daily basis … I thought he did a great job, him and his staff.”
- Cashman would not comment when asked if the Cubs (or any other team, for that matter) had contacted the team to ask for permission to speak to Girardi. His contract expires November 1st.
- Cashman closed the press conference with a preemptive “no comment” about how things go (went?) with Mandell tomorrow. He told the media not to bother to reach out for an update because he won’t give one. It was kinda funny.
Via Anthony Rieber: Hiroki Kuroda is still unsure if he wants to pitch in 2014, either in Japan or with an MLB team. He hasn’t ruled out retirement. “It all depends on how I feel after the season and think about things. Right now all I can say is I don’t know,” said the right-hander.
Assuming he doesn’t start tomorrow — he lines up for that game but the team has the starter listed as TBA — the 38-year-old Kuroda ends the season with a 3.31 ERA and 3.56 FIP in 201.1 innings. He hit a real big wall in mid-August and was just brutal down the stretch. The Yankees will surely make Kuroda the $14M-ish qualifying offer to ensure they get a draft pick if he signs with another MLB team, but they don’t get anything if he retires or heads back to Japan.
I would like to have Kuroda back next season at a reasonable price, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about an older pitcher who’s hit a wall in August two straight years. He earned $15M this season and I would be uncomfortable giving him more. It’s a very fair price.
This has been a long and occasionally painful season, but it’s still hard to believe there are only ten games and eleven days left on the regular season schedule. The Yankees are three games back of the second wild-card spot in the loss column and their chances of making the playoffs are remote — 3.4% according to Baseball Prospectus — but they do still have a chance. A very small one, but a chance nonetheless.
Soon after the end of the regular season, the BBWAA crew will vote on the various major awards. The playoffs aren’t considered even though the official announcements aren’t made until sometime in November. The last Yankee to win a major award was Alex Rodriguez back in 2007, when he took no prisoners en route to his third MVP. It usually takes that kind of otherworldly season for a Yankee to win a major award because there is some voter bias. At least lately there has been thanks to the dynasty years and all those division titles.
This season doesn’t figure to be any different. The Yankees don’t have a 2007 A-Rod or a 2001 Roger Clemens on the roster, but they do have a handful of players who will garner at least some consideration for the major awards. At this point of the season, it’s hard to think anything that happens between now and Game 162 will change the voters’ minds. Let’s look at which Yankees have a shot at the various awards.
Most Valuable Player
The team’s only serious MVP candidate is (who else?) Robinson Cano. He’s hitting .311/.383/.514 (141 wRC+) and is top ten in the league in both versions of WAR. Obviously his chances would greatly increase if the Yankees sneak into the postseason, but even if they don’t, Cano should get a fair amount of love because he was New York’s only real offensive threat for most of the season. Fairly or unfairly, the voters do take that stuff into consideration. It’s the whole “he had no protection!” idea.
Alfonso Soriano could get some votes because of his huge production following the trade — Jack Curry wrote about this last week — but I have a really hard time seeing that unless he swats like, six more homers from here on out and the Yankees win a wildcard spot. I’m sure it’s happened plenty of times before, but the only time I can remember a midseason trade pickup getting serious MVP consideration was Shannon Stewart in 2003. He hit .322/.384/.470 (127 wRC+) in 65 games for the Twins following the deal while Minnesota went from 7.5 games back to winning the division by four games. The narrative was pretty strong.
I suppose Mariano Rivera could draw some honorary down-ballot votes in his final season, which would be kinda neat. He’s received MVP votes in nine different seasons and has finished as high as ninth in the voting (2004 and 2005). This hasn’t been Mo’s best year — he’s still been pretty great by normal closer standards — and he doesn’t really deserve MVP votes, but who knows what’ll happen. Could A-Rod get a tenth place troll vote or two if they made the playoffs? That would be a riot. Ain’t happenin’ though.
Unless Rivera gets some going away votes — unlikely since this ballot only goes five players deep — the Yankees’ only Cy Young candidate this year is Hiroki Kuroda. He led the league with a 2.33 ERA as recently as August 16th, but he crashed into the fatigue wall this week and is no longer in the mix. Kuroda, who now has a 3.13 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 189.2 innings, could steal a fourth or fifth place vote from a New York writer. It would surprise me though. There are a ton of worthy Cy Young candidates in the so-called Junior Circuit this year.
Rookie of the Year
Do you know who leads Yankees rookies in the FanGraphs version of WAR this season? Melky Mesa at 0.3. He came to the plate 14 times before being released. The Baseball-Reference version is a little kinder and has Adam Warren in the lead at 0.9. Either way, I think you get the point. They don’t have a horse in this race.
Comeback Player of the Year
Finally, an award a Yankee might actually win. Rivera is coming back from his knee injury and has the whole retirement thing going for him, which is probably enough to get him the popular vote regardless of his performance. Mariano is an icon and we’ve already seen how beloved he is around the game, by opposing players and writers alike. I hesitate to call him a shoo-in, but I think you have to consider Rivera the overwhelming favorite here.
There’s a chance Brett Gardner could get some Comeback Player of the Year love, but I would expect all the Yankees-related votes to go to Mo. Eric Hosmer, Scott Kazmir, John Lackey, and Ervin Santana figure to be Rivera’s primary competition. So yeah, his to lose I think.
Manager of the Year
I wrote about Joe Girardi‘s Manager of the Year chances way back in May, and obviously a lot has changed since then. The Yankees were exceeding every possible expectation at the time and we were still expecting guys like Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter to come back and be productive. That didn’t happen and the team faded in a big way during the summer months. They’ve been trying to climb out of the hole for a few weeks now.
Even if the Yankees don’t make the postseason, I think Girardi’s going to get a fair amount of Manager of the Year support because the roster has been decimated by injuries. This wasn’t one or two injuries, this was half the lineup. In some cases their replacements got hurt. It’s not an accident the Yankees have used a franchise-high 56 different players this year. That wasn’t out of the kindness of their heart, they needed all of the warm bodies. Girardi has managed to keep the team in the hunt right down to the final two weeks of the season and that’s pretty remarkable.
Furthermore, I think Girardi has done a masterful job of handling the A-Rod situation. That could have easily been a big distraction — and it was for a while as the two traded barbs through the media — but he’s kept it contained and a non-issue for a good month now. It would have been very, very easy for that whole situation to blow up and become a major daily issue, but Girardi made sure it didn’t. I don’t think he will win the award — John Farrell has the worst-to-first thing going for him — but he’ll definitely get votes and could finish as high as second on the ballot. There isn’t a ton of competition for the award this year.
Five questions and four answers this week. If you ever want to send us anything, mailbag questions or links or comments, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Dylan asks: If the Yankees re-sign Hiroki Kuroda next year, could they not have him start the season until end of May so he doesn’t hit a wall? They could have him get ready for the season in Extended Spring Training games. Has this ever happened in the league before for an older pitcher (besides when Andy Pettitte came out of retirement, but that wasn’t intentional for the Yankees)?
Although they didn’t sign over the winter with the intention of joining the rotation at midseason, this is basically what 2007 Roger Clemens, 2009 Pedro Martinez, and both 2012 and 2013 Roy Oswalt did. They didn’t find many offers in the offseason and waited until injuries struck and some contender needed pitching help in the middle of the year. Kuroda won’t have that problem this winter.
I do think there is some merit to the idea of holding him back until May — there was some talk of doing with Stephen Strasburg last year since everyone knew he was going to be shut down at some point — but games in April are just as important as games in September. Do you prefer to tack on the wins early or play catch-up late? The guy replacing him in April probably won’t be all that good, so I prefer the former. I think the solution would be lighten Kuroda’s workload from April through July by using off-days to skip or push back starts and take advantage of the All-Star break to give him close to two full weeks off. A phantom DL trip, basically.
Either way, I don’t like the idea of having one of the team’s best starters intentionally skipping a full month or two of the season. I’d rather just take my chances and hope he doesn’t hit a wall in that case. If you’re planning on getting say, 25 starts out of him instead of 32, I would prefer to get the 25 as soon as possible — you could always trade for pitching help at the deadline — and not run the risk of an injury turning those 25 starts into 12 starts or something.
JCK asks: If Phil Hughes dominates out of the bullpen down the stretch, do the Yankees have a chance to bring him back as a reliever in 2014? It would be nice to have 2009 bullpen Hughes in a post-Mariano Rivera world.
I think the chances of the Yankees re-signing Hughes as a reliever are small but still better than they are of them bringing him back as a starter, which are basically zero. There are only 22 games left in the season and I don’t think that’s enough time for Phil to show he can be truly dominant out of the bullpen like he was in 2009, especially since each game is so important and guys like Preston Claiborne and David Robertson will soak up the more crucial innings. Hughes might just be a mop-up man this month. Heck. Joe Girardi went to Joba Chamberlain over him last night. So yeah, I do think there’s a chance he’ll come back of a reliever, but that chance is still very small. Hard to see Phil returning to the Bronx next year in any role.
Tarik asks: Can you put Greg Bird‘s season into perspective? Is he a legitimate hitting prospect? Is 20 too old for Low-A? Thanks.
Marc asks: Is there any chance Greg Bird could fake the corner OF and spot starts at catcher? Like a poor man’s Ryan Doumit, cause his bat is legit and it would be great to get the most value outta him.
Going to lump these two together. First things first: 20 is absolutely not too old for Low-A. It’s perfectly age appropriate if not slightly young for the level (he turns 21 in November).
Secondly, Bird hit .288/.428/.511 in 573 plate appearances this year, a 170 wRC+ than was the eighth best in all of minor league baseball among players with enough plate appearances to qualify for their league’s batting title (not counting the unaffiliated Mexican League). Four of the seven guys ahead of him were in short season leagues with fewer than 260 plate appearances (including Gosuke Katoh at 172 wRC+), another was a 29-year-old journeyman in Triple-A (Chris Colabello at 196 wRC+), and the other two were two of the best prospects in the game (George Springer at 174 wRC+ and Miguel Sano at 172 wRC+). So, simply put, Bird was one of the absolute best hitters in all of minor league baseball this year regardless of age and level. He mashed.
Tyler Austin hit .322/.400/.559 (~163 wRC+) last season, which actually might be more impressive than Bird’s season considering he was promoted from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa at midseason. The talent pool in the second half of full season leagues tends to get watered down because all the best performers get promoted and replaced by guys coming up from a lower level. Jesus Montero‘s best minor league season was 2009, when he hit .337/.389/.562 (~169 wRC+) between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton as a 19-year-old. That’s definitely more impressive than what Bird this year in my opinion considering his age and the levels. Before that, you have to go all that way back to the holy grail of minor league offensive seasons to find a better performance in the Yankees system: 1999 Nick Johnson, who hit .345/.525/.548 with Double-A Norwich. Minor league wRC+ data doesn’t go back that far, but I think it’s safe to say that was close to if not above 200 wRC+. So yeah, Bird mashed in a way very few others have in recent years.
Earlier this week, Jim Callis said Bird has “legitimate power” while Keith Law added “he does have plus raw power,” so we have some consensus there. The Yankees would have tried him in the corner outfield before sticking him at first base if he was capable of doing it, but the back problem that moved him out from behind the plate might be making his mobility an issue. Bird has to prove he can hit at the upper levels of the minors, which makes him no different than every other Single-A prospect in the history of the universe. The offensive bar is very high for first base prospects though — it takes Prince Fielder or Eric Hosmer potential to be a truly elite first base prospect — so Bird will continue to get the short end of the prospect stick. He hit way more than was reasonably expected this season, now let’s just sit back and see what we does next year with High-A Tampa before we start worrying about where he fits into the team’s long-term plans. To be honest, Doumit pretty much sucks and I’m hoping Bird is something much better than that. Versatility is overrated.
Jon asks: With Pete O’Brien being an error machine at third, do you think he could still move to RF? He should have the arm and his bat should easily profile right?
O’Brien runs like a catcher, so I don’t see how a corner outfield spot would work. Most likely, he’ll be a first baseman/DH who can fill in at third or catcher in a real pinch. He’s a prospect because of his big right-handed power, which is something that is in very short supply these days. Righty hitting/righty throwing first baseman is not the sexiest profile in the world, especially considering there are concerns about O’Brien’s approach at the plate. The best right/right first basemen in recent history — Albert Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt, Paul Konerko, Allen Craig, Derrek Lee, Kevin Youkilis, Richie Sexson — all had disciplined approaches that upped their offensive production. More than a few of those guys (Pujols, Lee, Youkilis, Sexson) were top notch defenders as well. The only member of that recent right-right first base group who has stuck in the big leagues despite a poor approach is Mark Trumbo. Trumbo is a flawed hitter and an mediocre player overall because of his defense, but I would be thrilled if that’s what O’Brien turned into. I’d sign up for it today.
Via Chad Jennings: Hiroki Kuroda skipped his usual between-starts bullpen session on Saturday. “Sometimes guys just skip their bullpens,” said Joe Girardi, which is actually true. This is noteworthy, however, because Kuroda stopped throwing bullpens between his starts all together last September due to fatigue. He modified his offseason routine in an effort to stay fresh later into the season.
Kuroda, 38, has been outstanding overall this season, pitching to a 2.89 ERA and 3.50 FIP in 171.1 innings across 27 starts. He was brutal in August though, with a 5.12 ERA and 4.04 FIP in five starts and 31.2 innings. Fatigue set in late last year and Kuroda’s performance similarly slipped down the stretch — he did bounce back and was outstanding in the postseason — so it’s fair to wonder if he’s going through the same thing now. The Yankees will have a very hard time making a serious run at a wildcard spot if Kuroda is anything less than an ace, so hopefully this is just a bump in the road and little rest does the trick.
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:
|IP/GS||ERA||FIP||K%||BB%||BABIP||Opp. ISO||Opp. OPS|
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.