Archive for Hiroki Kuroda
The Yankees and Orioles have played three very tight games in the ALDS so far, and last night Raul Ibanez took matters into his own hands by hitting both a game-tying and game-winning solo homer after coming off the bench in the ninth inning. His insanely clutch performance will get a ton of attention today and rightfully so, but one man can not win a baseball game by himself no matter how many homers he hits.
Before Ibanez worked his magic, starter Hiroki Kuroda gave the Yankees more than eight innings of two-run ball. He allowed solo homers to the eight- and nine-hole hitters, but otherwise he held Baltimore in check and especially in the late innings. Kuroda did run into trouble in the fourth though, as some shoddy defense, a hit, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases with two outs. Ryan Flaherty, who hit the first solo homer, was at the plate with a chance to break things open when Kuroda started him with a first pitch inside two-seamer for a called strike. Here is the second pitch of the at-bat…
(Click to embiggen)
I wrote briefly about the benefit of pitch framing yesterday, and that’s a perfect example of a borderline pitch getting called a strike with some help from Russell Martin‘s nifty glovework. PitchFX does have the pitch off the plate but not wildly so, enough that it could have been called either way.
Now the at-bat didn’t even end with that pitch, but it did turn a potential 1-1 count into an 0-2 count. An 0-2 count is the worst possible count a hitter can face, and the difference between those two counts was over .200 OPS points in the AL this season. It’s a massive shift in the game situation, changing everything from how Kuroda and Martin pitch to Flaherty’s approach to possibly even where the defense sets up. Flaherty grounded out weakly on the next pitch, a jam shot fastball up-and-in that may have been intended to set up a splitter on the next pitch more than actually get an out.
Kuroda really had to battle in the early innings last night, and Martin did a good job nursing through his early command issues. Flaherty isn’t a world burner, but he went deep one inning prior and had a really great power stretch just a few weeks ago. I don’t want to say the game was on the line in that fourth inning at-bat, but a hit there to score even one more run changes the complexion of the entire game. Stealing that strike two on the borderline pitch was an important part of the chess match that got Kuroda and the Yankees through the inning and kept the game manageable.
From Opening Day through Game 162, Hiroki Kuroda was the Yankees’ best and most consistent starting pitcher this year. He served as the staff ace for a big chunk of the summer while CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were on the DL, and he didn’t just get the title by default. From late-May through mid-August, a span of 16 starts and 113.2 innings, Kuroda pitched to a 2.22 ERA and a 2.78 FIP. Overall, his season included a 3.32 ERA and a 3.86 FIP in a career-high 219.2 innings this season.
That workload appeared to be an issue coming down the stretch, as the 37-year-old right-hander began to look fatigued during his starts, particularly in the later innings. He closed the season out with a dynamite seven-inning, two-run outing against the woeful Red Sox, but prior to that he’d allowed 22 total runs in his previous six starts and 37.2 innings. Eight of those 22 runs were scored after the fifth inning in those starts. As expected though, Kuroda said fatigue was not an issue while speaking with reporters on a conference call yesterday.
“I really haven’t thought anything about (being worn down),” he said. “You know, I don’t really feel fatigued, or I don’t think I can afford to think like that because I always prepare myself for the next game, and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
The Yankees slightly juggled their rotation for the ALDS in an effort to not only give Kuroda extra rest, but to also make sure Andy Pettitte didn’t get too much rest and lose his rhythm. Pettitte allowed three runs in seven innings in Game Two on eight days’ rest while Kuroda will get the ball in Game Three tonight on seven days’ rest. Had he started Game Two, which seemed to be the plan basically all season, he would have been on normal rest.
Like basically every pitcher ever, Kuroda has pitched better with an extra day or two of rest both this year and throughout his career. In 15 starts with normal rest this year, he posted a 3.56 ERA (3.68 FIP) while averaging 6.2 innings per start. With at least one extra day of rest, he pitched to a 3.14 ERA (3.82 FIP) while averaging exactly seven innings per start. If Kuroda did tire down the stretch, it didn’t show in his fastball velocity, which actually ticked up late in the season. If the fatigue showed up anywhere, it was in his command.
Tonight’s game is, obviously, the most important game of the season to date. The difference between being up 2-1 or being down 2-1 in a best-of-five series is enormous, and Kuroda’s playoff history is short and spotty. He twirled two gems with the 2008 Dodgers (6.1 scoreless in the NLDS, six-innings of two-run ball in the NLCS) before allowing six runs in 1.1 innings in the 2009 NLCS after an injury kept him out of the NLDS.
“In ’09, I didn’t have all my stuff and I wasn’t feeling good,” added Kuroda on the conference call. “I had an injury to my neck and I couldn’t throw in the divisional series … Until now, I haven’t really thought about ’09. I’m focused on now.”
The Yankees signed Kuroda to little fanfare this offseason mostly because the deal happened on the same day of the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade, and nothing was stealing attention from that. He went on to serve as the team’s most reliable starter all summer, cranking out quality outing after quality outing. The Yankees are going to need that kind of effort from Kuroda again in Game Three tonight, if not something better given their struggles against Miguel Gonzalez this season.
Via Mark Hale, the Yankees will consider using Hiroki Kuroda as the number three starter in the ALDS and sliding Andy Pettitte in behind CC Sabathia as the number two. We’ve been assuming it would be the other way around for much of the season. “That’s something that we’re going to have to talk about, absolutely,” said Joe Girardi when asked about starting Pettitte over Kuroda in Game Two. “[Kuroda] had an unbelievable season, and that’s something we’ll definitely consider.”
Pettitte was lined up to pitch today in a potential tie-breaker game, which thankfully was not needed. He would be on eight days’ rest for Game Two and ten days’ rest for Game Three. Kuroda, on the other hand, would start Game Two on normal rest and Game Three on seven days’ rest. Giving him two extra days seems like a pretty good idea given his age (37) and career-high workload (219.2 IP), plus he actually pitched better at home than on the road this year. Unsurprisingly, Kuroda said he would do whatever the team asked.
I think it’s safe to say that outside of Derek Jeter‘s return to offensive stardom, the biggest story of the season for the Yankees has been Hiroki Kuroda‘s legitimate ace-level performance. The 37-year-old right-hander led his club to another win last night, the ninth time in his last eleven starts New York came out on top. Only once in his last seven starts and four times in his last 16 starts has he allowed more than two earned runs. He’s been brilliant.
Despite playing for the team with the second-best offense in the league (4.93 runs per game), Kuroda has done all of this despite limited run support. Last night was the the sixth straight time the offense scored no more than four runs for their right-hander, and the 16th time they’ve done it in his 25 starts overall. Following last night’s win, Kuroda ranks eighth in the AL with an average of 3.84 runs of support per start. He’s tied with Felix Hernandez, who hardly plays for an offensive juggernaut.
That 3.84 run support average breaks down into 96 runs across 25 starts, compared to 501 total runs in the 96 games started by everyone else this year. That’s an average of 5.22 runs per game. For whatever reason, the Yankees are scoring one and a third fewer runs per game with Kuroda on the mound this season than they are with anyone else out there. The last time New York had a starter finish the season with fewer than even 4.30 runs of support (min. 25 starts) was Mike Mussina back in 2001 (4.12). Bartolo Colon received the club’s worst run support last season at 4.50 runs per game.
Now this is just a fluke and not really indicative of anything meaningful. Maybe the Yankees feel like they don’t need to score a million runs with Kuroda on the mound, but that seems kinda silly. Five times this year the Yankees have lost a game in which he’s allowed no more than two earned runs, which is about five too many as far as I’m concerned. Hiroki just ran into a hard-luck year in terms of run support, but he’s pitched so well that it hasn’t even mattered most of the time. It would be nice if the Yankees put up some crooked numbers for him in the coming weeks just to give him some breathing room, because Kuroda sure has picked his teammates up a number of times this summer. Time to return the favor a bit.
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.
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.
During the next few days we’ll take some time to review the first half of the season and look at which Yankees are meeting expectations, exceeding expectations, and falling short of expectations. What else is the All-Star break good for?
The Yankees head into the All-Star break with the best record in baseball at 52-33 despite having only played 14 games against teams with a losing record. I guess that’s what happens when all but three AL teams have a .500+ record, including every club in the AL East. Despite that win-loss record, the Yankees don’t seem to have clicked on all cylinders yet. The bullpen carried them in April, the rotation carried them in May and June, and the offense has shown flashes of being dominant but hasn’t really 100% clicked yet. That means there is still room for improvement. Here are the players who have been performing in line with preseason expectations…
At this time last year, the Cap’n was really just starting to get going. He hit a weak .270/.340/.370 in 2010 and was sitting on a .260/.324/.324 batting line when a calf injury forced him to the disabled list last June. The injury proved to be a blessing in disguise for Jeter, who worked with hitting coordinator Gary Denbo at staying back on the ball. He hit .331/.384/.447 after returning on Independence Day and he’s carried that success over into 2012.
Now, obviously the 38-year-old shortstop wasn’t going to hit that well all season, but Jeter has posted a rock solid .308/.354/.411 batting line in the first half this year. He had a huge April, a so-so May, and a poor June before picking things back up in early-July. Derek has already hit more homers this season (seven) than he did last season (six), and he’s on a similar stolen base pace (seven in nine chances so far). As you’d expect, most of his damage is coming against lefties (.381/.405/.552) but at least he’s putting up more of a fight against righties (.278/.333/.353) than he did in 2010 and the first half of 2011.
Curtis Granderson & Robinson Cano
The Yankees two best offensive players last year have continued to be just that in 2012. Cano is right in the mix for the AL MVP award at this point thanks to his .313/.378/.578 line and 20 homers, exactly what we’ve come to expect from Robbie over the last few years. He’s unquestionably the best player on the best team in baseball and is in the middle of a career year, both at the plate and in the field. Despite a slow start in April, Cano continues to be brilliant.
Granderson has shown that last season’s power spike was no fluke, carrying a team leading 23 dingers into the break. He ranks fourth in the AL in long balls and is just a touch behind last season’s pace, when he went deep 25 times in the team’s first 85 games. Granderson’s .248/.352/.502 batting line is second only to Cano in its gaudiness, and he’s currently walking in a career best 13.1% of his plate appearances, the eighth best walk rate in the league. His strikeout rate (25.9%, eighth in the AL) is also a career high, but you take the bad with the good. When Curtis stops hitting the ball out of the park and getting on-base, the whiffs will become more of an issue.
CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda & Ivan Nova
Given the uncertainty surrounding Phil Hughes, these three came into the season as the guys Joe Girardi would rely on for quality outings once every five days. Sabathia has battled his fastball command all season long but he still carries a 3.45 ERA and 3.21 FIP into the All-Star break. His strikeout (8.83 K/9 and 23.1 K%), walk (2.44 BB/9 and 6.4 BB%), and ground ball (49.8%) rates are right in line with last season, his best in New York. A minor groin strain landed Sabathia on the DL for the first time in pinstripes but he’s expected back right after the break.
Kuroda got tagged with the inconsistent label early on but has been a rock since late-April, allowing no more than two earned runs in ten of his last 14 starts. His 3.50 ERA is the 13th best in the junior circuit and the peripherals are solid as well: 4.07 FIP, 6.92 K/9 (18.4 K%), 2.67 BB/9 (7.1 BB%), and 47.4% grounders. Kuroda’s given the team exactly the kind of stability they expected when they signed him to that one-year, $10M pact last offseason.
Following last night’s grind-it-out win, Nova has already struck out more batters this season (100) than he did a year ago (98) in 55.1 fewer innings (232 fewer batters faced). An early-season bout of homeritis — 12 homers in his first nine starts but just five in his last eight — has his ERA at 3.92 (4.32 FIP), but that has been coming down steadily over the last two months. Nova is missing bats (8.16 K/9 and ), limiting walks (2.69 BB/9 ), getting ground balls (48.3%), and soaking up innings (110.1 IP, 11th in the AL). He’s taken a nice big step forward in his second full season.
Andruw Jones, Jayson Nix & Chris Stewart
The Yankees aren’t usually known for their bench players, but this season they’ve gotten some fantastic work out of their reserves. No one is having a truly awful year off the bench, especially after Andruw Jones clubbed four homers in the two-day span this weekend. He’s hitting .244/.326/.535 with 11 homers overall, including .253/.305/.529 with seven homers against lefties.
Nix took over once Eduardo Nunez‘s defense landed him back in Triple-A, and although his .221/.284/.412 line is nothing to write home about, he’s done most of his damage against lefties .256/.293/.436 in sort of a platoon/rest the regulars role. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by his defense, particularly at short. He’s not great, but he’s not an embarrassment. Offensive expectations for Stewart were so low that his empty .256/.276/.293 batting line feels like a win. His defense hasn’t been as great as advertised but overall, he’s a solid backup that has probably gotten a little too much playing time in the first half (has started 30% of the team’s games).
David Robertson, Boone Logan & Clay Rapada
The bullpen has continued to be a strength for the Yankees, just as it has been for the last three or four years now. They’ve pitched to a 3.20 ERA (3.37 FIP) as a unit, and it’s even more impressive when you consider that Mariano Rivera threw only 8.1 innings before blowing out his knee shagging fly balls in May. Robertson missed a month with an oblique strain but his strikeout (14.59 K/9 and 38.1 K%) and walk (4.38 BB/9 and 11.4 BB%) rates have actually been better than his breakout campaign a year ago. He’s run into more trouble than usual lately, but he wasn’t going to sustain what he did last year anyway. Robertson remains highly effective and one of the game’s most dominant late-inning relievers.
Logan stepped up in a huge way when Robertson hit the DL and the workload has been catching up to him of late; he’s pitched in 43 of the team’s 85 games, the most appearances in baseball. His 3.77 ERA (3.55 FIP) is backed up by a sky-high strikeout rate (11.90 K/9 and 30.6 K%) and he’s held left-handed hitters to a .235/.293/.397 batting line. His lefty specialist counterpart has been effective since being plucked off the scrap heap, as Rapada has held same-side hitters to a .150/.246/.217 line that is essentially identical to his .152/.250/.219 career performance. If anything, you can probably make a strong argument that he’s exceeded expectations, same with Nova, Cano, and Kuroda (considering the league switch).
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.
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.
9:44pm: Kuroda has a contusion on his foot and x-rays came back negative, so hooray for that. He lobbied to pitch the eighth inning but Joe Girardi said no. Kuroda expected to make his next start.
9:24pm: Hiroki Kuroda left tonight’s game after getting hit by a comebacker in his
right left foot. The ball ricocheted straight up into the air, allowing Alex Rodriguez to make an easy catch on the inning-ending pop-up. Kuroda limped noticeably off the field and headed to the clubhouse with the trainer. He allowed just one hit and one walk in his seven innings, throwing 91 pitches. Hopefully he just left the game because it was a blowout, but we’ll find out for sure soon enough.