Hiroki Kuroda is having a Great Year But …..

This is the counter argument to Chris Barca’s piece from Friday. Enjoy.

Hiroki Kuroda is having a career-best year in multiple categories.  He’s been the lone, consistently bright spot on a Yankees rotation that is getting older and more injury prone.  What’s more, the Yankees underpaid for him ($10 million for one year).  Re-signing him is a “no-brainer” according to my BBD colleague and erstwhile Curtis Granderson enthusiast Chris Barca, who Friday opined “there is no doubt in my mind that Kuroda deserves to be back in pinstripes in 2013….I don’t think there is any stat or information to rebut with…”.

Well, there is one stat – let’s call it CA – for “chronological age”.  Kuroda is 37.

Barca’s argument is as follows:

  • Sub- 3.00 ERA?  Check
  • 7th among pitchers with at least 128 innings pitched in WHIP? Check
  • Groundball pitcher?  Check
  • 9-2 in last 16 starts?  Check
  • Career statistics that indicate a pitcher who has continually been able to reinvent himself year after year?  Check

Kuroda has been a solid pitcher throughout his career with the Dodgers – but that was in the NL West, where pitchers bat and therefore ERA’s are notoriously under-represented.  I was skeptical, but his ERA is at a career-low pitching in the hard-hitting AL East.  What gives?

Joe Girardi.  Let me explain:

Had the Yankees landed Cliff Lee they likely would have won their 28th World Series in 2011.  Instead, Cliff Lee decided he couldn’t play in a city with rude fans so he chose Philadelphia.  Since then, the Yankees have been denied their 28th World Series Championship ring while Cliff Lee will spend another off-season Googling pictures of what they look like in order to craft aluminum foil-mache replicas.

Brian Cashman’s back-up plan – signing several old, possibly washed-up arms (Colon, Garcia, Kuroda) to one year contracts at minimal cost, hoping that Andy Pettitte comes out of retirement, and turning them all over to Joe Giradi’s school of baseball magic – in retrospect, has worked surprisingly well.  Or perhaps, not so surprisingly.

Joe Girardi, after all, was a pretty fair catcher back in the day.  He caught David Cone’s perfect game on July 18, 1999, and Doc Gooden’s no hitter on May 14, 1996.  He knows how to work pitchers and he’s got four rings.   Girardi, you will recall, is the only manager in MLB history to win Manager of the Year without posting a winning record (for the Marlins, 2006) a feat he accomplished through pitching – certainly not offense.

As manger, Girardi worked similar magic with pre-‘roid’ Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia in 2011.   Ever wonder why the Yankees absolutely had to have Russell Martin back in 2010?  A catcher who had sustained a major hip injury and who was coming off of back-to-back awful seasons? A guy who would spend every game in the crouch and who, a Yankees physical prior to his signing revealed, needed knee surgery as well?  In other words, the Yankees preferred a badly battered, surgically-altered, offensively-under-performing full time catcher to Jesus Montero, their best prospect, waiting in Triple A.

Martin’s value lies in his experience and in his “framing”.  He makes pitchers look better than they are.

Hiroki Kuroda is having a great season – his career best in fact.  Groundball inducing pitchers are paramount in Yankee stadium and after a slight decrease in his groundball percentage last year, Kuroda has it back down to 46%.  He’s missing bats and considering the injuries to pitchers the Yankees have suffered this year, Kuroda has easily been the best, most consistent pitcher on the staff.  But, Kuroda and Martin were teammates in Los Angeles from 2008-2010.  How much of Kuroda’s success is a result of his individual achievement and how much is a function of working within Girardi’s, and Martin’s, scheme?

The Yankees don’t need another ancient pitcher.  They need to get younger. They can’t do that with Kuroda, Garcia, and Pettitte on their roster. Pettitte has spent most of this season injured and at his age (40) his injuries will increase as will his time in rehab.  Garcia’s starting days are definitely numbered.  Kuroda may have another good year left in him or more probably he may be due for a statistical regression.  His fastball velocity is merely adequate and the movement on his four-seam fastball is likely to taper.  Rather than sign another aging pitcher to a one year contract, the Yankees need to make pitching a priority.

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7 Responses to Hiroki Kuroda is having a Great Year But …..

  1. Chris Barca says:

    Woah now, pump your brakes. I would hardly call myself a Curtis Granderson enthusiast. I like the guy, but I won't lose any sleep over him leaving. As of right now, I think I'd prefer Swisher over Granderson. Regardless, I like your piece. Especially the Cliff Lee-Google paragraph, legitimately funny.

    I agree the Yankees need to get younger, abso-fricken-lutely. But we aren't talking about signing Kuroda long term. Just another one year deal.

  2. Tom says:

    The Andy Pettitte injury was not related to age, I am pretty sure it had been Hughes or Nova they would have landed on the DL with a broken leg as well. Garcia has not been injured and was signed for depth/Hughes insurance. Kuroda has not been on the DL. Other than Pettitte's freak injury the DL has been occupied by Nova, CC, and Pinada. If you want to make an argument the need to get younger in the lineup I cannot contest. 2013 rotation is looking like CC, Nova, Pinada and Hughes with Warren and Phelps for depth. There isn't a lot "age" to that scenario and the Yankees have plenty of options whether it be Pettitte/Kuroda on a year deal or some other ninja move. You can take chances with aging pitchers when you have the youth and depth in your system to fill in. Cashman is just playing to the strength of his system.

    • Mark Panuthos says:

      regarding Pettitte's injury, you may be correct. But as a 40 year old player, it takes longer to heal. He is already beyond the point he initially thought he would return.

  3. tom says:

    Kuroda is durable and effective. Bring him back next year. Pettitte is Pettitte.

    CC, Kuroda, Pettitte, Hughes and Phelps to start off next season. Nova and Pineda should be in AAA among with Marshall, Warren and Banuelos. That is real depth.

    • Tom says:

      If Pineda shows he is healthy in ST why would you stash him in the minors? He showed Ace potential when in 2011 when he was healthy. He should be given every opportunity to earn a rotation spot.

  4. Ralphie says:

    "How much of Kuroda’s success is a result of his individual achievement and how much is a function of working within Girardi’s, and Martin’s, scheme?"

    …Who cares? Girardi will be here next year. If that system gets the job done, then it gets the job done. I'm not sure who out there would be a better alternative, especially since the Yankees wont have much financial flexibility to sign a playoff caliber starting pitcher.

    • map2history says:

      that's his point – just plug another "has been" into the rotation, let Girardi work with him. The Red Sox are going to make the starting pitching market interesting this off-season.