If you polled Yankees fans before the season, asking ‘Who will be the Yankees top pitcher come the end of August?’ obviously the tremendous majority would have said CC Sabathia. He’s the obvious choice. He’s been a top five pitcher in baseball ever since his breakout, Cy Young award winning 2007 campaign. The big man single handedly took the Milwaukee Brewers to the playoffs in 2008. And in his nearly four full seasons in Pinstripes, his record stands at an astounding 71-26 to go along with a 3.24 ERA. From 2009-2011, there was no contest that he was the best Yankees arm.
But in 2012, the relatively unheard of former NL West hurler with a sub .500 record has competed with Sabathia for the title of best performing pitcher. Signing Hiroki Kuroda to a one year, $10 million contract was unquestionably the best move Brian Cashman made during the offseason, a move Cashman should heavily consider repeating this winter as well.
Sure, we all heard Kuroda’s name a few times throughout the years. But a pitcher who pitches at 10pm Eastern Time doesn’t get much exposure on the East Coast because of the time difference and the alleged West Coast bias. So the surprise signing made most Yankees fans dig into Kuroda’s page on Baseball-Reference.com, and what you’ll find there was a pitcher whose win total did not come close to equaling his excellent numbers. In his four years with the Dodgers, he accumulated a 41-46 record and never had a .500 record or greater in any season. But pitchers are no longer judged by wins, are they? Kuroda posted a respectable 3.75 ERA in a Dodgers uniform, including a 3.23 ERA from 2010-2011 (3.39 in 2010, 3.07 in 2011). He’s posted a sub 1.22 WHIP in each season in part because he’s had impeccable command over his career, finishing in the top 10 in BB/9 in 2008 and 2010 (career 2.1 total). Over the years, Kuroda has also finished in the top 10 in HR/9 (0.638 in 2008), K/BB ratio, (3.313 in 2010) and in adjusted ERA (121 in 2011). Kuroda was one of the best pitchers in the National League in 2010 and 2011 and unlike most other pitchers before him; he has found even more success in the brutal American League East.
Even at 37 years old and moving to the toughest division in baseball, Kuroda has compiled his best season to date. A 2.96 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and a stellar 4.9 WAR for pitchers (Good for fifth in all of baseball) prove as much. Through his first nine starts though, Kuroda struggled mightily to adjust to his new ballpark, team, and league. He gave up 27 earned runs during that span (April 7th to May 21st), posting a 4.56 ERA and surrendering 10 home runs while opponents hit .281 off him. But ever since my 21st birthday on the 21st of May, Kuroda has pitched himself into consideration for some Cy Young Award votes. In his last 16 starts, he’s been absolutely psychotic, going 9-2 with a miniscule 2.22 ERA. He’s given up 28 runs during that time, just one more than he did through his first nine starts. He’s held opponents to a .220/.260/.334 slash line while serving up just seven home runs and giving up two runs or less in six innings or more 11 times (including two complete game shutouts). Just fantastic stuff for anyone, especially for an aging pitcher transitioning to a totally different style of baseball.
On numbers alone, it would be an absolute no brainer to try and sign Kuroda for 2013. He can be jettisoned before the 2014 budget crunch kicks in as well, so another one year deal for something upwards of $15-18 million is totally reasonable, especially at his age. Assuming Kuroda would be willing to sign such a hypothetical deal, the only possible impediment standing in the way of him putting ink to paper would be the Yankees’ willingness to keep him in spite of having David Phelps, Michael Pineda and possibly Andy Pettitte knocking on the door of the rotation.
Without Kuroda and Pettitte, the Yankees already have five pitchers for five spots. CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, the increasingly awful Ivan Nova, the questionable Michael Pineda, and David Phelps. With the possible addition of both veterans, two arms are going to be out of luck, and Kuroda does not deserve to be one of them. He’s pitched much better than everyone who isn’t the size of an NBA center and should be a lock for the number two slot in the rotation again, regardless of who else is in the pipeline. For what it’s worth, the 2013 Opening Day Yankees pitching rotation I’d like to see is as such:
1. CC Sabathia
2. Hiroki Kuroda
3. Phil Hughes
4. Andy Pettitte
5. David Phelps
The fact that Michael Pineda might not be ready in time for Opening Day and my opinion that Ivan Nova should be put on the trade market are stories for another day. But regardless, Kuroda has pitched well enough to deserve another one year deal. A two year contract even, if it doesn’t interfere with the 2014 budget crunch.
When you look at Kuroda’s past success with the Dodgers and current performance with the Yankees, pitching in our bandbox of a stadium in the AL East of all things, there’s no doubt in my mind that Hiroki Kuroda deserves to be back in pinstripes come 2013.
I don’t even think there’s any stat or information to rebut with, but stay tuned for esteemed colleague Mark Panuthos’ rebuttal column tomorrow.