Sunday, January 5, 2014
HOLDING OUT FOR A "HIRO"!
Can Kuroda be New York’s “Hiro” again? He was one of baseball’s best pitchers for the first three-quarters of the season last year, and sported an excellent ERA of 2.33 in mid-August. This site lauded his abilities loudly. Naturally, Hiroki ran into a wall directly thereafter, losing 7 of his next 8 starts with a horrible ERA of 6.56.
What happened? Should Yankee Blue Bloods be concerned about signing him again for $16 million? Is he a bust waiting to blow up in the Front Office’s face?
Short answer? No. The Bronx was wise to bring Kuroda back. He remains a fine pitcher who seems to have simply run into a ton of bad luck during the final quarter of the season last year.
We know this by how badly his BABIP blew up over his final 8 starts. For those unfamiliar with sabermetrics, BABIP means Batting Average on Balls In Play. This stat is very useful on determining how lucky or unlucky a pitcher is. We used it before when analyzing the performance of Matt Moore last year, for example.
Anyway, during the earlier part of Kuroda’s campaign, he posted a BABIP of .282. Over his last 8 starts it ballooned to .405. That is a substantial increase of 123 points!
What this means is Hiroki fell victim to more missed plays behind him on defense; more hard hits on mistake pitches; more grounders with eyes, etc etc etc. In short, all the good luck he’d had during his successful days of the season turned rotten.
Now this is not to say that Kuroda counts solely on luck as a pitcher. His velocity did not decrease at all during the entirety of the season. His fastball remained in the 91-93 mph range, even seeing an uptick in velocity in his final starts. Therefore his velocity is not an issue.
There also seems to be no basis for concern regarding his age. Yes, Kuroda is 38, but the Yankees have enjoyed plenty of success from older pitchers in the past. Please refer to Mike Mussina, David Wells, and some guy by the name of Andy Pettitte.
Surfing the web for opinions from baseball pundits, the general consensus is Kuroda may has well have been named “Hiroki Hard Luck” for the back portion of last season. That shouldn’t surprise anyone as that very much describes the entire team. Bats went cold, bullpens imploded, and the Yankees ran into teams steamrolling into the playoffs.
It’s tough to feel good about yourself when you score 25 runs over three games and STILL get beaten by the Red Sox. But remember, those runs would have beaten anyone else. Easily. It’s unfair to lay blame at Kuroda’s cleats when he carried the team on his back for as long as he did. He wasn’t the only one slumping, after all.
Considering all these factors, the Bronx was smart to hang on to Hiroki. It seems very likely Kuroda will return to consistently winning ways. CC Sabathia is widely expected to rebound, Ivan Nova has found his way, and Michael Pineda appears ready to take the mound at last.
It’s a good bet that Kuroda will once again be a “Hiro” in New York. And this year, he won’t be alone.
--Chad R. MacDonald
BYB Features Writer
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