Thursday, November 8, 2012

Season Assessment & Offseason Outlook: Hiroki Kuroda

I’ll be honest, I was very skeptical when the Yankees and Hiroki Kuroda agreed to a one-year, $10-million contract in January. Just as David Fine wrote in August, I wasn’t too confident in a 37-year-old starter who had one winning record in four years in the National League West.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong. The right-hander proved to be one of the Yankees’ most consistent starters over the course of 2012.


Season Assessment: Kuroda was streaky through his first month and a half. He shut out the Angels over eight strong innings in his second start on Apr. 13, but allowed seven earned runs – by way of three home runs – in Toronto on May 16. However, after that loss to the Blue Jays, Kuroda was charged with five or more earned runs in just two of his 25 starts the rest of the year.

Over those 25 starts, Kuroda never left a game before the sixth inning and never walked more than three batters in an outing. He had two 10-strikeout games and completed three games – including a two-hit shutout against Texas on Aug. 14. He was phenomenal in June, going 4-1 with a 1.98 ERA, a WHIP of exactly 1, and a BAA of .211. Kuroda’s August WHIP was 0.87 and he lasted at least eight innings in his last four starts of the month.

In Game 3 of the ALDS – Kuroda’s first playoff start since 2009 – Kuroda continued to throw the ball well. Pitching into the ninth inning, he held the Orioles to two runs and kept the Yankees in the game long enough for Raul Ibanez’s late-game heroics. In Game 2 of the ALCS, Kuroda took a perfect game into the sixth inning, striking out 11 Tigers. He went seven and two-thirds and allowed three earned runs but – like many other Yankee starters this postseason – he didn’t get any run support from the offense in Yankee Stadium’s last game of the season.

This was only Kuroda’s fifth career season (not including his 11 years in Japan) but he set plenty of career-highs and finished in the top-10 in many American League categories- 16 wins (tied for sixth), 3.32 ERA (eighth), 219.2 IP (fourth), 1.17 WHIP (eighth), 2.09 BB/9 (sixth) and 279 ground outs (third).

Offseason Outlook: Kuroda was one of the three players who received a qualifying offer of $13.3 million from the Yankees and he has until Friday to accept or decline the offer. Should he decline, other teams might be less inclined to pursue him, at the risk of losing a draft pick. Regardless, the Dodgers, Padres and Royals are rumored to have interest in the right-hander.

However, Kuroda reportedly wishes to eventually return to Japan to finish out his career. If he does stay in the MLB this season, he will be looking for a short-term contract to keep his options open for the future. There is a chance he will accept the Yankees offer, since it’ll be a raise of $3.3 million and a one-year deal. He could also decline it in hopes of asking the Yankees for a little more money, if he so chooses.

By extending the qualifying offer to Kuroda, Brian Cashman appears to be interested – as he should be – in bringing the 16-game winner back to New York. But if Kuroda declines the offer and is still open to returning, it’ll be interesting to see how much extra money and/or years Cashman is willing to commit to the starter.

Aside from CC Sabathia, not much else in the Yankees’ projected 2013 rotation is without question. Andy Pettitte is mulling retirement again and some trade speculation surrounds Phil Hughes. Ivan Nova didn’t pitch well enough to make the playoff roster. Michael Pineda won’t be ready to pitch until June the earliest and David Phelps started just 11 games in his rookie season.

Considering how uncertain the rotation is at the moment, re-signing Kuroda makes plenty of sense. As long as Kuroda is willing to sign a one or two-year contract for a reasonable amount of money, I say bring him back.  


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