Hiroki Kuroda: How Will He Fare in the Bronx in 2012?
He's not the flashy, young gun like Michael Pineda, nor he is a former Yankee beloved by many, unretiring for one last go around, like Andy Pettitte.
No, Kuroda's different. He's a 37-year-old pitcher, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers the previous four seasons. Before that, he was pitching in Japan, for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
But Kuroda will be an integral part of this Yankees ballclub this season.
For those not familiar with Kuroda, let me say he has an interesting career to say the least.
When he pitched in Japan, he was one of the most consistent pitchers in the country. He became Nippon Professional Baseball's ERA champion in 2006, when he recorded a 1.89 ERA, the first time a starting pitcher recorded an ERA below two since 1989. He earned more than 100 wins with Hiroshima, but due to poor offensive support and a weak pitching staff, he was almost always on an overall bad team.
He made his way to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2007, on a three-year deal, worth $35.3 million (and re-signed for one year in 2011, worth $12 million). Each year, Kuroda's overall numbers would improve, but he just had difficulty having a winning season (his 2009 season is the only one where he finished above .500, finishing 8-7 in 20 starts).
Last season was his best yet. He posted career-bests in ERA (3.07), strikeouts (161), innings played (202) and wins (13). However, he gave up a career-high 24 home runs (his previous highest total was 15 in 2010), and had 16 losses.
But now, he switches conference and coasts, as he goes from the Dodgers and the NL West, to the Yankees and the AL East.
What's more is that Kuroda is tabbed to be the second man in the rotation, behind CC Sabathia.
So, how will Kuroda fare, playing for the Bronx in 2012?
Well, the bad news is that if you're expecting Kuroda to record a 3.07 ERA or lower this season, don't. Kuroda has pitched very well in the NL West, but we're talking about a division with a lot more offensive firepower than what he had to face when playing for the Dodgers.
The Boston Red Sox have Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia.
The Tampa Bay Rays have Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist.
The Toronto Blue Jays have Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia.
The Baltimore Orioles have Adam Jones, Mark Reynolds, Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy.
In addition, the fact that he allowed 24 home runs last season is concerning, especially since Yankee Stadium is one of the most homer-friendly parks in MLB.
With that being said, however, I don't think his ERA will take too much of a hit. He has a career ERA of 3.45 in the States, and that sounds about right as to how he'll do for the Yankees this season. He'll also chew out a lot of innings, seeing as how he's pitched 180-plus innings in three of his four seasons.
How many wins will Hiroki Kuroda earn in 2012?
Another thing that helps is that Kuroda knows how to play for a major media market and franchise. Playing for Los Angeles, the largest U.S. market that isn't New York, and for a franchise with plenty of history like the Dodgers, certainly helps.
Finally, of course, there's the rest of the Yankees organization. He has a team that has plenty of offensive firepower. Guys like Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Nick Swisher will provide plenty of run support. In addition, he'll have a solid bullpen, with Mariano Rivera serving as closer.
The only question that remains on my mind is: How would Kuroda fare playing in the postseason?
In 2008, he helped sweep the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS, by not allowing a run on six hits in 6.1 innings. He followed that up in the NLCS against the Philadelphia Phillies, by winning Game 3 of the series. He allowed two runs and five hits in six innings.
However, in Game 3 of the 2009 NLCS against the Phillies, Kuroda couldn't even get past the second inning, allowing six runs, as the Phillies would win 11-0 and eventually take the series
2012 Projections: 14-11, 3.43 ERA, 157 K, 24 HR allowed, 52 BB, 200.2 IP
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