MLB Trade Deadline: Would Hiroki Kuroda Help the Detroit Tigers?

Gerard MartinCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2011

MLB Trade Deadline: Would Hiroki Kuroda Help the Detroit Tigers?

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    The Tigers need Hiroki Kuroda, right?

    No one can deny it, the Phil Coke/Duane Below/Charlie Furbush experiment hasn’t panned out as Dave Dombrowski hoped.

    Coke has been shipped back beyond the outfield wall, like so many of the fly balls he’s allowed.

    Below has shown a complete inability to miss bats, sporting an embarrassing 2.79 K/9 at the major league level.

    Furbush has been the most effective of the three, but the Tigers have smartly realized that he simply doesn’t have the raw stuff to stick in the rotation.

    So here they sit, longing for a savior at the back end of the rotation.

    As trade rumors fly across the Internet, testing the capacity of servers from coast to coast, Kuroda’s name keeps coming up in the same sentence as “Detroit Tigers."

    He seems to be the perfect stopgap: a veteran rental who can fill the hole in the Tigers rotation and secure the team’s path to the playoffs.

    With the Dodgers in financial turmoil, it would seem easy for a fairly deep-pocketed owner like Mike Illitch to bring Kuroda to Detroit by simply offering to pick up the tab on his salary. Of course, Kuroda himself could put a stop to the deal by refusing to waive his no-trade rights, but let’s assume that the Tigers can convince him to join the team.

    So, adding Hiroki Kuroda will lock up the AL Central, right?

    Not quite.

    It seems like a simple move, but it’s unlikely that Kuroda will deliver on the expectations of Tiger fans.

    Let’s take a look at five reasons why Hiroki Kuroda is more Jarrod Washburn than Doyle Alexander.

    (All stats according to FanGraphs)


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    Kuroda’s tidy 3.11 ERA would place him right behind CY Young candidate Justin Verlander for second among Tiger starters.

    Unfortunately, Kuroda’s 3.70 FIP doesn’t tell the same story.

    The Dodger has posted a 78.2 percent strand rate this season, nearly 10 percent above his career average. Compound that with the fact that Kuroda is putting men on base at a career-high rate, and it’s a recipe for a whole lot of runs for the opposition.

The Stuff

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    Hiroki Kuroda has never had an overwhelming fastball or a knockout breaking pitch, but he’s been able to limit baserunners and miss just enough bats to be successful. This is a fine strategy, but unfortunately for Kuroda, his stuff simply isn’t as good this season.

    His control is fading, evidenced by his career-high walk rate, which has risen in every season since 2009. A lack of command could be offset by an increase in strikeouts, but Kuroda hasn’t shown many signs of improvement there. His strikeout percentage sits at 18.5 percent, just a hair above league average.

    Moving to the American League to face DHs rather than pitchers doesn’t figure to improve those rates and will almost certainly lead to an overall regression in his performance.

The Defense

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    Without the ability to miss bats at an elite rate, Kuroda is always going to rely on his defense to turn batted balls into outs.

    While the Dodgers are not an elite defensive club, a team defense ranking ninth in UZR/150 has certainly helped to keep Kuroda’s BABIP just below the league average. Conversely, the Tigers rank 20th in UZR/150.

    With hatchet-man Wilson Betemit taking over at third and the perpetually ailing Carlos Guillen grabbing the job at second, it’s likely that Kuroda would have to depend on an even worse defense for the remainder of the year.

The Bullpen

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    Kuroda has never been known as a workhorse, and this season is no different. On average, he’s lasting just over six innings each time he takes the mound. It’s likely a major cause of his low win total this season, but in a vacuum, it’s a pretty respectable number.

    However, on a team with a bullpen carrying a collective 4.33 FIP, counting on relievers for three innings is a disaster waiting to happen.

The Transition

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    This one is almost too obvious. Kuroda is coming from a pitcher’s park (Dodger Stadium) in a pitcher’s league (NL). This is not to say that the 2011 AL Central is some historic volcano of offense (thanks for that, Chicago White Sox), but Kuroda would definitely be facing tougher lineups on a nightly basis.

    The move out of Dodger Stadium will likely be even more severe. Kuroda’s FIP has been significantly better in his home starts this year, which is unsurprising for a fly-ball pitcher in Chavez Ravine. While Comerica Park is still favorable to pitchers, Kuroda would certainly be moving to a more hitter-friendly environment, relative to his specific skill set.

The Verdict

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    In total, there’s just too much working against Kuroda to predict success for him as a Detroit Tiger.

    Though it may be hard to resist the temptation to make a trade, the Tigers will be better off not moving on Kuroda. Even if the price is modest, it’s unlikely that 10 starts from an average (at best) pitcher is really going to make a difference in the race for the AL Central.

    There’s no question that there’s room for the Tigers to improve on the back of the rotation, but Dombrowski should look elsewhere for his solution.