For many reasons Kuo has captured the hearts of many a TBLA member. As a simple setup man he was tagged on over 50% of the TBLA Five Favorites Lists. Normally those lists are reserved for guys who play every day or pitch every fifth day, not a guy whose most famous pitch might have been the one he threw to the Dodger backstop while warming up in the Dodger bullpen 330 feet away. Why does Kuo capture our attention?
The fiery demeanor on the mound?
Fearsome fastball or wicked slider, you pick your poison?
Empathy for comeback after comeback from surgery and elbow ailments?
I think it is this: The best left handed dominance of any Los Angeles Dodger who has pitched 100 games. Chicks may love the long ball but baseball fans love the punchout and no Dodger lefthander has a better punchout rate then Hong-Chih Kuo.
Rk Player SO/9 G From To Age IP H BB SO ERA+ OPS+
1 Hong-Chih Kuo 10.34 122 2005 2009 23-27 205.1 175 86 236 113 76
2 Sandy Koufax 9.40 335 1958 1966 22-30 2119.2 1572 709 2214 135 67
3 John Candelaria 9.31 109 1991 1992 37-38 59.0 51 24 61 105 96
4 Jesse Orosco 8.06 146 1988 2002 31-45 96.0 82 49 86 119 97
5 Carlos Diaz 7.85 102 1984 1986 26-28 145.2 150 49 127 94 108
6 Tom Martin 7.83 127 2003 2004 33-34 79.1 68 38 69 108 92
7 Jim Brewer 7.36 474 1964 1975 26-37 822.0 630 298 672 126 79
8 Scott Radinsky 6.99 195 1996 1998 28-30 176.1 169 58 137 148 88
9 Pete Richert 6.76 123 1962 1973 22-33 297.0 281 128 223 91 104
10 Mark Guthrie 6.75 205 1995 1998 29-32 216.0 211 85 162 107 93
11 Fernando Valenzue 6.74 331 1980 1990 19-29 2348.2 2099 915 1759 107 89
When Kuo is on the mound and healthy great things happen. When left handed hitters face the 2008 Setup Man of the Year they might as well be swinging a dead fish because they have no chance. None. In 2008 Kuo struck out 44 of the 98 batters he faced (44%). In 2009 he dialed it down a notch to only 16 out of 40 (40%). To check out this dominance in action watch as Kuo strikes out eight in relief
To bad for Kuo and Dodger fans being healthy is just not in the cards for Kuo. As brilliant as he is you cannot count on him, you can only hope he can take the mound. As a result of the numerous surgeries the pain in his elbow can resurface at any time. When it does we lose a key member of our bullpen and the consequences are felt throughout the organization.
Since joining the bullpen full time in 2006 his value has been outstanding but there is a cost in not being able to count on him.
2007 - was only able to pitch eight game before having to be shut down for the season on June 29th. At that point noted Dodger historian Bob Timmerrmann famously said that Kuo would never gain pitch for the Dodgers. His departure left Joe Beimel as the only reliable left handed pitcher in the bullpen.
2008 - Luckily Bob was wrong and Kou came back to not only pitch for the Dodgers but win the NL Relief Pitcher of the Year award. However he did once again have some health problems and had to be shut down in Sept of 2008 and was basically useless for the whole month. When the playoffs began the man who had pitched multiple dominant innings was reduced to a one inning pitcher. He was not even used against the Cubs, but against the Philiies they decided his future was not worth the price of extending him. In game one he threw a perfect 8th inning. In game four he threw a perfect 7th inning with two K's to end the inning. He came out for the 8th but gave up a ground ball single to Howard. At that point he'd faced four batters and he was replaced with Wade, who quickly turned a Dodger lead into a Dodger disaster and basically that inning ended the Dodgers chances for going to the World Series. Kuo until the injury had not been some guy who only pitched one inning and you'd think that if Kuo had not been disabled in Sept that Torre would have had enough trust to let the BEST relief pitcher in the major leagues go one more inning before giving the ball to Broxton.
2009 - Kuo never gets untracked out of spring training and after warming up in the bullpen throws several balls all the way to the Dodger backstop. He's shut down on April 29th and the Dodgers no longer have a reliable LH pitcher in the bullpen. Will Ohman was supposed to be that guy but he was a useless signing. Leach tried to help but the more he pitched the more he was not the answer. Kuo rejoined the team on July 27th but the Dodgers had no faith he'd stay healthy and decided to be pro active and traded the promising Josh Bell for George Sherrill. Kuo did remain healthy the rest of the year but was never given the workload of the previous year. In 2008 Kuo pitched 70 relief innings in only 39 games. In 2009 only 30 innings in 35 games. He went from a multi inning dominant setup man to less then one inning per appearance.
Everything you want to know about Kuo can be found here. Prior to 2008 he was throwing 60% fastballs and 27% sliders. With his full time move to the bullpen he changed that by throwing 80% fastballs and 12-15% sliders. His velocity also improved from 90-91 to 92-94. The combination of his fearsome fastball and wicked slider is what has made him one of the Dodger five favorites.
Based on history he will end up on the DL. When not on the DL and not pitching in to much pain you can expect him to continue to dominant hitters. He's such a wildcard we really have no idea if he'll pitch one inning or 80. His arm could easily explode in spring. Because of the uncertainty about Kuo, the Dodgers must always have another solid left handed option. However when healthy the combination of Broxton, Kuo, Sherrill, and Belisario might be the best bullpen in the land. Maybe this October they will pitch like it.
What are your community projections for one Hong-Chih Kuo?
ERA / WHIP / IP