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Kuroda No Prize

Ned Colletti, Takashi Saito, and a bevy of Dodger officals made their way to Japan in order to court Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda has been called the class of the Japanese pitching market, and supposedly his close friendship with Takashi Saito makes the Dodgers one of the favorites to land him.

The thing is, Kuroda isn't all that exciting of a pitcher. To best make my point, we'll play the beloved compare Kuroda to a mystery player game.

Kuroda, age 32 season: 179.7 IP, 6.16 K/9, 2.10 BB/9, 2.92 K/BB, 1 HR/9

Mystery pitcher, age 28 season: 192.7 IP, 5.70 K/9, 2.66 BB/9, 2.14 K/BB, 1.03 HR/9

And the mystery pitcher is...a small Filipino woman. Have I just blown your mind?

No wait, it's Kyle Lohse. Point is that while Kuroda is the superior pitcher, the fact that Lohse is four years younger, pitched in two of the biggest hitters parks in baseball, and actually was facing big league competition makes the gap mighty close. Now, since the general reaction to a Kyle Lohse signing would be Jonestown-esque, acquiring someone who might be a little better shouldn't inspire much confidence.

The scouting report on Kuroda is also pretty troubling. He doesn't have overpowering velocity with a fastball that sits in the low 90s, so he'll have trouble missing bats with that. More distressing is the fact that he has trouble keeping his slider down, which will almost certainly result in giving up a ton of bombs in the states if he keeps going to it like the scouting report suggests. His only swing and miss pitch in a splitter, but judging by his mediocre strikeout rate in the NPB, it doesn't look like people swing and miss at the thing all that often.

Kuroda is a player entering his mid 30s that had trouble missing bats against inferior competition. The only starters that have come from Japan with strikeout rates worse than Kuroda's are Keiichi Yabu and Masato Yoshii, neither of whom were exactly successful in their time in the states. Kuroda comes in with better control that either of those guys had, but it's still not a list of players that you want to be associated with.

Kuroda's "upside" comes from the fact that we aren't entirely certain that he's going to suck like Lohse will. Will he be able to get by just by being a new arm in the league in his first season? Maybe. But there's absolutely nothing here that suggests Kuroda will have any real sustained success in the bigs. If he can't keep his slider down, Kuroda becomes a two pitch pitcher in the bigs, and his out pitch isn't really all that fearsome.

And yes, all of this could be wrong, just look at what Saito did. However, I might have to invoke the Jamie Moyer rule and say that Takashi Saito can not be used as a precedent for anything. A guy leaping from a mediocre middle reliever in Japan to quite possibly the most dominant closer in the MLB at age 37 isn't likely to happen again. Unless Saito's magical transformation starts happening again and again, mediocre in Japan will probably mean worse than mediocre in the states. That pretty well sums up Kuroda.