Hong-Chih Kuo came into this season as a huge question mark for so many different reasons. He’s rarely managed to stay healthy, struggled with control, and seems unable to settle into a defined role. Even with these questions, Kuo has managed to be a great pitcher this year, striking out over a batter per inning while walking people far less frequently than he had in prior years. Despite this, Joe Torre has refused to use Kuo at all, for what seems like increasingly bizarre reasons.
While Chan Ho Park has done well enough this year that the majority of Dodger fans want to see him as our fifth starter, but he’s been fairly mediocre so far with a 2.09 ERA versus a 4.34 FIP . Granted, this is better than I expected. However, Kuo has put up both a lower ERA this season, and he’s managed to do it without getting some kind of mystical fairy charm put on him. Kuo’s 1.93 ERA and a 2.49 FIP are far more impressive numbers. Despite being better according to both simple and advanced stats, Joe Torre refuses to use Kuo at all. Since splitting a start with Chan Ho on May 17th, Kuo has made just three appearances , once when down 4-0 against the Cardinals, down 6-3 against the Mets, and down 6-1 against the Mets again. In that same timespan, Scott Proctor, by far the least effective Dodger reliever this year, has appeared nine times, three times in medium to high leverage situations. Chan Ho Park has appeared six times, four of them in high leverage situations.
Even though Kuo is third on the team in ERA and leads Chan Ho and Proctor in every pitching category from ERA to walk rate to WHIP, Kuo is the one relegated to mop up duty while the latter is being used while the outcome of the game is still in still in doubt. The entire year, Kuo has only faced 20 batters in high leverage situations, versus 52 in medium leverage and 80 in low leverage. Kuo is our third best reliever according to FIP but he’s rarely, if ever used when the game actually matters.
What’s even more bizarre is that Joe Torre’s low opinion of Kuo seems based on one start, where he allowed five runs in 3.2 innings. After that start, Kuo was removed from the rotation, and has only pitched eight times since, twice in high leverage situations. This is completely insane behavior because outside of that outing, Kuo has pitched 33.2 innings, and allowed three runs. We have a lefty who can strikeout over a batter an inning, and he’s been relegated to Scott Erickson status seemingly entirely because of one bad start.
Granted, this isn’t all that bad because the bullpen outside of Proctor and some minor guest appearances has been unhittable this year. Eventually though, our middling pitchers like Chan Ho, Joe Beimel, and Cory Wade will collapse, and when that happens we need to be able to turn to Kuo as a rock in the bullpen or a new starter. Kuo is one of the more valuable members of this team with a limited shelf life, we need to use him while we can.