Perhaps Dodger fans weren't quite sure what they were getting when their team signed Hiroki Kuroda to a three-year, $35.3 million contract before the 2008 season, but if they trusted the pitching perception skills of Logan White, the Dodger Assistant GM, Amateur and International Scouting who scouted Kuroda several times in Japan, they should have expected a solid pitcher. White had this to say about the newly-signed hurler:
"He's got a loose, easy delivery, nice arm action," White said. "He throws strikes, he's around the zone. His basic fastball is going to be in the 89, 95 [mph] range. He locates the fastball well, he's got a hard, late-breaking slider, it's sharp and crisp. He's got a forkball that dives straight down."
Of course there were skeptics. A certain writer here made an unfavorable comparison of Kuroda to Kyle Lohse and also wrote:
That leaves two upsides to this signing. The first is that Kuroda will probably be better than Esteban Loaiza, making us a better team this year and giving us more depth when the injuries to our pitching staff start piling up. The second is that he gives us another option next year if the top arms get taken off the market and none of our young pitchers are ready. Even in the second case though, I'd probably rather give this money to Derek Lowe or Oliver Perez than Kuroda.
What Kuroda has turned out to be is a solid middle of the rotation starter that has avoided a serious arm issue over the course of his first contract. According to his fangraphs statistics page, Kuroda has averaged 92.2 MPH (about the midpoint of the range White stated) with his fastball, has thrown the slider 28.2% of the time as his secondary pitch, and has mixed in that hard "forkball" (or split-finger fastball) at 87.3 MPH. That adds up to a pitcher who creates his fair share of ground balls (1.64 career GB/FB ratio) and has increased his strikeout rate by a significant amount each season.
This is not a trend that Kuroda would seem to be able to continue, especially at age 36, but perhaps it is indicative of having an ability to adapt successfully to the hitters he has been facing in Major League baseball. Certainly it's far more favorable to Dodger fans than if it trended in the opposite direction, especially since his walk rate has been fairly level.
While Kuroda has avoided serious arm injuries, he has spent some significant time on the disabled list, mostly in 2009, when he endured 55 days on the DL with a strained oblique and 21 more days there in the aftermath of being struck in the head by a line drive. He also missed starts at the end of that season with a bulging disc in his neck. Some mild tendinitis sidelined him in his first year, but he spent no time on the DL last season, and in both those campaigns he made 31 starts, or only one less than one would expect from a full-time third or fourth starter in a five-man rotation.
If not for having his last start of 2010 reassigned at the end of last year once the Dodgers and their opposition had both been eliminated from the playoff chase, Kuroda would likely have exceeded 200 innings for the first time in the U.S.
Not surprisingly, Kuroda became actively involved in Spring Training with efforts to raise money for earthquake and tsunami relief for the people of his native Japan. The American Red Cross accepts on-line donations for their relief efforts in the aftermath of these natural disasters at this page.
He was nicknamed "Giants Killer" for his work versus the Yomiuri Giants in Japan's NPR. Against the San Francisco Giants, his statistics are quite close to his career averages, along with a 2-2 won-loss record, but Dodgers fans would relish the opportunity to resurrect this particular moniker.
In keeping with the Dodger fascination with bloodlines, Kuroda's father, Kazuhiro also played in the NPR, mostly in the 1950s, and his mother put the shot in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics (source).
His first major league strikeout victim was fellow countryman Tadahito Iguchi, then of the San Diego Padres, who was the second batter Kuroda faced as a Dodger.
In mid-November, Kuroda re-signed with the Dodgers, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $12M plus $0.5M in possible performance bonuses. Details here.
|2011 Projections - Age 36 Season|
|(Photo by Jae C. Hong - AP)|
I will guess that Kuroda stays healthy again, at least for the most part, accumulates 200 innings, while posting a 3.49 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP. What's your prediction for Hiroki Kuroda in 2011? Give us your guess for ERA, innings pitched, and WHIP in the comments, and feel free to add any other predictions you have as well.