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Posts Tagged ‘Hiroki Kuroda’

Regarding Hiroki Kuroda, and with apologies to Winston Churchill, never before have so many written so much about a pitcher whose accomplishments are so few. As the offseason has dragged on without a big move by the Yankees, fans of the team have grown increasingly impatient, and Kuroda has become their cause célèbre.

Ed Whitson sports a grin on the day he signed with the Yankees. It would be one of the last times he smiled while in pinstripes.

In his brief four-year career, Kuroda has been a solid starter, posting a cumulative WAR of 8.6 and ERA+ of 114. However, the Dodgers’ right hander will be 37 next year, so, even if his transition from the N.L. West wasn’t already a concern, the risks associated with his age would be reason enough for pause. Of course, that doesn’t mean Kuroda wouldn’t represent an upgrade in the Yankees’ shaky rotation, but at the reported cost of $12 million (not to mention the corresponding luxury tax hit of roughly $5 million), it’s hard to argue that the marginal value would justify the additional expenditure.

Back in the winter of 1984, the Yankees were in a similar situation. Despite having a top offensive team, which was bolstered by the earlier addition of Rickey Henderson, the pitching staff was a jumble of question marks (and there wasn’t a CC Sabathia to serve as an anchor). As luck would have it, however, there was pitcher from the N.L. West available on the free agent market. His name was Ed Whitson.

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“Not interested” have seemingly become Brian Cashman’s favorite two words, which hasn’t exactly been music to the ears of many Yankees fans (or agents hoping to ignite a bidding war). Although it’s easy to see why Cashman would remain aloof when it comes to big ticket free agents or inflated trade demands seeking the team’s best prospects, the cold shoulder given to pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt has been harder for many to understand.

Is Roy Oswalt the best option for the Yankees? (Photo: AP)

As the winter has progressed, and the Yankees’ Hot Stove has remained without a flame, there has been a growing disenchantment among the fan base. All of sudden, the likes of Oswalt and Kuroda have become “must haves”, and the Yankees’ lack of interest a sign of irrational fiscal restraint. Earlier, I suggested the team might be in a warped version of a rebuilding mode, and apparently, many in the Yankees’ Universe have taken that sentiment a little too much to heart.

Whether or not the Yankees are laying the foundation for when Cole Hamels becomes a free agent next season, there is no reason for the team to make a rash decision on players whom, only weeks ago, most would have agreed weren’t a great fit. After all, is a 34-year old Oswalt, who is coming off a season with a bad back, really what the Yankees need? Is a 37-year old Kuroda, who has spent his brief career in the NL West, any better?

As constituted, the Yankees’ rotation has several question marks, but the only real candidate to be removed for an acquisition would be Phil Hughes. Considering his struggles over the last season and a half, many fans would likely welcome a veteran replacement, but should the Yankees be willing to pull the plug on a pitcher who was not only a highly touted prospect, but has had some success in the major leagues? Granted, penciling Hughes into the rotation represents a risk, but the potential reward (a young, reliable starter under team control for three more years) suggests it should be one the Yankees are willing to take, especially when contrasted against what could be expected from some of the proposed alternatives.

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Now that the summer trading frenzy has gotten underway, Yankees’ fans will start beating the drum for a blockbuster of their own. The only problem is there aren’t many obvious candidates available on the market. Otherwise, history tells us that Brian Cashman would probably have pulled the trigger already.

The names most commonly tied to the Yankees in trade rumors are the Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda and the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez. According to Buster Olney, the Yankees currently prefer the much older Kuroda because of his greater consistency. On the surface, that statement seems absurd when you consider the career bWAR of the Dodgers’ right hander is just barely higher than the number compiled by Jimenez in 2010 alone. Sure, Kuroda has been more consistent, but Jimenez has been better.

Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Hiroki Kuroda, 2008 to 2011

  Ubaldo Jimenez    Hiroki Kuroda
Year fWAR bWAR AvgWAR   fWAR bWAR AvgWAR
2008 4.3 3.1 3.7   3.6 2.2 2.9
2009 5.7 5.1 5.4   2.2 0.2 1.2
2010 6.3 7.2 6.8   4.2 2.5 3.4
2011 2.5 1.9 2.2   1.7 2.5 2.1
Total 18.8 17.3 18.1   11.7 7.4 9.6

Note: AvgWAR = bWAR + fWAR/2
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com

In sports, consistency is often viewed both pejoratively and euphemistically. To some, the term is used to cover up for a lack of elite production (akin to the “professional hitter” moniker), while others employ it in a demeaning manner (kind of like saying a woman has a nice personality). However, consistency has very direct meaning, and players who exhibit it have real value…provided the level of that consistent production is accurately tied to their cost.

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