According to published reports from Rotoworld, and the Seattle PI.com’s blog, pitcher Hiroki Kuroda has chosen the Dodgers over the Mariners and is expected to arrive at LAX from Tokyo at 9:30 A.M., PST to take a physical and sign a contract that’s reportedly in the neighborhood of 3 years/$30 million.
So, let’s start out with the good: if the reported contract is accurate, then, really, that’s not a bad contract. Sure, while giving around $30 million to a 32 year old Japanese pitcher who has never pitched in MLB might seem a tad… risky, this is the type of money you have to cough up for back of the rotation starters in this market… hell, it’s practically the going rate for closers (see Francisco Cordero)! Also, in a very thin pitching class this offseason that include the likes of Carlos Silva and Kyle Loshe, Kuroda is the cream of the crop. Yeah, a lot of the pitchers on the market are “proven,” but they’ve proven that they will be mediocre at best for a lot of money, while Kuroda at least has the potential upside.
Here’s the scouting report from Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill…
Kuroda sits 90-92 with a four-seam fastball that shows good leverage, although only a fair amount of sink. He will touch 93-94 at times and with good arm side tail that is very effective against right-handed batters.
He has solid command of the fastball and is not afraid to elevate the pitch to change planes to give the hitter something else to look at, which is ideal since the 33-year-old does not throw a curve ball.
He surrendered 20 homers in his 179 2/3 innings, which is a solid number considering the size of the ballparks, but would benefit greatly from Safeco Field’s spacious alleys.
Kuroda uses a true slider in the way that fellow Japanese hurler Daisuke Matsuzaka does, with good depth and varying velocities. Kuroda will typically rush his slider to the plate in the 84-86 mph range, but will need to keep the pitch down more consistently in the states.
At times he’ll fall in love with his slider a little bit, which is consistent with other Japanese pitchers.
Kuroda’s fork-split is his best pitch and the one in which he will record the majority of his strikeouts. He’s capable of throwing it for strikes, but it’s much more effective as a change-of-pace offering that falls off the table into the dirt.
He will induce some swings and misses with it as it travels to the plate in the 82-86 mph range.
Kuroda is the class of the three free agents and will get the most interest but he profiles as a No. 3 at best, depending mostly on how well he adapts to the patient approach of the hitters in MLB.
He’s slow to the plate but has a relatively compact and clean delivery that gives his fastball some late life. Needs to improve holding runners (this will be something all four scouting reports will read, as it’s generally not a strong area for Japanese pitchers).
Considering the domestic market, Kuroda, even at 33 years old, could command a contract in the $9-11 million range, for at least three years.
“He could blow, like most of the starters that have come from Japan,” said a scout that saw the three free agents this past summer. “But he is the one the group of starters that stands out.”
Seattle’s interest level is believed to be very high.
So, there you go; good stuff, but nothing really exceptional. In Japan, Kuroda put up a very solid career, with a career 3.69 ERA, pitching in a stadium that is an extreme hitters park. In fact, see for yourself…
He is known as an innings eater and has earned the nickname “Mr. Complete Game.” In his career, he has thrown 74 complete games and threw 7 last year, 11 in 2006, and a career high 13 in 2001… yeah, that’s pretty good. He had a career year in 2006, going 13-6 with a 1.85 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, but that seems to be more an aberration than a trend. However, what Kuroda has been able to sustain throughout his career is a decent K/9 rate (6.68 through 2006… some sites don’t have the 2007 stats listed), and he has really good control, putting up 1.4 BB/9, 4.9 K/BB from 2005-2006 (again, data issue there).
However, despite some of the Madduxian control he’s displayed recently, Jeff at Lookoutlanding.com, a Mariners blog, did an interesting study on how Japanese pitchers’ walk rates tend to rise as they make the transition:
Kuroda’s no spring chicken, but he’s had some strong seasons in Japan, most notably the 2006 campaign that saw him post a 1.85 ERA with a K/uBB ratio over 8. That level of success was out of character with the rest of his career, though, and he regressed to a 3.56 ERA and 3.2 K/uBB in 2007. (He did have some elbow discomfort, but it was nothing.) Still, looking over the entire track record, he’s been a good pitcher, and he’s excelled first and foremost because he just doesn’t issue many walks. Hiroki Kuroda throws strikes.
But there’s a funny thing about that. Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa threw strikes in Japan too, and they saw their walk rates fly north after making the switch. Of the six big starting pitchers who made the transition from Japan to the US (Matsuzaka, Nomo, Yoshii, Ishii, Igawa, Irabu), five of them wound up walking more batters, with Nomo standing as the lone exception, presumably because his delivery was so fucking weird. It would appear that Kuroda’s due for a bit of a hike in free passes.
So, overall, it is hard to project exactly how Kuroda will translate. He might have Saito like success or he might wind up being Ishii reincarnated, who couldn’t hit an elephant in the ass with a fucking cannonball. But will Kuroda be an ace and turn into our savior next season? Uh… no, rather like someone who will be a #4, with the potential to be a #3 on a good day. However, based on the money, market and possible upside, it’s a worthy gamble for the Dodgers.
And, of course, the obvious beauty of this signing – which is my favorite reason – is that it further decreases the chances of Matt Kemp (and possibly Andre Ethier) getting traded. It also puts Ned in a nice position for trades; with Kuroda, the Dodgers have filled a hole and now don’t really have to acquiesce to the Baltimore’s, Minnesota’s or Oakland’s of the world for pitching at the expense of half the farm.
So we sign probably the cream of the FA pitching crop to bolster our rotation and we don’t have to give up any kids for it. Sweet.
What? You’re still not convinced? O.K., remember this:
He’s not Brett Tomko.