Hiroki Kuroda’s signing was an afterthought. Coming on the same day as the team’s blockbuster trade for Michael Pineda, the news of Kuroda’s acquisition was met with a relative shrug of the shoulders followed by a litany of questions. Now, the only one left to answer is where would the Yankees be without him?
Most of the skepticism surrounding Kuroda stemmed from how well the 37-year old’s repertoire would translate from the N.L. West to A.L. East. Considering the past history of such migrations, it was a reasonable concern, but after a few early bumps in the road, Kuroda has proven those fears to be unfounded. In fact, after last night’s complete game shutout against the Rangers, the righty’s ERA of 3.06 is actually a shade lower than last season’s. Granted, he still has a handful of very important starts remaining, but so far, Kuroda has not only been the ace of the Yankees’ rotation, but also one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Kuroda currently ranks sixth in the American League with an ERA+ of 139. If the veteran ends the season at that rate or higher, he’ll become only the seventh Yankees’ starter since 1981 to accomplish the feat in a qualified season. Over the same time period, Kuroda has also shined on a per game basis. His six starts with a Game Score of at least 75, which rank second in baseball to R.A. Dickey’s seven, have been surpassed by only four other Yankee pitchers since 1981, with Randy Johnson’s high of eight well within reach.
In a rotation beset by injuries (Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, and Pineda) and inconsistency (Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes), Kuroda has been the rock. Without his consistent excellence, the Yankees might not be enjoying such a successful season in 2012. In addition, with the free agent crop of ace starters thinned out by long-term extensions, Kuroda’s performance may also be ensuring his place in the team’s future plans. Of course, this time around, the right hander might not come as cheaply, so if the Yankees decide to retain him, they’ll likely wind up paying for this year’s discount on a forward basis (according to fangraphs, Kuroda has already returned $14.3 million in value, versus his salary of $10 million). But, that’s an issue for the offseason. Right now, it’s hard to quantify just how much Kuroda has meant to the Yankees because his contribution has been priceless.
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