This probably goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway: the Yankees really need Hiroki Kuroda to get things figured out.
Kuroda’s set to make his sixth start of the season tonight, and so far he hasn’t been particularly good. What really defined his first two years in pinstripes was his unflinching consistency. He was even consistent in the way he would apparently tire at the end of the season and struggle down the stretch. Here are some key numbers from Kuroda the past two years:
2012: 3.32 ERA — 1.17 WHIP — 6.8 K per 9 — .249 opponents’ average
2013: 3.31 ERA — 1.16 WHIP — 6.7 K per 9 — .249 opponents’ average
That’s about as steady as it gets. Obviously a few things varied — his walk rate and FIP were each down in 2013 — but for the most part, Kuroda was a consistent bit of rotation stability, and that’s exactly what the Yankees could use right now. Here are those same four stats through Kuroda’s first five starts this season.
2014: 5.28 ERA — 1.38 WHIP — 5.6 K per 9 — .288 opponents’ average
That’s a pretty significant slide across the board, and it’s come in a season when the Yankees have lost two starters to injury and have another (CC Sabathia) who’s still working through a mid-30s transition that’s seen him pitch well the vast majority of his innings, while leaving himself vulnerable to crooked numbers and sudden letdowns. This year, as much as any that Kuroda has been with them, the Yankees could use some of Kuroda’s consistency.
Question is, can Kuroda still provide it? His velocity is down a little bit, but nothing too overwhelming (he’s lost .3 mph on his fastball according to Fangraphs, with similar dips for his other pitches), but Kuroda’s never been a guy who relied on raw velocity. His ability to blend fastballs, sliders and splitters has been key for Kuroda.
“Right now, there are certain pitches that are inconsistent,” Kuroda said after his most recent start. “I need to make an adjustment and get them back. The biggest thing is to improve the quality of my breaking ball.”
Kuroda’s 39 years old and he’s thrown at least 200 innings each of the past three seasons. Could be that he’s worn down and won’t be that consistent pitcher the Yankees are used to seeing. Could also be that five starts — not all of which have been particularly bad — aren’t enough to tell us anything for certain. What’s clear is that the Yankees are already seven starters deep, they’re going to be that way for a while, and right now only Masahiro Tanaka stands out as a truly reliable piece of the rotation.
The Yankees have gotten some quiet consistency from Kuroda in the past, and they could sure use it again.
Don’t forget, if you’re around a computer at noon, swing by the blog for today’s chat. Hope to see you then!
Associated Press photo