When the Yankees signed Hiroki Kuroda in January to a one year deal worth ten million dollars my initial thought was that the money would have been better spent on a bat. Nothing I’ve seen this spring from Kuroda has changed my mind.
Kuroda has pitched four seasons in MLB with the Dodgers and put up solid, but not stellar numbers. His lifetime ERA is 3.45 but it is important to note that his ERA was compiled while pitching the majority of his games in the weak hitting NL West in very pitcher friendly NL West ballparks. Kuroda’s lifetime ERA in 68 2/3 innings pitched against AL teams is 4.33
As you can see, Dodger Stadium ranked 22nd last year in park factor. Only Arizona (5th) is a hitter’s ballpark in the NL West. Petco and Candlestick ranked 28th and 30th in park factor. The rule of thumb that many use in predicting the movement in an NL pitcher heading to the AL is to add .50 to his ERA. I use this rule as a guideline but in Kuroda’s case I could see his ERA jumping as much as a full run. Kuroda’s lifetime ERA in 68 2/3 innings pitched against AL teams is 4.33, almost a full run higher than his lifetime ERA vs all teams. Kuroda is heading from the pitching friendly NL West ballparks to the very hitting friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, which was 6th in park factor in 2011. The AL East possesses only one pitching friendly park in the form of the Trop (29th in park factor). Fenway (3rd in park factor), Rogers Centre (4th in park factor), and Camden Yards (12th in park factor) are hitter’s paradises where fly balls often land in the seats.
The transition from the NL West to the AL East is the most extreme jump in difficulty that a pitcher can make in MLB. Kuroda tied for 8th in the NL last year in HR’s allowed with 24. If he allowed 24 HR’s in the pitching friendly confines of Dodger Stadium and the NL West then just how many could he give up in the hitting friendly parks that are Yankee Stadium, Fenway, Rogers, and Camden? Right-handed pitchers are extremely vulnerable to allowing left-handed home runs to Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right and to say I’m pessimistic about the impact Kuroda will have on the Yankees staff would be a gross understatement.
Further adding to my skepticism on this signing were the reports last season approaching the trade deadline that Kuroda did not want to pitch on the East Coast. It was only this December that Kuroda and his agent stated that Kuroda “would be willing” to pitch on the East Coast. I don’t buy that Kuroda’s strong opposition to pitching on the East Coast changed due to anything other than the East Coast teams being the only candidates who appeared willing to pay him what he was seeking in salary. If he didn’t want to pitch in the East last year then why would his mindset be any different this year? New York is a hard place to pitch if your heart isn’t into it all the way.
Some recent attempts at moving to the AL East by pitchers who had been pitching in the National League were not at all successful. The last time the Yankees brought in a starting pitcher from the NL was in 2010. The disastrous trade of Melky Cabrera, and Arodys Vizcaino for Javier Vazquez still causes many Yankee fans to get nauseous.
Kevin Brown and Jaret Wright anyone? You can add those two to the list of pitchers who came to the Yankees from the NL with great expectations and failed to live up to their contracts and hype.
While it’s not unrealistic to imagine Kuroda having a solid season in the pinstripes this year, any expectations beyond that should be tempered to reflect the reality that he will be taking a step up in class. If Kuroda is able to eat innings and keep his ERA in the area of 4.00-4.50 he should give the Yankees plenty of opportunities to win games that he starts.