Can Hiroki Kuroda handle the pressure of New York? That was the question on the minds of many when the Yankees signed the 37-year old right hander during the offseason, but since then, Kuroda has proven that pinstripes suit him just fine.
With about eight more starts remaining, Kuroda has posted the best ERA, on both a real and adjusted basis, of his career, despite crossing over to the more menacing A.L. East. He is also one win shy of his all-time high and on pace to throw the most innings of his career. In more ways than one, Kuroda has distinguished himself during his first season in pinstripes, but perhaps the most surprising aspect of his success is just how dominant he has been at Yankee Stadium.
With last night’s 4-1 victory over the Red Sox, Kuroda lowered his home ERA to 2.22, which ranks 23rd out of the 177 pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings during a season at Yankee Stadium since the original ballpark opened in 1923 (excludes six players with 1ooIP seasons from 1974-1975, when the Yankees played at Shea Stadium). Kuroda’s miniscule home ERA is also the lowest by a Yankees’ pitcher since David Cone’s 1.90 rate in 1999, and before that, Ron Guidry’s sterling 1.79 in his Cy Young season of 1978. In terms of WHIP, Kuroda’s 2012 home performance ranks even higher. His 0.949 ratio is the seventh lowest ever recorded by a pinstriped pitcher and the best mark since David Wells’ 0.911 in 1998.
Note: Minimum 100 innings pitched at Yankee Stadium in a single season.
Judging by his Yankee Stadium debut, Kuroda’s brilliance in the Bronx shouldn’t be too surprising. Not only did the right hander record one of the highest game scores by any Yankee pitcher in the team’s home opener, but he also turned in one of the best pinstripe debuts in recent history. Since then, Kuroda has saved his best for the Bronx. Including last night’s performance against Boston, the veteran has gone at least six innings without allowing more than one run in nine appearances at home. Steve Kline, who recorded 10 such outings in 1972, is the only pitcher with more.
In retrospect, Yankee fans shouldn’t have wasted so much time worrying about Kuroda’s transition to the Bronx. As we’ve learned since, being at center stage in New York is child’s play compared to some of the challenges Kuroda has faced during his career. In that sense, Kuroda bears some resemblance to Orlando Hernandez, whose experiences before coming to the Yankees seemingly fortified his ability to tune out pressure on the mound. Kuroda’s ability to throw a variety of pitches and willingness to maneuver throughout a lineup are other aspects of his game that also call to mind El Duque. Considering how well Hernandez pitched in October, if the comparison holds throughout the postseason, the Yankees’ acquisition of Kuroda could turn out to be one of the best free agent signings in franchise history.