What happened to Hiroki Kuroda? After the first four months of the season, the veteran right hander was not only the best pitcher in the Yankees’ rotation, but also a legitimate contender for the Cy Young award. In fact, after a historic July, Kuroda was on his way to one of the greatest pitching seasons in franchise history. Then came the dog days.
The apex of Kuroda’s season was August 12, when he shut out the Los Angeles Angels for eight innings to lower his league leading ERA to 2.33. Since then, however, the righty has gone 0-6 with a 6.56 ERA, including a September that ranks as one of the ten worst by a Yankee pitcher. That’s not exactly the kind of history Kuroda was hoping to make, but regression to the mean can be cruel, especially when it takes place during a playoff race.
Ten Worst ERAs by a Yankees Pitcher in September
Note: Minimum 30 innings.
When the Yankees’ re-signed Kuroda to a one-year deal, they would have gladly taken a repeat of his 2012 season. Well, maybe not the last part. In each of the past two years, Kuroda has stumbled down the stretch, causing some to wonder whether the 38-year old right hander is incapable of maintaining his effectiveness for a full season. As a result, the line of thinking goes, the Yankees, who are desperate to get younger and cheaper, might not be interested in retaining Kuroda’s services for another season.
It’s true that Kuroda struggled at the end of 2012, but the comparison to this year’s slide is a bit contrived. For starters, the righty’s September ERA of 4.71 was a full run lower last year. And, more importantly, he rebounded with a strong finale that carried over into the playoffs. Unfortunately, Kuroda won’t get the chance for a similar rebound, but at the very least, he deserves to not have both of his seasons in pinstripes sullied by what could be his final month.
Kuroda’s ERA Progression, by Start Number and Month, 2012 vs. 2013
Another point the Yankees need to consider is to what extent their use of Kuroda contributed to his late season struggles. After the righty suffered his third consecutive poor outing at the end of August, the team decided to have him skip his bullpen session. Maybe they should have made him skip a start altogether? Would a 10-day breathier have given Kuroda a second wind? That’s impossible to say, but it’s worth noting the Red Sox took the same tact with Jon Lester at the end of July, and the left hander responded with an ERA of 2.29 in his next 12 starts. If rest was able to rejuvenate the 29-year old Lester, it’s reasonable to wonder whether a similar benefit would have been derived by the much older Kuroda.
Although the time has come for Kuroda make concessions to his age, that should not scare the Yankees off. Even at a reduced workload (and even if he is destined for another late season collapse), the veteran can still be a valuable contributor. So, in the amount of time it takes to file the paperwork, the Yankees should make a qualifying offer to Kuroda, and then be prepared to up the ante if the market demands a higher price. With so many other needs confronting the team, the Yankees cannot afford to let their best pitcher walk away without a replacement, unless, of course, the intention is not to fill holes, but dig a grave for the 2014 season.