[Editor's Note: This is the first article from new contributor Chris Moran. Welcome him to Beyond the Box Score!]
The New York Yankees reached an agreement Friday with veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda on a one-year deal worth $16 million. Kuroda, who will turn 39 in February, will earn $250K in incentives if he reaches the 190 inning mark, and an additional $250K if he reaches the 210 inning mark. This is the third one-year deal Kuroda has signed with the Yankees. He originally came on board after a $11 million contract after the 2011 season, and he signed for $15 million after the 2012 season.
Kuroda is coming off a very strong 2013 season. Over 201.1 innings, he posted strikeout and walk rates of 18.2 percent and 5.2 percent, respectively, and totaled 3.8 fWAR which was 23rd in the majors. Going into his last seven starts of the season, Kuroda had a 2.33 ERA. However, BABIP and HR/FB regression kicked him in the teeth, and he allowed 33 runs in 41 innings in his last seven outings, surrendering seven home runs. Considering that his fastball velocity didn't tail off and his strikeout and walk rate remained the same, I'll attribute this poor stretch to a visit from the BABIP and HR/FB gods that had bestowed so much favor on Kuroda ealier in the year.
Since leaving the Hiroshima Carp for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008, Kuroda has been one of the most consistent starting pitchers in baseball. He's produced 19.1 fWAR over that time, 20th in the majors. The major prize of the trade market, David Price, has 18.8 fWAR in that time, though with fewer innings. Kuroda exemplifies the idea that age is just a number. Here are his xFIP- numbers by year.
Not a lot of deviation there. His fastball velocity, and swinging strike rate have hardly changed either. Kuroda has lost just one mile per hour on his fastball from its peak of 92.5 miles per hour in 2009, and his swinging strike rate of 9.9 percent this year matches his career rate. Also, only ten more pitchers have thrown more innings than Kuroda in the last three years. Going back to his days with the Hiroshima Carp, Kuroda has failed to reach 160 innings just twice since becoming a full-time starting pitcher in 2001.
What's more is that Kuroda appears to have an ability to hold down BABIP better than most pitchers. His BABIP has ranged from .271-.287 with an average of .282. As this is a sample of 1120 innings and almost 3400 balls in play, we can have a pretty good measure of confidence in this ability. In addition, Kuroda has been more effective with runners in scoring position than with nobody on base. With nobody on base, hitters have a .247/.280/.390 line, and with RISP, they have a .226/.311/.333 line. The combination of these factors has allowed Kuroda to produce a career 85 ERA- compared to an 89 xFIP- and a 90 FIP-.
Kuroda might be old, but don't expect a big drop-off in 2014. Steamer projects 3.5 fWAR over 192 innings with a 3.37 FIP and 3.61 ERA. Steamer regresses Kuroda's BABIP to .305 and his LOB% to 70.5 percent. That looks pretty good, but I'll take the under on the ERA based on Kuroda's past ability to beat his peripherals.
By the way, here are the Steamer projections for other free agent starting pitchers.
And, just for fun, here's the projection for David Price: 3.44 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 3.8 fWAR. Looks like the Kuroda signing was a nifty deal for the Yanks.
The Yankees have had success with aging pitchers before. Mike Mussina, David Wells, and Andy Pettite all had solid or excellent seasons in the year following their age-38 season. It's not often that you can say a 38 year-old pitcher is a bargain on a $16 million dollar contract, but you can with Kuroda.
. . .
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Chris Moran is a former college baseball player and current law student at Washington University in St. Louis. He's also an assistant baseball coach on the baseball team at Wash U. In addition to Beyond The Box Score, he contributes at Prospect Insider and DRaysBay. He went to his first baseball game at age two.