Celebrating Hiroki Kuroda's insanely consistent Major League career
Celebrating Kuroda's insanely consistent MLB career
In 2008, the Dodgers signed veteran starter Hiroki Kuroda from the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He wasn't as flashy a signing as Hideo Nomo and he didn't come with the rumor of a gyroball like Daisuke Matsuzaka. He didn't throw the roughly 1,000 pitches that Yu Darvish came bearing and he wasn't as young and full of promise as the 25-year-old Masahiro Tanaka.
But at the age of 33 and after posting a 3.69 ERA in 11 seasons in the NPB, the Dodgers could expect a steady contributor. But with most Japanese players seeing their numbers suffer as they acclimate to the tougher competiton in the Majors, it wouldn't have been shocking for his strikeouts to dip and his ERA to rise. They didn't.
In his first start with the Dodgers, Kuroda pitched seven innings, surrendering one run and only three hits. He'd finish the season with numbers that practically mirrored his NPB stats: 3.73 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 5.7 K/9.
They are numbers he would repeat every season in the Majors. Armed with a split-fingered fastball that could drop off the table, Kuroda's ERA was never lower than 3.07, never higher than 3.76. His Major League career numbers of 2.0 BB/9 and 6.7 K/9 again mirrored his Japanese performance of 2.4 BB/9 and 6.7 K/9.
After missing time with injuries in 2009, Kuroda remained remarkably healthy -- shockingly so for a pitcher in his mid-to-late 30s. Kuroda made at least 31 starts from 2010-'14, pitching between 196 1/3 and 219 2/3 innings every season.
Despite never being voted to an All-Star Game or receiving a Cy Young vote, Kuroda posted the 19th highest fWAR among qualified pitchers since his debut, ranking just behind Cy Young winners David Price, Tim Lincecum, and Ubaldo Jimenez.
Even his won-loss record was exactly .500, 79-79. Even stranger: his postseason record was 2-2 (complete with a regular season-like 3.94 ERA.)
Even while switching leagues and going from a pitcher's park in Los Angeles to a hitter's paradise with a short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, Kuroda's performance remained the same. His ERA with L.A. was 3.45. His ERA in New York: 3.44.
He was an automaton, a pitching machine that batters could never figure out. If it's ever revealed that cyborg-like Terminators have already colonized the earth, it wouldn't be shocking to find out that Kuroda was one of them, first taking on Major League batters before helping protect John Connor and the human resistance.
With Kuroda reportedly returning to the Carp in 2015, you can bet that wherever he pitches next season, or the next 30 seasons after that, it's going to look an awful lot like the last 18 years of his career.