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Entries in Hiroki Kuroda (5)


Hiroki Kuroda and Throwing in the Strike Zone 

Hiroki Kuroda cashed in $15 million last season for the New York Yankees, which was the second-most of any starter on the roster (save for C.C. Sabathia's monster $24 million salary). At the end of July, it seemed as though the 38-year-old righty would easily live up to his lofty billing, having posted a 2.38 ERA and 1.03 WHIP (sixth and tenth-best, respectively, among qualified starters up to that juncture) over 22 starts.

And then August happened.

Starting the month by allowing just three earned runs over his first two starts, Kuroda proceeded to allow 15 earned runs in his subsequent three starts (16.2 innings) to finish out the month. His struggles continued from that point on as he posted a 5.70 ERA over five September starts -- enough to raise his 2.38 ERA over the first four months of the season to 3.31, which was only slightly better than the 3.51 league average for qualified starters by the end of the regular season.

The reason for Kuroda's ERA spike? He stopped throwing in the strike zone.

Comparing Kuroda's Pitch Frequencies over both spans

Notice the shift in command toward the "inside" corner on right-handed hitters.To be fair, Kuroda has never been one to pound the strike zone at a high frequency. Since his rookie 2008 campaign, his zone% (pitches in the strike zone / total pitches) stands at just 44.7% -- including this past season -- which ranks as the seventh-lowest rate among qualified starters. This is over four percent lower than the 49% league average since 2008, and a whopping 13.8% lower than Cliff Lee, whose 58.5% zone rate since 2008 is easily the highest mark in baseball over that span.

Most of Kuroda's plate discipline numbers remained relatively steady over both spans last season. And in some cases, they actually improved -- his miss rate jumped to 23.5% from August to September and his chase followed a similar trend, increasing to 32.7%. The same cannot be said about opponents in-play average (increasing nearly .100 points) and home-run-to-fly-ball rate, which nearly doubled from August on.

From the beginning of last season to the end of July, 45.2% of Kuroda's pitches fell in the strike zone (somewhat close to the 49.8% league mark over that span). That number dropped to 38.1% from that point to the end of the season, which was the lowest mark of any qualified starter and a whole 5.3% lower than the guy with the next-lowest mark (Francisco Liriano's 43.4%). Consequently, Kuroda's zone% shrinkage directly affected opponents' increase in BABIP.

How he stacked up with the league...

...from April to July...

...and from August to September.

As we see, there seems to be a correlation between zone% and opponents BABIP last season -- when you throw less pitches in the strike zone, batters tend to have more success at finding holes in defenses. When Kuroda's zone% remained near his career average from April to July last season, his opponent BABIP (.255) was low. But when he deviated away from that mark by throwing only 38.1% of his offerings in the zone from August on, batters had much more success at finding holes in Joe Girardi's defense. Normally, you would think throwing more pitches in the zone would give batters a better opportunity to square up pitches and thus have a higher BABIP, but this clearly isn't the case.

My advice to Kuroda: Throw more pitches in the strike zone. 


Under the hood: the first pitch of an at bat

There are pitchers counts and there are batters counts, but with batters overall hitting .254 at this point of the season, we can see as per usual at .336 that the first of pitch of an at bat is definitely a hitters count.

Batting averages by count

First Pitch 11929 11209 3762 504 .336
1-0 Count 7310 7088 2356 305 .332
2-0 Count 2729 2658 889 147 .334
3-0 Count 2208 168 59 16 .351
0-1 Count 9846 9481 2961 261 .312
1-1 Count 9387 9134 3023 306 .331
2-1 Count 5614 5508 1928 270 .350
3-1 Count 4767 2277 793 160 .348
0-2 Count 9371 9210 1404 96 .152
1-2 Count 15776 15539 2598 218 .167
2-2 Count 14868 14670 2652 270 .181
Full Count 13740 9696 2103 251 .217
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 7/17/2013. 

First pitch hitting stars 

Nine to Know: First pitch pitching stars 

First pitch hitting stiffs 

First pitch pitching stiffs

First pitches - Team Stats


  • The Texas Rangers are hitting .393 on first pitches.
  • The Colorado Rockies are hitting .375 on first pitches.
  • The St. Louis Cardinals are hitting .371 on first pitches.
  • The Cincinnati Reds are hitting .296 on first pitches.
  • The San Diegoe Padres are hitting .301 on first pitches.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks are hitting .310 on first pitches.
  • Batters are hitting .273 against the Oakland A's on first pitches.
  • Batters are hitting .282 against the Kansas City Royals on first pitches.
  • Batters are hitting .291 against the LA Dodgers on first pitches.
  • Batters are hitting .393 against the Seattle Mariners on first pitches.
  • Batters are hitting .369 against the NY Mets on first pitches.
  • Batters are hitting .367 against the Milwaukee Brewers on first pitches.




Hiroki Kuroda: Command King

Hiroki Kuroda brushed aside concerns that his finesse stuff would not translate to the American League last season, establishing new career highs in innings pitched (219.2) and ERA+ (126) for the Yankees. The Bombers would have been a $200 million also-ran without Kuroda, considering that Michael Pineda's season-ending shoulder injury, CC Sabathia's barking elbow, Phil Hughes' and Ivan Nova's homer woes and Freddy Garcia's morphing back into a pumpkin made New York's rotation a middle-of-the-pack unit in 2012.

Kuroda will again don pinstripes in 2013, reportedly turning down more lucrative, multi-year offers to sign a one-year, $15 million deal with the Yankees. The 38-year-old had other teams willing to shell out ace money because he displayed the best command of any starter in the DH league last year.

While Kuroda throws a handful of pitches ranging from the low 90s to the low 70s, they all have one thing in common: They hardly ever catch the middle of the plate. Take a look at Kuroda's pitch location with his sinker, slider, splitter and curveball:

Kuroda's sinker location, 2012

Kuroda threw 21.2% of his sinkers to the horizontal middle of the strike zone, comfortably below the 22.9% average for AL starting pitchers in 2012.

Kuroda's slider location, 2012

Kuroda tossed 16.8% of his sliders over the middle of the plate, compared to the 23.1% average.

Kuroda's splitter location, 2012

With his splitter, Kuroda threw to the middle of the plate 18.6% of the time. That was well below the 21.1% average for AL starters.

Kuroda's curveball location, 2012

Kuroda placed 19% of his curves over the middle, compared to the 25.2% average.  

Pitchers typically get crushed when the leave the ball over the middle of the plate, surrendering a .511 opponent slugging percentage last year. Kuroda was no exception, as opponents slugged .536 when he left the ball over the middle. Happily, Kuroda threw the lowest percentage of pitches over the horizontal middle of the dish of any qualified AL starter in 2012:

Lowest percentage of pitches thrown to the horizontal middle of the zone among AL starters, 2012

PitcherPct. Middle Pitches
Hiroki Kuroda 19.3%
Dan Haren 19.5%
Jon Lester 19.9%
Colby Lewis 20.3%
Doug Fister 21.0%
Clay Buchholz 21.1%
Jered Weaver 21.2%
Gavin Floyd 21.2%
Jason Vargas 21.5%
Kevin Millwood 21.6%
AVG for AL SP 23.6%