Few players have had to overcome more obstacles than lefty reliever Hong-Chih Kuo, who signed a non-guaranteed MLB contract with the Mariners on Monday. The 30-year-old has undergone five elbow surgeries -- including two Tommy John procedures -- since signing with the Dodgers out of Taiwan back in 1999. He also dealt with anxiety issues in 2011 that reportedly had him contemplating retirement. Here's hoping that Kuo is healthy all-around in 2012, as he's as nasty as any reliever in baseball when he's on his game.
Kuo was unhittable as recently as 2010, when he had a staggering 321 ERA+ in 60 innings pitched. That was one of the best ERA+ totals ever among relievers logging at least 60 frames:
While a .207 BABIP certainly had something to do with Kuo's 1.20 ERA, he dominated the competition by striking out 32% of the batters he faced. He did that with a fastball that averaged 94.2 mph and got a miss 30% of the time that hitters offered at it, dusting the 18% average for relief pitchers. Kuo elevated the fastball...
And opponents didn't have a prayer against those upper-zone heaters. Take a look at hitters' contact rate by pitch location vs. Kuo's fastball in 2010, and then the league average:
In 2011, however, Kuo lost control of his fastball and a few ticks of velocity (down to an average of 92.5 mph). He was especially prone to missing high out of the zone:
Kuo threw 55% of his fastballs in the zone in 2010, but that fell to just 47% in 2011. That, coupled with spottier control of his slider (45 Zone% in 2010, 35 Zone% in 2011) led to Kuo issuing 21 unintentional walks in 27 innings.
Non-tendered by the Dodgers, Kuo will have to pitch his way on to Seattle's squad this spring. He'll make $1 million if he cracks the 25-man roster, and he can earn up to $2.25 million more in incentives. We'll be rooting for Kuo to have a happy, lucrative 2012 season.