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Scouting Pitchers: Hiroki Kuroda

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

(Statistics as of 5/6/08)

Look West, young man - at a pitcher the Dodgers signed out of the Far East. Kuroda has been on the map to come to the US from Japan since he led the hitter-friendly Central League with a 1.85 ERA in 2006. He elected to return for the 2007 season but then opted out of a four-year deal to come here. Los Angeles beat out Kansas City, Arizona, and Seattle to sign him to a three-year, $35.2 million deal in December 2007.

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. Please feel free to post your comments below on these columns. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

The right-handed Kuroda (6-1, 210, born 2/10/1975) threw 1,510 innings in 10 years for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He walked 400 and struck out 1111 while going 91-81 with a 3.77 ERA. Kuroda was a 2004 Olympic gold medalist but did not pitch for Japan's 2006 World Baseball Classic championship team. Minor elbow surgery and his father's ill health prompted him to return home for 2007, reports.

Hiroki Kuroda: (G/F 1.51)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	60		55
Curveball	N/A
Slider		55		30
Forkball	50		15
Control	60
Delivery	60
Composure	65

Kuroda has a 91-94 MPH fastball he can cut inside to left-handed hitters or away from right-handers with no apparent loss in velocity. He might have natural movement on a four-seamer, or be throwing a hard two-seamer. Kuroda's main breaking pitch is a 77-87 MPH slider that is his strikeout pitch. It has just average movement, but this makes it easier to keep in the strike zone. Kuroda also throws an 80-86 MPH forkball that he uses mainly against left-handers.

Kuroda's game plan is to tempt undisciplined hitters to swing at his fastball and slider away and induce groundouts. It appears his stuff has declined a little and he is still adjusting to the challenge of good American hitters laying off those pitches. Kuroda doesn't give in to the hitter. When he gives up a home run, it's because he has missed his location rather than from challenging a hitter in the strike zone. Kuroda doesn't like to come over the plate, especially in a game situation. This can create problems for him when disciplined hitters lay off his pitches on the corners and he falls behind in the count.

Through Kuroda's first seven starts, he has fared much better with the bases empty (.253 average against) than with runners on base (.315). Hitters can afford to be more patient with runners on. Kuroda has also struggled against left-handed hitters (.299) than right-handers (.267). Kuroda will come inside hard to left-handers but usually misses off the plate or high. His forkball is only average and as the game progresses it becomes less deceptive as he fades it down and away from left-handers. Kuroda works his fastball and slider away to left-handers when in trouble, but he has had limited success so far. His slider is much more effective as a put-away pitch to right-handers, as it has good velocity and he controls it well. He appears loathe to use his fastball inside to right-handers and doesn't appear to use his forkball against them.

Kuroda has a smoother motion than a lot of Japanese pitchers, and it has kept him throwing in the low 90s into his thirties. He works quickly with no one on and has a good slide-step motion to keep runners close. Unfortunately, this slide-step costs him some control. Like all Japanese players, he is strong fundamentally and doesn't beat himself with fielding or mental mistakes.

Kuroda is a solid starter who is still learning the major leagues and his team. He is the type of pitcher who can dominate when his defense is solid and the umpire is giving him the borderline calls, but can unravel quickly when he faces a disciplined lineup. Kuroda could benefit from mixing his pitch sequences more, as he does tend to be predictable. It would help him if the Dodgers settled their revolving infield situation.


Radar Love:

93-97: Dustin McGowan against the White Sox on May 5th.
93-96: Javier Vazquez in losing 1-0 to McGowan and the Blue Jays on May 5th.
91-97: Max Scherzer against the Phillies on May 5th.
91-94: Carlos Zambrano shutting down the Reds on May 6th.
91-94: Luke Hochevar in Cleveland on May 3rd.
86-89: Scott Olsen beating the Brewers on May 6th.
86-89: Greg Smith against Texas on May 4th.

Next week: AL East: Jon Lester


Article first appeared 5/8/08