Friday, April 13, 2012

Manny Banuelos Injured -- DUN DUN DUN

Yankees blue chip #1 ranked prospect Manny Banuelos has been placed on the AAA disabled list with a sore back. Yankees GM Brian Cashman only expects Manny B. to miss one start with a lat issue. This really explains his less then stellar start last time out so I am willing to chalk it up to a back injury and move on from there. Get well and rest up Manny.

No Worries for Kuroda

A lot of people have pointed out the transition from the National League West, to the American League East, as reasons to worry about Hiroki Kuroda. And they have more than Kuroda's last start (his first start with the Yankees) as reason to be concerned (5.2 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 1 HR, 4 BB, 2 K). I looked at the average wOBA (weighted on-base average) for the National League West and the American League East (minus the Yankees and Dodgers), between 2008 and 2011, which covers Kuroda's career with the Dodgers and MLB.

Arizona - .323
Colorodo - .332
San Diego - .304
San Francisco - .307
NL West Average - .317

Baltimore - .322
Boston - .350
Tampa Bay - .332
Toronto - .328
AL East Average - .331

What about team OPS?

Arizona - .740
Colorodo - .758
San Diego - .688
San Francisco - .701
NL West Average - .724

Baltimore - .735
Boston - .803
Tampa Bay - .751
Toronto - .750
AL East Average - .760

I could go on and on with different stats to show that hitting in the AL East is superior to hitting in the NL West, but I really don't think I need to. Those two stats should be enough. The point is, and it's been pointed out plenty of times before, Kuroda is going to have a tougher time pitching well for the Yankees than he did pitching for the Dodgers. The question is... is what we saw in his last start more like the Hiroki Kuroda we're going to see in 2012, rather than the Hiroki we saw last season in LA (3.07 ERA, 121 ERA+, 3.78 FIP, 3.56 xFIP)?

I went over to Brooks Baseball and used their Pitch F/X stats to try and get a better idea. Using their information on pitch movement and velocity I looked at what Hiroki did last season, and what he did last Saturday.

I think it's safe to say, after comparing the statistics from last year and this year, that the Hiroki Kuroda we saw on Saturday is not the Hiroki Kuroda to expect throughout the rest of the 2012 season. The horizontal movement on his pitches Saturday were not close to what he did throughout 2011, while the vertical movement on his pitches weren't quite in line with his 2011 numbers either. It was nice to see that the velocity on all his pitches is very close to normal, though. By the way, Kuroda is throwing a cutter too this season, something that Brooks Baseball says he didn't throw before. All athletes need time to "warm up", and 24.2 innings over the course of 6 spring training starts just isn't going to suffice. So it's safe to assume that all of this will pan out.

Want further evidence? Okay... The first time in 2011 that Kuroda faced a good offense, the St. Louis Cardinals, he put up a line of 5 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 3 K (his 3rd start of the season). What happened when he faced the Cardinals later in the season? 7 IP, 8H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K (his 26th start of the season). By the way, the Cardinals in 2011 had a team wOBA of .330 and OPS of .758, right in line with the averages for the AL East. A similar thing happened in 2010 against the Rockies (team wOBA of .333 and team OPS of .760), when in his 6th start of the season Kuroda's line was 5.1 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 3 K, but when he faced them again in his 24th start of the season his line was an improved 7 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 6 K. So there's another reason for Yankee fans not to worry.

Finally there's Russell Martin. No catcher in MLB knows Hiroki better than Martin. In Kuroda's 4+ seasons of MLB he's had 7 different players catch him, and Russell has been behind the dish for the most... by far. Russ has caught Kuroda for a total of 362.2 innings in 61 games, while the next closest is Rod Barajas with 139.2 innings in 22 games. If I was looking for somebody to help guide Kuroda out of trouble, Russell Martin would be the guy. And the Yankees are lucky enough to have that guy on the team.

Don't let Kuroda's nervousness about the game throw you off. Anybody, and I mean anybody, would feel the exact same way. But when the umpire points at Hiroki and says "play ball", I think it will be business as usual for the man all Yankee fans will soon by calling "Hiro".