Mood Music: Limelight by Rush
This headline might be a bit deceptive. That's the problem with apostrophes; they can take two completely separate ideas and leave reader guessing which one it is. Is it a contraction or is it possessive form? It almost doesn't make sense to use it in the possessive because it's completely at odds with the rest of the statement. If Hiroki Kuroda was in possession of his location he wouldn't be missing it. The contraction form is just lazy. Couldn't I have just wasted an extra few seconds and added "is" to the thought? Probably, but who has the time? It seems I haven't done anything to make my thoughts on the matter any clearer. You're welcome.
Kuroda has been with the Yankees this season. He has obviously been present with the team, just in terms of performance he has only been. He has been good a few times, bad a few more times, but mainly he has only been. He has just kind of been there in the starting rotation. Odds are Kuroda will only be pitching one year for the team, however, when you're making $10 million, the length of the contract matters very little to the masses. A pitcher that simply is doesn't really justify that kind of investment.
He hasn't been the worst investment quite yet; just highly disappointing. That might actually be worse than being flat out bad. It brings back bad childhood memories of all those "I'm not mad, I'm disappointed" lectures from when you would do stupid things because you were stupid. It's a haunting feeling that never passes. Hopefully the disappointment with Kuroda passes. The Yankees have more important things to worry about than issuing lectures.
Until the early season struggles pass, assuming they ever do, we're left trying to figure out why Kuroda has disappointed. The easy answer is the same answer it always is for pitchers like him: National League pitcher. If you thought of something else it's your own xenophobia seeping in. Not saying that's the right answer to the question of his struggles because it's too easy and near impossible to prove, but it's there for a quick fix. The equally easy answer is one that requires a bit more hashing out; location. It's all about location, and right now, Kuroda doesn't have it.
Not many pitchers can survive without control of their best pitches, but someone like Kuroda will struggle more than most. His fastball isn't overpowering so to succeed his slider has to be sharp and his sinker has to be down. That hasn't been happening. Not yet at least. The end result of all this is a lot of balls leaving the yard.
Surprise. Can't miss in the middle of the plate with pitches that have to be buried. Especially when the pitch velocity has been noticeably below career averages through nine starts. These home runs Kuroda is giving up aren't exactly wall scrapers or short porch specials either. Home Run Tracker lists nine of the ten dingers he has allowed as being out in more than half of ballparks. That's not wind, luck, Yankee Stadium or American League; that's back-up sliders and up in the zone sinkers getting crushed. Even with the bad location and dip in velocity, the lacking areas can be masked with deceptive movement. Surprise again. That isn't happening either.
Cliches are kind of annoying because they usually aren't very meaningful. In this case, the old cliche about baseball being a game of inches is an outlier. Kuroda's horizontal and vertical movement on his slider and sinker aren't too far off from where they have been in previous seasons, (SL: 2011, 2010; SI, 2011, 2010) but that slight difference in movement up, down and side to side is making a huge difference. The whiffs have become contact, contact is resulting in more hits and more hits are going further. His slider is still bearing down well enough, just with little or no late life. An arrow-straight slider that ends up middle-in isn't going to work. Same goes for his sinker. While it's still dropping at roughly the same rate, it's hanging up in the zone more this year.
The shame of it all is that it gives traction to the NL pitcher narrative. That narrative runs on pure confirmation bias, so any time Kuroda gives up a dinger or two, it gets refueled. Maybe it's reasonable to believe his struggles are league based. Given how similar the location and movement data is, it is a bit difficult to dispute. My only recourse to dispute the notion at this point is that we're still dealing with early season data. His command struggles have led to more walks which indicates he's falling behind too much. Given how much Kuroda relies on what are normally secondary or off-speed pitches, if he's forced to throw them over the plate more, the lack of movement and poor location is going to result in more balls being put in play. If you miss where he's been missing so far this season, odds are the balls in play aren't going to slow rollers and pop-ups. That's not a league factor, that's baseball. Poorly located pitches are going to get hit and hit hard no matter which league it is. That's my best attempt to siphon the narrative fuel. I need a mint.
Kuroda's signing looks less than ideal right now, and maybe that's the way it will look at the end of the season. Command is tricky business so it's possible he goes the season without ever getting in a real groove. If he finds a decent level of consistency, the Yankees made a good signing. Kuroda is a lot fun to watch when he's on. There's something about a pitcher who relies on less than overpowering stuff to dominate that makes it more fun. If none of this happens it's going to be difficult not to be mad about the signing. Well, maybe not mad; just disappointed.