Hideo Nomo. Daisuke Matsuzaka. Hideki Irabu. Yu Darvish. All of these Japanese starting pitchers came to Major League Baseball with much more fanfare -- and several with bigger paychecks -- than Hiroki Kuroda. Yet, you can easily make an argument, which I am about to do, that Nomo is the only starting pitcher to come from Japan and have more success in America than Kuroda.
A 37-year-old right-hander, Kuroda pitched an absolutely dominant masterpiece Tuesday night. He carried a no-hitter for six innings and ended up with a two-hit shutout, surrendering only a pair of softly hit singles to the heavy-hitting Texas Rangers. Manager Joe Girardi called it "our best pitching performance of the year."
Kuroda is 11-8 this season with a 3.06 ERA and, with CC Sabathia, on the shelf, is clearly the New York Yankees' best starting pitcher. Over his last six games, Kuroda is 3-1 with a 1.44 ERA and 0.87 WHIP.
Nomo clearly had the best big-league career of any of the ballyhooed starting pitchers who have come to America from Japan. In 12 seasons from 1995-2008 he won 123 games, was 1995 National League Rookie of the Year, and won 12 or more games seven times.
Of all of the other big-name starting pitchers who have come from Japan you can argue that Kuroda has had the best career, and might well be the best value of any of the pitchers we have discussed. Here are the numbers for Kuroda and the other pitchers I mentioned earlier.
Major League Seasons: 5
Career Record: 52-54
Record In Japan: 103-89, 11 seasons
First Big-League Contract: 3 years, $35.3 million (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Major League Seasons: 6
Career Record: 49-33
Record In Japan: 108-60, 8 seasons
First Big-League Contract: 6 years, $52 million (Boston Red Sox)
Note: Matsuzaka's numbers are skewed by one really good season, an 18-3, 2.90 year in 2008. He has been average to below average the rest of his career.
Major League Seasons:6
Career Record: 34-35
Record In Japan: 59-59, 8 seasons
First Big-League Contract: 4 years, $12.8illion (Yankees, after trade from San Diego Padres)
Major League Seasons: 1
Career Record: 12-8
Record In Japan: 93-38, 7 seasons
First Big-League Contract: 6 years, $56-million (Texas Rangers)
There was much speculation during the offseason that the pitching-needy Yankees would make a huge bid for Darvish, the latest pitching star to come from Japan to America. They did not, going the lower budget route and snapping up Kuroda. That has turned out to be a decision the Yankees undoubtedly do not regret.
Kuroda has won at least 11 games now three straight seasons, and the highest earned-run average he has ever pitched to in the majors is 3.76. He was signed by the Yankees to a one-year, $10-million contract during the offseason. If he keeps pitching the way he has over the past couple of months it is going to cost the Yankees a lot more than that to keep him in the Bronx next season.