Mr. Complete Game

Jim Hendry and company completed their organizational meetings last Friday and will be in Orlando this week for the General Manager meetings. The Cubs left Arizona with a few names rumored to be on their wish list this winter. The mainstream media has stated the Cubs have a couple of holes to fill this off-season….a starting pitcher and an everyday right fielder appear to be at the top of their list. Two names that have recently been mentioned are Kosuke Fukudome and a pitcher by the name of Hiroki Kuroda.

Kuroda has been on the Cubs’ radar since last off-season but Kuroda decided to remain in Japan and signed a 4-year, $10.4 million dollar deal with the Hiroshima Carp. The deal included an opt out clause after the 2007 season, Kuroda is reportedly is going to exercise that option and once again Kuroda appears to be drawing interest from the Cubs….

Last off-season when it appeared Kuroda could make the leap to the Majors some said he would be the second best pitcher to come from Japan, behind Daisuke Matsuzaka. This year Kuroda could be the best of the bunch coming from Japan and could possibly sign a lucrative contract, some are speculating between $6-$10 million a year for 3 years, with this winter’s crop of free agent pitchers considered to be mediocre at best. Kuroda would be considered a free agent and would not require a team to pay a posting fee to negotiate a contract.

Background

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The right-hander was born on February 10, 1975 in Osaka, Japan. He was the 4th overall pick in the 1996 Nippon Pro Baseball (NPB) Draft. Kuroda made his debut in 1997 and struck out the first batter he faced, Hideki Matsui. He hurt is shoulder in 1998 but decided to pitch through the pain. He posted a very disappointing 1-4 record with a 6.60 ERA in 18 games. Kuroda posted a 9-6 record with 7 complete games, including 4 in a row, with a 4.31 ERA in 2000 before his breakout season of 2001.

Kuroda posted a 12-8 record in 2001 with a 3.03 ERA with a league leading 13 complete games in 14 starts, 27 games. He struck out the side on 10 pitches in the All-Star game that season as well.

Kuroda posted a 2-0 record in the 2004 Olympics and was picked to be on Team Japan in the 2006 World Baseball Classic but he was hit by a ball and injured his right finger. The injury reportedly did not leave any permanent damage.

After posting a 13-6 record with 7 complete games and a league leading 1.85 ERA in 2006 (189 2/3 innings), Kuroda could have left Japan. The Cubs are rumored to have offered him a contract and his family was taking English lessons but he decided to remain in Japan. Kuroda had a down season in 2007….he was 12-8 with 7 complete games (123 strikeouts and 42 walks) and a 3.56 ERA in 179 2/3 innings.

Kuroda’s nickname is ‘Mr. Complete Game’. He led the central in complete games in a 6-year period from 1999 to 2005 and in 151 career starts; Kuroda has completed 74 of them.

Career record – 103-89 with 74 complete games in 151 starts, 271 games with a 3.69 ERA

Scouting

kuroda-pub1.jpg Kuroda was examined recently in Los Angeles by Dr. Lewis Yocum and received a clean bill of health. Some scouts consider Kuroda more polished than Matsuzaka because of his 11 years of experience in Japan. Kuroda throws four pitches, including a “shuuto“, a shuuto is common in Japanese baseball and is a cross between a fastball, slider and sinker.

Kuroda has a quality fastball that ranges between 92-96 MPH (depending on the report) but does not posses a “strikeout breaking ball“. Outside of a fastball and the shuuto, Kuroda throws a slider and a forkball in the high 80’s. Some scouts say Kuroda relies too much on his fastball but when he can locate it, Kuroda was classified as being an ace.

Most scouts predict Kuroda to be a middle to end of the rotation starter at the Major League level. He is known as a “tough competitor.”

Prospect Insider posted a very good scouting report on Kuroda and detailed all four of his pitches. Kuroda’s fastball is very effective against right-handers and has solid command of the pitch and is not afraid to elevate it. Prospect Insider compared Kuroda’s slider to Matsuzaka’s; both have good depth and varying velocities.

Prospect Insider stated Kuroda’s best pitch is his forkball/splitter. This is Kuroda’s strikeout pitch. He can throw it for a strike but it is often out of the strike zone or in the dirt. The pitch ranges between 82-86 MPH.

Kuroda apparently has a slow delivery but has a “compact and clean delivery” and needs to improve on holding runners.

It will be interesting to see which team ends up with Hiroki Kuroda but the front-runners are rumored to be the Cubs and the Mariners.

Quote of the Day

"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else." - Charles Dickens
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