Hiroki Kuroda

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Hiroki Kuroda (黒田 博樹)
(Mr. Complete Game)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Hiroki Kuroda won over 200 games between NPB and MLB then made the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

He has a strong athletic lineage as his father is outfielder Kazuhiro Kuroda and his mother was a shotput competitor in the 1964 Olympics. He went 6-4 as a reliever in college in Tohto University Baseball League competition, then was taken in the second round of the 1996 NPB draft by the Hiroshima Carp. Kuroda was with the Carp in 1997, striking out the first batter he faced, one Hideki Matsui. Overall, he was 6-9, 4.40 that year as a regular member of the rotation. In 1998, he slipped to 1-4, 6.60 and hurt his shoulder and he was no better in 1999 (5-8, 6.78, 20 HR in 87 2/3 IP, including four in an inning on July 31st). He was 2-0 with a 1.10 ERA in the 1999 Intercontinental Cup, striking out 21 and walking 2 in 16 1/3 IP. He tied for second in the event in both strikeouts and wins.

In almost 57 more innings in 2000, he allowed just three more runs and was 9-6 with a 4.31 ERA. He led the Central League with seven complete games and threw four in a row at one point. Kuroda continued to make strides in 2001, going 12-8 with a 3.03 ERA. He threw a league-leading 13 complete games (and allowed the most hits, 175), including five complete outings in a row. On August 22, he threw a one-hitter, allowing only an infield hit to Hirokazu Ibata. In his first All-Star game, he struck out the side on 10 pitches.

In 2002, the 27-year-old hurler went 10-10 with a 3.67 ERA. He tied Kei Igawa and Koji Uehara for the CL lead in CGs. He was 13-9 with a 3.11 ERA in 2003 and finished third in the Central League in both wins and ERA. He did not lead in complete games, as his 8 were three fewer than Uehara. He was on the Japanese staff in the 2003 Asian Championship; the team won Gold. In 2004, he fell to 7-9, 4.65 with a league-high 7 complete games but he did go 2-0 in the 2004 Olympics.

2005 marked Kuroda's best year to that point. Hiroki went 15-12, 3.17, tying Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi for the league lead in victories. He was second to Daisuke Miura in ERA and third in strikeouts (165 in 212 2/3 IP). He led in complete games for the fifth time in six years, with 11. Additionally, he picked up a Gold Glove Award and made the Best Nine as the top pitcher in the league. He became the first 200-million yen pitcher in Carp history. Through 2005, his career line was 78-75, 3.97. Given that he played in the most offense-friendly park in Japan, his ERA+ was probably more impressive than his ERA.

Picked to play for Japan in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, Kuroda was hit by a ball and injured his right index finger, getting replaced on the roster by Tomoyuki Kubota before he could pitch in the tournament. The injury left no lasting impression, though, as Kuroda dazzled through the 2006 season with a 13-6, 1.85 year with 144 K and 21 BB in 189 1/3 IP. He was second in the CL in wins, third in strikeouts, second in ERA and second in complete games. He made his second All-Star squad. He won CL pitcher of the month honors in both July and August (4-0, 1.11), becoming the first Carp hurler to win the award in back-to-back months. He then was sidelined for a spell with inflammation.

A free agent, Kuroda re-signed with Hiroshima instead of taking a look at other teams in Japan or the USA.

In the first 2007 NPB All-Star Game, Kuroda joined with Koji Uehara, Shingo Takatsu, Masanori Hayashi, Atsushi Kizuka, Hitoki Iwase, Tomoyuki Kubota, Marc Kroon and Kyuji Fujikawa to throw a one-hit shutout of the Pacific League. He was 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA in 2007, finishing 9th in the CL in ERA in a significant drop-off from 2006. He led the league with 7 complete games.

After the season, Kuroda declared free agency, seeking a possible trip to the US. He signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for 3 years and between $36-40 million. He won a spot in the Dodgers' starting rotation in spring training and made his debut on April 4, 2008 against the San Diego Padres. Kuroda had a fine big league debut, scoring as many runs as he allowed (one) and scattering three hits over 7 walkless innings. He retired the first batter he faced, Brian Giles, on a weak grounder, before striking out another Japanese player, Tadahito Iguchi. He retired the first 8 batters altogether before opposing pitcher Justin Germano singled. The only run was a solo shot by Giles in the 6th. Kuroda wound up with the victory while Chad Billingsley threw the final two frames. Kuroda was only 9-10 for the 2008 Dodgers, but had a 3.73 ERA and 119 ERA+, indicating poor luck and run support. He finished in the top 10 in the 2008 NL in complete games, shutouts and fewest walks per 9 innings. After 11 seasons with poor Hiroshima Carp clubs, he made his first postseason start in the NLDS, beating the Chicago Cubs with a strong Game 3 effort to eliminate them from the playoffs.

Kuroda had wanted to play for Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic but was plagued by shoulder problems in the off-season and withdrew his candidacy for the team in mid-December as he did not figure he would be recovered sufficiently. Having missed both WBCs due to injury, his only career appearances for the Japanese national team wound up being his 2003-2004 stint with them. He only made 21 appearances for the Dodgers in 2009, going 8-7, 3.76 in 117 1/3 innings. he then came back with two solid, if unspectacular season in 2010 and 2011, making 31 and 32 starts and finishing respectively at 11-13, 3.39 and 13-16, 3.07. In both years, he was a victim of poor offensive support, as his ERA+ was well above 100 both season, at 114 and 120, while striking out 159 and 161 batters. He was 9th in the '11 NL in ERA (between Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner), 10th in ERA+, second in losses (one behind Derek Lowe) and handled 51 chances error-free to tie for the best fielding percentage.

Kuroda signed a big free agent contract with the New York Yankees before the 2012 season, and had his best major league season wearing pinstripes that year. He made 33 starts, pitched 219 2/3 innings, struck out 167 strikeouts - all of these were personal bests - while putting up a record of 16-11, 3.32. he was the second pillar of the Yankees' starting rotation behind ace CC Sabathia, leading the team to a division title. In the postseason, he gave up 2 runs in 8 1/3 innings in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles on October 10th, but was not involved in the decision as the Yankees won, 3-2, in 12 innings. In the 2012 ALCS, he started Game 2 against the Detroit Tigers and again pitched well, but the three runs he gave up in 7 2/3 innings were enough to saddle him with a loss as the Yankees bats went cold in a 3-0 shutout loss. He was among the 2012 AL leaders in ERA (8th, between Matt Harrison and Jake Peavy), tied for 6th in wins (with Phil Hughes, Yu Darvish and Matt Scherzer), WHIP (8th, between Félix Hernández and James Shields), pitcher fielding (again tied for first at 1.000), 4th in IP (between Peavy and Shields), tied for 5th in complete games (3), tied 3rd in shutouts (2), 6th in ERA+ (127, between Harrison and Peavy) and 5th in Wins Above Replacement by a pitcher (5.3, between Chris Sale and Hernández).

Kuroda was one of the few healthy stars in the Yankees camp in 2013, as the team was devastated by injuries, but in his first start of the year against the Boston Red Sox on April 3rd, he was hit on a finger of his pitching hand by a line drive off the bat of Shane Victorino and had to leave the game in the 2nd inning with the Yankees already trailing, 2-0. He was charged with the 7-4 loss. Still, there were no aftereffects, as over his first 9 starts, he managed to keep his ERA under 2.00, while putting up a record of 6-2. He had only given up 42 hits and 14 walks in 58 2/3 innings, while striking out 39. In his next start against the Orioles on May 22nd, he gave the Yankees another scare when he took a batted ball off his right calf in the 2nd inning and had to leave the game in the 3rd with a bad bruise which developed as a result. However, once again, the injury was not expected to have any longer-term effect. He finished the year 11-13, 3.31 in 32 starts, pitching 201 1/3 innings. He was 10th in the 2013 AL in ERA+ (121) and again played error-free defense. He followed that with another solid season in 2014, when he made another 32 starts, with a record of 11-9, 3.71, pitching another 199 innings. Once again, he was the most reliable starter on a staff devastated by injuries. He only walked 1.58 per 9 innings, 4th in the 2014 AL (between David Price and Bruce Chen).

After the 2014 season, however, he decided to return to Japan, signing a one-year contract with his original team, the Hiroshima Carp, on December 27th. The deal was worth $3.3 million. The decision to finish his career back in Japan ended his major league run with a record of 79-79, and a 3.45 ERA in 7 seasons. Extremely durable, he pitched at least 180 innings in six of the seven seasons. He became the second pitcher age 40 or older to start a NPB All-Star Game when he started 2015 NPB All-Star Game 2 (Yutaka Ono had been the first, 18 years prior). He struck out three in two shutout innings, escaping damage despite three hits and a walk; it set a record for most Ks by a pitcher over 40 in a NPB All-Star Game - Kimiyasu Kudoh had held the mark of 2. Kenta Maeda succeeded him. He finished 11-8 with a 2.55 ERA in 2015, walking only 29 in 169 2/3 IP. He was 7th in the CL in ERA (between Yudai Ono and Aaron Poreda), tied for 6th in wins, was 8th in IP (between Minoru Iwata and Yasuhiro Ogawa) and was 6th in WHIP (between Kris Johnson and Randy Messenger). He got one third-place vote for the 2015 Central League Most Valuable Player Award.

In his final season, Kuroda was a still solid 10-8 with a 3.09 ERA and drove in a career-high five runs to boot. He was 7th in ERA (between Messenger and Kenta Ishida). He was 8th in voting for the 2016 CL MVP, between Tetsuto Yamada and Hayato Sakamoto. He reached the meikyukai with his 200th win between MLB and NPB. He made his final start in Game 3 of the 2016 Japan Series and did well, allowing one run in 5 2/3 IP before having to leave with leg cramps; he held a 2-1 lead over the Nippon Ham Fighters but his bullpen failed to hold on and Hiroshima would lose the Series. For a player known for his durability, it was an odd ending to his career. He was the 4th-oldest person to appear in a Japan Series, after Masahiro Yamamoto, Takashi Saitoh and Tadashi Wakabayashi. He later was a guest baseball commentator on Japanese TV broadcasts.

He was 4th in voting in the 2022 Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame Election, missing out on induction. Picking up 80 more votes in 2023, he fell 20 votes shy (245 of 265 needed) and was third behind Alex Ramirez and Motonobu Tanishige; Ramirez made it in. In his third year, he added 36 more votes in 2024 to tie Tanishige for the most votes (281) as they both won induction alongside long-time umpire Tomoichi Tanimura.

Kuroda's repertoire featured a fastball that peaked at 97 mph, a slider, a splitter, and a hard shuuto (sinker/two-seamer) which makes him an effective ground-ball pitcher. He was criticized for relying too heavily on his fastball. He was known as a tough competitor. He had gone 124-105 with a 3.55 ERA and 76 complete games in NPB.

Main source: Defunct Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (2012)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 3 (2011-2013)

Related Sites[edit]