Maybe you haven’t thought about him much in the recent past. I wouldn’t really blame you, considering that he left the Majors back in 2014 and hasn’t really been in the public eye (in the US, at least) since. That’s totally fair; he had seven years as a solid starter in the majors, which isn’t nothing, but still…time moves on, you know?
I was basically in the same boat anyway, so I can’t really say that I blame you. Plenty of pitchers have good seven year runs, and even if you’ve like me and have devoted as much of your memory to random baseball trivia at the expense of most other useful things, you just can’t remember all of them all the time. But that just made it all the more surprising when I saw his name pop up recently in some research that I was doing.
In case you haven’t thought about Kuroda’s career lately, it’s worth noting that, when he debuted in the Majors way back in 2008, he was already 33, with over a decade of seasons in Japan already under his belt. Despite his rookie season coming at such an advanced age, Kuroda went on to post a surprisingly strong career line: in 1319 innings pitched, Kuroda posted a 986 to 292 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 1.172 WHIP, and a 3.45 ERA (good for a 115 ERA+). All of that adds up to 21.7 Wins Above Replacement, in spite of the rather mediocre-looking 79-79 career record.
That would be a good run for just about anyone, but for a pitcher to post that in their ages 33 to 39 seasons is especially impressive! And not only that, he went back to Japan for two more seasons with his longtime NPB* team, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.
*Nippon Professional Baseball
To have a run like that, at those ages, is pretty exceptional. In fact, Kuroda ranks 55th all time in pitching WAR after age 33. Even more notable are some of the names immediately around him: you’ve got a trio of Hall of Famers (Fergie Jenkins 22.8, Whitey Ford 21.6, Jesse Haines 21.6) and another trio of knuckleballers (Tim Wakefield 22.8, Tom Candiotti 22.8, R.A. Dickey 22.7). That’s interesting company, if nothing else.
And pitching that good late in your career isn’t exactly a guarantee that one is destined for Cooperstown (those knuckleballers are evidence of that, as are numerous others on the list), but it’s also certainly not nothing. Indeed, only 27 Hall of Famers are better. It’s certainly enough to make me wonder: how might Hiroki Kuroda have done if he had started his career in the Majors? Would he be looking at a possible Cooperstown induction? I decided to take a stab at it.