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Kuroda & Jackson: One-Year (Contract) Wonders

Prior to this past offseason, five of Dave Cameron’s top ten free agents were starting pitchers. Both CC Sabathia (#3) and C.J. Wilson (#5) landed mega-contracts while Roy Oswalt (#9) decided to take the Pedro Martinez/Roger Clemens route and sign midseason. The other two guys — Hiroki Kuroda (#8) and Edwin Jackson (#10) — signed nearly identical one-year contracts. Eight months later, they share another thing in common: they’re pitching for the team with the best record in their respective league.

Kuroda, 37, landed a $10 million salary from the Yankees. At 3.3 WAR, he’s already had the third-best season of his five-year MLB career and appears poised to zoom past his career-high 4.1 WAR from 2010. Jackson, 28, signed with the Nationals for $11 million, but is having a slightly down year by his standards. He’s at 1.6 WAR and seems likely to a) fall short of the 3.6-3.8 WAR level he’s established these last three years, and b) still provide the Nationals plenty of surplus value.

Both Kuroda and Jackson have given their teams exactly the kind of short-term and affordable rotation stability they were seeking when they handed out those eight-figure guarantees. Kuroda has been a bit better thus far, but the two have similar numbers overall…

Kuroda 167.0 2.96 3.71 3.70 18.6% 5.7% 3.4% 0.754
Jackson 144.0 3.69 4.09 3.92 20.4% 7.6% 4.4% 0.756

† HR/CON is homers per plate appearances with contact, so HR/(TBF-BB-K-HBP). That is perhaps the best way to measure a pitcher’s ability to limit the long ball. The MLB average this year is 3.8% HR/CON.

‡ Opp. OPS is the quality of the opposition, not what hitters have hit against our particular pitchers. For all intents and purposes, Kuroda and Jackson have faced hitters of equal quality this season.

Given his age and the fact that he seemed disinclined to pitch anywhere other than New York, Los Angeles, or back home in Japan, it’s obvious why Kuroda had to settle for a one-year pact this winter. Jackson, on the other hand, is right smack in the prime of his career and did in fact receive a multi-year offer, a three-year contract worth more than $30 million from the Pirates according to Ken Rosenthal. He instead opted for the one-year pillow contract, a Scott Boras specialty. Whether he increased his stock is up for debate.

Despite his relatively down year, Jackson should have no trouble landing a multi-year guarantee after the season, perhaps to remain with the Nationals. Kuroda might be able to get multiple years as well, surprisingly enough. Pitchers that age usually have to live the year-to-year life, but he’s fit in so well with the Yankees that they could look to bring him back for two more years instead of one. That’s a bit of a stretch, but it’s not completely insane. Either way, these two represent two of the very best value signings of the offseason, providing impact without busting the budget for baseball’s two best teams.