Top Japanese Import, Matsuzaka or Kuroda?

In 2007, Daisuke Matsuzaka became the talk of baseball with his Gyroball and the over $51M paid by the Red Sox to negotiate for him. The next season, Hiroki Kuroda quietly signed with the Dodgers. Since coming over from Japan, Matsuzaka has gotten more media coverage while the less publicized Kuroda has been the better pitcher on the field.

Matsuzaka came to the U.S. under a media storm which can be seen in the number of news articles written about him. Doing a Google search for news stories shows that he has had about 25K news articles written about him. On the other hand, Kuroda has had only about 1/4 the number of online articles. The 36-year-old Kuroda has definitely flown under the radar compared to his fellow countryman.

Since joining the league, their only similarity seems to be that they were from Japan. After signing with the Red Sox, Dice-K had 15 wins and over 200 Ks, helping the Red Sox to a 2007 World Series title. He had similar production in 2008 with an 18-3 record. In 2009 is when injuries began to creep up on him. In 2009 and 2010 he went on the DL five times and missed 164 games. In 2011, the story hasn’t been much different. He managed only seven starts and has been on the DL since May 17th.

His WAR totals definitely mirror his ability to stay healthy. In 2007 and 2008, he generated 7.2 WAR. From 2009 on he has totaled only 3.2 WAR. The 30-year-old still has a chance to rebound to his previous levels, but after each injury he deals with, the chances get slimmer and slimmer.

On the other hand, Kuroda has been fairly steady with his production while with the Dodgers. He has averaged 3.3 WAR and 28 starts from 2008 to 2010. So far in 2011 he has generated 1.2 WAR for career total of 11.1 WAR in 3.5 seasons, or 0.7 WAR more than Matsuzaka has created in his 4.5 seasons with the Red Sox.

Besides the fanfare of the signing and helping lead the Red Sox to a World Series Championship, it can be easy to tell why Matsuzaka gets more media attention. His 49-30 record looks prettier than Kuroda’s 33-39 record. Also he has been able to strike out more batters (8.2 K/9) than Kuroda (6.6 K/9).

Kuroda, on the other hand walks, less than half the batters (2.1 BB/9) than Matsuzaka (4.4 BB/9). Even though Kuroda has started seven fewer games, has has generated a bit more WAR due to his better walk rate. Kuroda’s career ERA/FIP/xFIP values (3.52/3.52/3.63) are about 0.75 points lower than Matsuzaka’s (4.25/4.25/4.52) values.

Matsuzaka came over from Japan with a media blitz and once he is done pitching, there will probably be another one. Kuroda has had less hype surrounding him, but has been the better of the two pitchers.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

12 Responses to “Top Japanese Import, Matsuzaka or Kuroda?”

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  1. johngomes says:

    retired nomo.

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  2. Telo says:

    I wish Rice-K was half as good as Kuroda.

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  3. Go To War Miss Agnes says:

    FWIW, Koji Uehara is pretty awesome too, he just doesn’t stay healthy enough to put up WAR totals like these two (which is why he was moved to the ‘pen). Still, 149 strikeouts and 24 unintentional walks in 146.2 MLB innings is pretty freaking awesome. Too bad he didn’t come over earlier in his career; it would have been interesting to see what he could do as a starter.

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  4. ImKeithHernandez says:

    The real story here is that 100% of Japanese players mentioned in this article have no difference between their ERA and FIP.

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  5. Matt K says:

    Ichiro Suzuki.

    you didn’t specify only pitchers…

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  6. gradygradychase says:

    All of you will come to the conclusion that Yu Darvish must be (by far) the top Japanese import in the long history.

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  7. Takashi Saito and Kaz Sasaki were pretty awesome free agents, too.

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  8. Mario Mendoza says:

    Kei Igawa

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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