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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.