Kuroda a Great Fit for D-backs

As it had a few weeks ago, word came out today that the D-backs are interested in Hiroki Kuroda. If they were able to sign him, the move would be a win for both player and team, and would round the D-backs roster out nicely.

From the D-backs perspective, Kuroda may be the best starter on the market. He is reportedly looking for $12-13 million a season, which would make him the D-backs’ highest paid player next season, but while it’s not ideal to pay your third starter more than everyone else on the team, it’s certainly preferable to paying Joe Saunders $8.7 million. Saunders has been worth that much money just once in his career, and that was in 2008. He was worth essentially half that this year — he needs to be non-tendered, and the news that Arizona is in the market for Kuroda means that they know that.

Slotting Kuroda into the third spot in the rotation would set the top of the rotation up as such:

Pitcher ’11 WAR ’11 xFIP
Ian Kennedy 5.0 3.50
Daniel Hudson 4.9 3.79
Hiroki Kuroda 2.4 3.56
Josh Collmenter 2.2 4.18

The D-backs would then have the luxury of instituting a healthy competition between Trevor Bauer, Jarrod Parker and Tyler Skaggs, with guys like Barry Enright, Wade Miley and Zach Kroenke hanging around for funsies instead of being guys that need to be relied on. In other words, signing Kuroda would give the D-backs incredible depth at starter.

Having good depth is an underrated thing — even teams that have it want to get rid of it. For most of last season, the D-backs didn’t have enough of it. Their top four starters — Kennedy, Hudson, Collmenter and Saunders — threw nearly 800 innings of 3.59 ERA baseball. But the D-backs also needed 39 starts from the motley crew of Zach Duke, Armando Galarraga, Miley, Enright, Micah Owings, Jason Marquis and Parker. Well, okay, they probably didn’t need Parker’s start, they wanted to give him a taste. So let’s take that out. In the other 38 starts, the group threw 202 innings of 5.70 ERA ball. Even for the fifth spot in a rotation, that’s below-average.

It’s not just depth that the D-backs would acquire though. If they just wanted depth, they could keep Saunders and the above scenario with Bauer, Parker and Skaggs doesn’t change. But with Kuroda, the D-backs would have three of the top 50 starters from last season, according to xFIP. Kuroda also fits the D-backs well. He is efficient, an important concern in the desert, where letting players take and rake can get dangerous quickly. Among free agent starters, only Bartolo Colon had a better K/BB than Kuroda last season, and since 2008, only Roy Oswalt and Javier Vazquez had better marks. Oswalt may now be fragile, and Vazquez may retire.

Kuroda also does a good job of keeping the ball on the ground. While his GB/FB went a little backwards last year, his 1.24 GB/FB is still fairly healthy, and Kuroda did a slightly better job of getting the ball on the ground outside of spacious Dodger Stadium. Looking again at Kuroda’s four-year career and comparing him to current free agent starters, only Joel Pineiro and Paul Maholm have better GB/FB numbers.

That’s not to say that Kuroda is a perfect fit. It would likely give the D-backs an all right-handed rotation, something that an enterprising manager might be able to exploit in the postseason. But that’s a trifling concern. Of greater concern is Kuroda’s inflated HR/9. For the first time in his four years stateside, Kuroda posted a below-average HR/9, and that could be a problem in Arizona if that persisted.

Hiroki Kuroda is one of the better pitchers on the free-agent market, and would give the D-backs a deep rotation that while still won’t be as top-heavy as the Giants’, it would certainly be deeper. And since Arizona already is set with their position player starters, third-fourth starter is really their only remaining concern. Kuroda is a good fit for the D-backs, and the D-backs him, and with him the D-backs’ chances of repeating get better.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

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Really well argued, Paul. I’d love to see Kuroda on a short-term deal, which could mean that if both Parker and Bauer look good, even Collmenter could move into the ‘pen.