Baseball is in for a treat tonight, as two of the American League's best pitchers face off tonight at Yankee Stadium. The Rangers' Yu Darvish (65) and the Yankees' Hiroki Kuroda (67) rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in the AL on the ERA- leaderboard. Darvish is almost unanimously the ace of the Rangers' rotation, and with CC Sabathia perhaps declining, Kuroda has a decent case to be considered the Yankees' ace. The tale of the tape:
|IP (GS)||101 1/3 (15)||94 (16)|
|ERA (ERA-)||2.84 (65)||2.78 (67)|
|FIP (FIP-)||2.82 (65)||3.40 (82)|
|K (K/9)||137 (12.2)||62 (5.9)|
|BB (BB/9)||31 (2.8)||20 (1.9)|
|H (H/9)||67 (6.0)||80 (7.7)|
|HR (HR/9)||11 (1.0)||7 (0.7)|
Kuroda's numbers are superb, but Darvish's statistics are off the charts. Since starting the season with a near-perfect debut, he's gone on to lead the AL in strikeouts, hits per nine innings, and strikeouts per nine innings. He's struck out at least 10 batters in 40% of his starts, including 14 on three separate occasions. His control isn't as good as Kuroda's, but it's not bad. Even while playing half his game in hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark, he has done a tremendous job this year.
Kuroda has been about as consistent as one could hope, tossing several great games for the Yankees this year, highlighted by a five-hit shutout against the Orioles on April 14. He doesn't notch as many punchouts as Darvish, but opposing hitters frequently struggle to make hard contact with his pitches, often leading to relatively easy plays for his defense.
Darvish has silenced hitters mostly with his slider and four-seam fastball. Batters are hitting an abysmal .144/.209/.200 against the slider (his most-used pitch at 38.8%), leading to an incredible 18.5 slider runs above average according to PITCH F/X. When not throwing the slider, Darvish has most often deployed his ~93 mph four-seamer, resulting in an also-poor .143/.250/.333 triple slash. It seems like the only pitches the Yankees' hitters might have much of a chance against are his cutter and two-seam fastball. The cutter has yielded a .268/.306/.454 triple slash, and the the two-seamer has led to a .227/.333/.523. Hitters only appear to power these two pitches out against Darvish; the other two pitches are simply unforgiving in their dominance. Darvish will also occasionally throw a curve and a splitter, but he's only thrown each about four percent of the time this year.
Kuroda's repertoire has only demonstrated one weakness. Unfortunately, the weakness is his favorite pitch, the sinker (38.6% usage), which was terrific last year. Of his five pitches, the sinker is the only one weighted negatively by PITCH F/X, at -1.7 and a .286/.341/.468 triple slash against. Fortunately, he's made up for those problems with terrific results on his slider (.188/.220/.238, +7.3 wSL), splitter (.161/.200/.161, +2.5 wFS), and even his 90 mph four-seam fastball (.229/.229/.371, +1.4 wFA).
The two foes faced each other on April 24 of last season, when Darvish outdueled Kuroda in a 2-0 victory in Texas. A first-inning solo homer by Ian Kinsler and a third-inning RBI single by Josh Hamilton accounted for the only runs against Kuroda, who only gave up three other hits in 6 2/3 innings. Darvish however shut the Yankees out until his removal with one out in the ninth, striking out 10 Yankees along the way.
The lineups this time around are quite different, and the Yankees' offense getting weaker could lead to an ugly night in the Bronx. They will have to count on Kuroda to shut down the Rangers and hope for the best that their hitters can scratch out a few runs against the Texas ace, work his pitch count up, and remove him from the game as soon as possible. Otherwise, it might be a bad night at Yankee Stadium. Darvish is a damn good pitcher, and it's a damn shame that the Yankees didn't make a legitimate run at him when he could have been acquired for mere dollars.
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