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In appreciation of Hiroki Kuroda: Default Ace

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Similar to last year, there's another possibility that this might be the trusty right-hander's final season. You'll miss him when he's gone.

Jim McIsaac

Consistency is one of the attributes that a person can possess that makes them both incredibly reliable and unremarkable at the same time. You can garner a lot more attention from the media and fans in baseball by either doing exceedingly well or exceedingly poorly. Players like Dellin Betances and Brian McCann have had their share of coverage for lying on opposite ends of the spectrum, but for Hiroki Kuroda 2014 has been just another season. And not unlike 2013, thanks to injuries and/or general ineffectiveness with the rest of the starting staff, Kuroda has once again been the de facto ace for the Yankees.

It really has been an impressive run for Kuroda. Not "Hiroki Kuroda Day" or "plaque on a wall" worthy or anything, but just of remarkably consistent quality. His three seasons with the team have been worth well above 3 fWAR and his peripherals have been incredibly alike.

Year

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

ERA

FIP

2012

6.84

2.09

1.02

3.32

3.86

2013

6.71

1.92

0.89

3.31

3.56

2014

6.35

1.71

0.83

3.81

3.6

Just at a glance you're seeing a lot of similar numbers across the board. The only slight difference this year is that for the first time since 2010 Kuroda's ERA has actually been higher than his FIP. Perhaps that's a sign of his abilities waning, but such things are hard to determine with certainty in just a single season.

If this is the last go around for Kuroda, he'll end up somewhere around 23 fWAR in seven MLB seasons taking place all after the age of 33. His win-loss record, which currently sits at 78-79, will obviously have some discount how good he's been. But as we've all been witnesses to during his time in New York his luster shouldn't have some of the shine taken off when his offenses have been downright anemic for him while he's been out on the mound.

Even beyond the numbers, chances are Kuroda won't be remembered much by Yankees fans. He's had the misfortune of being on two of the most disappointing teams of the Yankees' last 20 years. He has no major awards or All-Star appearances to his name. Speaking another language doesn't make for many memorable press conferences or postgame interviews and his demeanor on the mound is usually best described as stoic. Kuroda gets by on control and a heavy splitter, not electrifying stuff. It's a profile that doesn't jump off of a baseball card or television screen.

We should appreciate him all the same, though. I think there's a certain admirability to being so reliable while your team completely falls apart around you. Announcers and writers probably make too much of a deal about morale and psyche when it comes to pitchers, but it still can't be easy to just consistently go about your job when you know that your teammates aren't likely to save you from a loss if you give up a run or two. Kuroda's been unflappable through it all.

When it comes to next season I think I have the same opinion as most Yankees fans. The possibilities of getting a guy like Brandon McCarthy back or poaching one of the other premier pitching free agents are more exciting than bringing back 40 year-old Hiroki Kuroda for another go around. Maybe he makes the decision for the team and retires or goes back to the NPB for a swan song in his native land. It would be hard for the Yankees to pass on another year from a pitcher who has been rock-solid if he wants to return, and I wouldn't fault them if this season's bevy of injuries make them run back to a guy who has been as close to an automatic 200 innings as you can get. Whatever he decides, I'm going to remember Kuroda's three years in New York very fondly and miss him if he goes.