Hiroki Kuroda has won 79 games in his major league career and he enters Wednesday night’s Central League game between his Hiroshima Carp and the Chunichi Dragons with 120 wins in Nippon Professional Baseball. While neither total is in itself worthy of much notice, as we learned in the case of Ichiro Suzuki and the number 4,257, a number can indeed be greater than the sum of its parts.
In this case, Kuroda’s next win will give him a sum of 200 — Japan’s iconic pitching-wins milestone, upon which an old geezer will rush onto the field and present him with a blazer and welcome him into the Showa Meikyukai — the society of famous players from Japan’s Showa era that also includes batters with 2,000 career hits. (I’m guessing their going to have to rename it the Showa-Heisei Meikyukai in another 10 years when Hayato Sakamoto and Tetsuto Yamada reach 2,000 since they weren’t born in Japan’s Heisei era.)
Anyway, Kuroda was a hugely underrated pitcher before he left Hiroshima for the Los Angeles Dodgers as a free agent. Pitching in a home run-friendly park, with a lousy defense and no offense to speak of behind him, Kuroda was considered one of the CL’s better pitchers — but not really as good as those first-tier studs such as Daisuke Matsuzaka, Koji Uehara, Kazumi Saito, Kei Igawa or Kenshin Kawakami — guys who won Sawamura Awards playing for teams with powerful offenses and good defenses behind them.
About the time Kuroda was going to the States, I did a study comparing him to the Chunichi Dragons’ Kawakami, who was a terrific pitcher. In games at the home parks of the CL’s three other teams, with vastly better run support because Chunichi’s offense was really good, Kawakami’s ERA was more than a run higher than Kuroda’s and his win-loss record no better.
The other pitcher who regularly ranked among the best in the Central League a decade ago, was another right-hander who played in a good home run park (Yokohama Stadium) with a lousy offense and precious little fielding behind him. That was Daisuke Miura, who is currently a player-coach with the BayStars with the emphasis on “coach.” According to manager Alex Ramirez, Miura is slated to get his first start of the season in the coming days.
To add to the drama in the CL’s starting pitching announcements, side-armer Shohei Tateyama of the Yakult Swallows, a three-time loser of the Tommy John elbow sweepstakes, is taking to the mound tonight after having the elbow cleaned out with an arthroscope in April. This weekend, the Swallows will also see the second coming of Yoshinori Sato. Once the hardest throwing Japanese pitcher in NPB, Sato will be taking the mound for the first time in five years.