Welcome to another installment of Mortal Kombat, where we take two evenly matched players and have them square off against one another to find out who the better man is. This week it’s a battle of age verse youth as we pit the 39 year old Hiroki Kuroda against 27 year old Hyun-Jin Ryu with international bragging rights on the line.
Last year on average Kuroda was select mid-draft while Ryu was nothing more than a late round pick (or a waiver wire gem). Kuroda ended the year on a rough note; otherwise his numbers would have been very similar to Ryu. Despite his past accomplishments Kuroda’s ADP at couch managers is currently 200 so he’s going off the board in round 17. Ryu on the other hand has an ADP of 139 and being taken in round 12. Ryu is also favored on ESPN and Fake teams ranking 28th and 30th respectively. Kuroda value was much lower as he received rankings of 43rd and 55th among starting pitchers.
So is Ryu better than Kuroda, or is he just getting the nod because of his age and upside?
Wins are such an arbitrary stat and are out of the pitchers hands when you take into consideration a team’s offense, defense and bullpen. James Shields finished with 13 wins last year but deserved better than that. Kuroda managed just 11, but had the Yankees not be decimated by injuries he could have matched the 14 Ryu ended the season with. The Yankees have made some big additions to their offense this season along with an all-star catcher so Kuroda should see higher totals next year. So instead of looking at wins I’m going to look at quality starts since a quality start gives the starter a higher probability to get a win.
Out of 30 games started, Ryu had 22 quality starts. There were only 5 games where he allowed 4 or more runs so he kept his team in the game more often than not. Kuroda 19 quality starts out of 32. He allowed 4 runs or more in a game 8 times last year, five of those coming over the last 2 months. That means in one quarter of the games he pitches he relies on the offense to bail him out.
Both pitchers have a high powered offense behind them, and both teams have some injury concerns with their star players so both Kuroda & Ryu are on equal footing here. Out of the two, Ryu has a higher probability to rack up more wins, but it will only be a few more.
ADVANTAGE – RYU
Ryu’s fastball velocity was 90.7 MPH last year. He doesn’t overpower hitters but did use his fastball a little over 54% of the time (23.3% two seam – 31.3% four seam). He relies on his 79.5 MPH changeup, 82 MPH slider and 72 MPH curveball to keep hitters off balance. Last year Ryu totaled 154 strikeouts over 192 innings. Almost all the projections I’ve viewed don’t have him throwing more than 165 strikeouts which is in line with the 160 I estimated for him.
Kuroda doesn’t use his fastball much which isn’t surprising since he lost some velocity there and it currently sits at 90.6 MPH. He relies more on a 91.5 MPH sinker (41%) and 84 MPH slider (29%) mixing in his splitter, four seam fastball and curveball. Kuroda only had 150 strikeouts last season in just over 200 innings, but he averaged 162 over the previous three seasons. The presence of a veteran game caller like McCann should help Kuroda and bring the strikeout total back up to his previous average.
Some might call for Kuroda to throw less K’s because of his age, but the same argument could be made for Ryu as he enters a potential sophomore slump year than targets many new pitchers. Either way, both pitchers should be good for at least 150 and neither one has the stuff to push them much over 160.
ADVANTAGE – NONE
Kuroda’s highest whip was his rookie season when he posted a 1.22. On average his WHIP sits in the 1.16 range which is what he put up last year. A large part of that WHIP is due to his 5.6% walk percentage, and that number has never gone over 6.0%. His career hits per 9 is 8.55 and overall that number is consistent from year to year. Normally I would dig deeper into this but considering his walks and hits are virtually identical from year to year, there is no reason to expect anything other than a 1.16 WHIP.
Ryu ended the year with a WHIP of 1.20. His hits per 9 last year were almost identical to Kuroda’s at 8.53. He had a 6.3% walk rate last year, and while he totaled 49 walks; only 10 were issued after the break. By looking at the decrease in walks in the second half you’d think the WHIP would improve, but while his walks went down in the second half the number of hits allowed increased. The numbers are close as it is, and when you factor in a possible regression for Kuroda or potential improvements by Ryu; there really is no difference between the two in this category.
ADVANTAGE – NONE
Just like when I talked about Kuroda’s WHIP, there no real reason to dig deep here. He’s allowed between 69 and 81 runs in a season, but overall you’re looking at earned runs in the 70 range. He has never had an ERA over 3.76 or one under 3.0, and the past two years his ERA has been identical (3.32 – 3.31). His FIP is usually in the same neighborhood as his ERA so there are no red flags here. Finally his BBA has been between .243 and .254 for his entire career. In the past 4 years nothing has really changed about Kuroda so you can pretty much bank on an ERA of 3.4 (give or take a few points).
Our information on Ryu is limited to just one season so there is less predictability here and a little more guesswork. He finished the year with an ERA of 3.0 and while his FIP and xFIP were a little higher, there wasn’t that big of a difference. He allowed 64 earned runs last season, 15 of those came across via a home run. With a 30.5% fly ball rate and an 8.7% home run to fly ball ratio I don’t see his home run rate going much higher. Ryu had a 50.6% groundball rate last year and he ranked 13th last year for ground out/air out ratio. He also finished the year with a .252 BAA.
The two are very similar in many categories. Only 1.5% separates them on any one of the LD/FB/GB categories. Both their BABIP scores are in the .290 range and their BAA is almost identical. The one big difference between the two is their home run totals. Ryu finished with the kind of numbers that Kuroda had when he first came into the league, but Kuroda now averages in the 20 range. Those few extra home runs can make a big difference in a players ERA, and they are the deciding factor here.
ADVANTAGE and WINNER – RYU
Now I’m sure most of you predicted the outcome of this battle before reading a word just as I knew before writing a thing. What I don’t think many of you anticipated is how close of a fight this would be. Ryu took wins but Kuroda can be right behind him if the Yankees offence steps it up this year. WHIP & strikeouts are both too close to call and for fantasy purposes, you can’t go wrong with either player when it comes to these two categories. And while ERA was the deciding factor, Kuroda’s numbers don’t climb to a point that warrant that large of a discrepancy in their rankings or ADP. Kuroda is (will be) 39 so I can see his age scaring off some potential suitors. Ryu deserves his ranking and ADP, but Kuroda deserves a little more consideration and love from the fantasy community.
Do you have a few players that you would like to see featured here? Just leave your suggestions in the comments section below or send them to me on twitter @TheJimFinch