What to Watch For: Kuroda vs Rangers

Hiroki Kuroda dominated the Rangers in Arlington last July. Can he do it again tonight? (Photo: Brandon Wade/AP)
July's Finest Hiroki Kuroda had a rough April, finishing the month with a 5.28 ERA. But since then he has posted a lower ERA in each successive month, including a 3.27 ERA in July entering his final start of the month.

It should be no surprise that Kuroda is pitching at his best in July – he is 7-1 with a 2.50 ERA in 15 starts during the month in his Yankee career.

That ERA is the fourth-best by any Yankee in July over the last 100 years, and his win percentage is the second-best, behind only Dennis Rasmussen's 11-1 record in the mid-1980s (min. 15 starts).

Left Out The key to his success this July has been his ability to keep lefties off the basepaths. Opposite-handed batters are hitting just .197/.239/.273 against him this month, compared to a .272/.315/.433 line in the first three months of the season.

He's gone to his signature splitter more often against lefties in July (40 percent of the time) and it's been a legit wipeout pitch for him.

As you can see in the heat map below on the left, he likes to bury the pitch low and away vs lefties. The sharp, late-breaking downward movement causes batters to think it's a strike before it drops below the knees just as it crosses home plate.
Kuroda splitter heat map

Left-handers have two singles in 27 at-bats (.074) ending in a splitter from Kuroda in July, and 23 of the 26 outs have been either strikeouts or groundouts. Lefties have swung at nearly 60 percent of his splitters, despite the fact that only one out of every five has been thrown in the strike zone.

If Kuroda can continue to fool lefties with his dominant splitter, he should have no issue against the Rangers' three regular lefty-swinging bats (Rougned Odor, Shin-Soo Choo, Leonys Martin), who have combined to hit .231 in July.

Can Kuroda Get it Right? The problem for him might be in getting the Rangers' right-handed bats out. Righties are hitting .283 and slugging .517 against Kuroda in July, with nearly half of the hits going for extra bases.

The Rangers right-handed bats have crushed Yankee pitchers so far in this series, going 18-for-42 (.429) with 14 RBI in the first two games.

Adrian Beltre has been the Rangers' biggest threat from the right side of the plate this season, and is hitting .293/.340/.535 with six homers in July.

However, Kuroda does have history on his side in the matchup against Beltre, who is 2-for-18 (.111) in his career against the Japanese righty. That is Beltre's third-lowest batting average vs any active pitcher (min. 15 at-bats).

His last hit against Kuroda was a double in 2010 with the Red Sox, and since then he has zero hits in their last 12 head-to-head battles.

Texas Time Based on historical stats, there are few pitchers that the Yankees would rather have on the mound tonight against the Rangers than Kuroda.

Since joining the Yankees in 2012, he has limited Texas to a 1.23 ERA and .492 OPS in four starts. Both of those marks are the best by any Yankee pitcher in franchise history who has made at least four starts against the Rangers.

He has not allowed more than two runs in any of his four starts against them, while pitching into the seventh inning in each one.

Kuroda likely won't be fazed by the Texas heat either. Last year he threw seven scoreless innings against the Rangers in Arlington, scattering six singles in a win on July 25, 2013.