Image courtesy of SI.com

Non-Tendered Player Watch: Dodgers RP Hong-Chih Kuo

There weren’t many names that stood out on last night’s non-tendered player list, but one that was particularly intriguing was left-handed reliever Hong-Chih Kuo.

It’s unclear as to whether or not Kuo will pitch next year following a career-worst 2011 season with the Dodgers, but he could be a great option for the Blue Jays’ bullpen especially if he’s able to return to his 2008-10 form.

This past season, Kuo tossed a career-low 27 innings while dealing with an anxiety disorder for the second time in his career. Though he gave up 27 earned runs (9.00 ERA) and issued 23 walks, he also struck out 36 batters, good for a career-high 12.0 K/9 (full season), and continued to showcase his ability to fan opposing hitters. Even with an off year, Kuo’s 2011 campaign marked his seventh consecutive season where he finished with a swinging strike rate of over 10 percent.

That’s a stark contrast to the 1.96 ERA and 56 innings he averaged per year in his previous three seasons. In fact, just one year ago in 2010, Kuo compiled a team-record 1.20 ERA/1.81 FIP in 60 dominant innings, allowing a mere 29 hits with 73 strikeouts en route to earning his first All-Star selection and unseating Jonathan Broxton as the team’s closer.

Kuo was non-tendered by the Dodgers because of their uncertainty over his interest in pitching next year, but the club remains interested in bringing him back, according to Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times (via Twitter).

In addition to his numbers and battle with an anxiety disorder this past season, though, Kuo underwent his fifth elbow surgery in October. Even though it was a minor procedure for a change to remove a loose body, Kuo might just decide to walk away for good this time. After all, having already had to battle through two Tommy John surgeries, other elbow procedures, rotator cuff soreness, and a slew of time on the disabled list from other discomfort, Kuo might ultimately decide that enough is enough and retire. For a great read on the kind of obstacles that Kuo has had to overcome during his career, check out Eno Sarris’ October article over on FanGraphs.

It’s important to never count Kuo out since he’s proved people wrong many times before and returned to baseball, though it’s hard to imagine him leaving the Dodgers, the only organization that he’s ever known. But if he’s interested in playing again next year, one has to think that Alex Anthopoulos will be sure to give him a call.

-JM

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Tags: Hong-Chih Kuo Los Angeles Dodgers

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