Introducing Hisashi Iwakuma
By R.J. Anderson //
We’ve already covered the Athletics’ trade of Vin Mazzaro. The preface to that deal involves the A’s winning the negotiating rights to Hisashi Iwakuma. Yes, Iwakuma is from Japan, which means the level of knowledge about his pitching abilities and potential sits lower than most domestic products.
Keith Law ranked Iwakuma as the sixteenth best free agent available this offseason. Noting Iwakuma’s upside as “mid- to back-of-the-rotation guy” and stating that his delivery is “more conventional” while his mindset is “pitch-to-contact.” Law also offered a scouting report on Iwakuma’s stuff. The basics being that Iwakuma sits in the low-90s while relying on his secondary pitches throughout at-bats.
All of that information combined with the knowledge of Iwakuma’s park and division make it easy to set the baseline projections around a league average performance. Going a step further, though, how have previous Japanese starters fared in making the move?
Only 12 pitchers born in Japan have made more than 10 starts in the major leagues. Only nine have made more than 15 starts. Iwakuma will (presumably) become the tenth sometime around the All-Star Break. The nine names to concern yourself with here are Hideo Nomo, Tomo Ohka, Masato Yoshii, Kazuhisa Ishii, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hiroki Kuroda, Hideki Irabu, Mac Suzuki, and Kenshin Kawakami. Eliminating the pitchers who came up through the minor leagues (Ohka, Suzuki) leaves us with these first full season results:
Overall impressive, although one has to keep in mind the inherent survivor bias. There are Japanese pitchers like Kei Igawa whom received a ton of cash and quickly bombed out of the rotation. There is no guarantee Iwakamu will avoid that faith in 2011 and particularly not in 2012. Kawakami had the third best debut season and Atlanta Braves removed him from their 40-man rotation over the weekend. Meanwhile the stories of Nomo, Irabu, Ishii, and Matsuzaka are common in the public consciousness.
Iwakuma looks rosterable (at least to begin the season) with an ERA projection around 4.00.
For more on Hisashi Iwakuma and mid-rotation candidates check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.