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November 12, 2010

Analyze This

Hisashi Iwakuma

by Jesse Behr

After being the highest bidder at nearly $17 million, the Athletics now have 30 days to negotiate a contract with Japanese right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma. This will be Billy Beane’s first attempt at signing a Japanese player through the posting process. Oakland, the team notoriously known for its Moneyball managerial style, has never dished out this kind of money on an international player. Does he deserve the dough? Here’s what the righty did while pitching in Japan:

Hisashi Iwakuma                  Age 29
Year Team           G  GS   IP   H   ER HR  BB  K  DERA  W  L  H/9 BB/9  K/9 STF  RAR
2001 Osaka Kintet   9   8  43.3 48   31  4  12  20 6.44  2  3 10.0  2.5  4.2  20    3
2002 Osaka Kintet  23   1 136.0 139  80 13  50  96 5.29  6  9  9.2  3.3  6.4  28   19
2003 Osaka Kintet  27   0 193.0 205  91 23  50 118 4.24 11 10  9.6  2.3  5.5  19   37
2004 Osaka Kintet  21   0 162.0 151  62 16  31 103 3.44 11  7  8.4  1.7  5.7  25   40
2005 Rakuten       27  27 186.7 205 127 23  48 100 6.12  7 14  9.9  2.3  4.8   0   15
2006 Rakuten        6   6  39.7 43   23  6  15  12 5.22  2  2  9.8  3.4  2.7 -16    2
2007 Rakuten       16  16  93.7 94   62 10  29  70 5.96  4  6  9.0  2.8  6.7  14   11
2008 Rakuten       28  28 206.3 161  65  6  45 129 2.84 16  7  7.0  2.0  5.6  42   63
2009 Rakuten       24  24 168.3 187  73 20  47  96 3.90 11  8 10.0  2.5  5.1   4   32
2010 Rakuten       28   0 206.7 191  84 17  42 119 3.66 14  9  8.3  1.8  5.2  22   49
      Totals       20  10 140.8 139  68 13  36  84 4.38  8  7  8.9  2.3  5.4  19   26

Iwakuma’s repertoire includes a four-seam fastball (hovers around 91-93 mph), a solid shuuto (the Japanese term for a sinking fastball, topping at 90 mph), an excellent split-finger fastball (86 mph), and an average slider and curve (80 mph and 72 mph, respectively). He has good command, good control, and as Kevin Goldstein told me, a windup with “classic Asian deception.”

Mike Fast in his BP Unfiltered post stated that Iwakuma’s splitter is the only pitch that strikes him as “an above-average major-league pitch.” Regarding the rest of Iwakuma’s arsenal, Fast is “somewhat skeptical whether they will play against major-league hitters.”

However, major-league hitters did get a quick glimpse of Iwakuma while pitching for Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Iwakuma was 1-1 with a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings. He walked six batters and struck out 15 with a 0.90 WHIP. Iwakuma showed in his four appearances (three starts) that he’s primarily a groundball pitcher, but get a strikeout when needed. Luckily, he will have a tremendous infield behind him in Oakland as the A’s were ranked 1st in the Majors with a .713 defensive efficiency.

Here are a few examples of former Japanese League pitchers and how their season averages have translated coming to the states (DERA, or "defense-adjusted," is NERA, translated player's RA from one league into another, plus an adjustment for team-defense):

Hiroki Kuroda                 Age 35
Lge       G  GS   IP   H   ER HR  BB  K  DERA  W  L  H/9 BB/9  K/9 STF  RAR
Majors   31  31 198.5 195  99 20  40 115 4.48 11 10  8.9  1.8  5.2  14   45
Minors    3   3  14.3  16  12  1   2   5 7.53  1  1 10.0  1.3  3.1  -8    0
Japan    25  15 152.8 155  79 17  46  87 4.63  8  8  9.2  2.7  5.2   7   23
Totals   26  19 163.8 165  84 18  45  93 4.61  9  9  9.1  2.5  5.2   9   27

Kenshin Kawakami              Age 35
Lge       G  GS   IP   H   ER HR  BB  K  DERA  W  L  H/9 BB/9  K/9 STF RAR              
Majors   34  28 177.5 182  96 20  56  96 4.85  9  9  9.3  2.9  4.9   0   6
Minors    5   5  20.3  29  13  7   5  16 5.75  1  1 12.8  2.2  7.1  -7   0
Japan    26  18 163.0 167  81 24  42  99 4.47  9  8  9.3  2.3  5.5   3  26
Totals   27  20 165.9 171  84 24  44  99 4.54  9  9  9.3  2.4  5.4   3  26

Daisuke Matsuzaka             Age 29
Lge       G  GS   IP   H   ER HR  BB  K  DERA  W  L  H/9 BB/9  K/9 STF  RAR
Majors   32  32 200.0 183  92 17  87 169 4.16 11 10  8.2  3.9  7.6  24   26
Minors   10  10  42.3  39  20  7  11  30 4.25  2  3  8.3  2.3  6.4   7    5
Japan    22  15 157.1 132  66 15  54 127 3.79 10  7  7.6  3.1  7.3  44   36
Totals   26  20 172.0 148  75 16  64 141 3.91 11  8  7.8  3.4  7.4  37   37

Hisanori Takahashi          Age 35
Lge      G  GS   IP   H  ER HR  BB  K  DERA  W L SV  H/9 BB/9 K/9 STF RAR
Majors  43   9 103.3 103 46 14  33  76 4.04  6 4  5  9.0  2.9 6.6   0  14
Japan   29  18 152.0 161 90 25  51  91 5.31  7 9  1  9.5  3.1 5.4  -6  14
Totals  31  16 143.4 151 83 23  48  88 5.19  7 9  2  9.5  3.1 5.5  -6  14

Ryota Igarashi              Age 31
Lge       G GS   IP   H  ER HR BB  K  DERA  W L SV  H/9 BB/9  K/9 STF  RAR
Majors   34  0  31.0  31 25  5 17  20 7.26  1 2  0  9.0  4.9  5.8 -23   -4
Minors   20  2  24.7  30 12  3  8  19 4.38  2 1  1 10.9  2.9  6.9   0    4
Japan    70  0  75.2  64 36  9 37  65 4.27  4 4  0  7.7  4.5  7.8  12   13
Totals   70  0  75.7  66 37  9 37  64 4.43  4 4  1  7.9  4.4  7.7  10   13

Some Japanese players have been successful (Kuroda), some inconsistent (Matsuzaka), and some have failed completely (Kei Igawa, who is not listed).  Now, tell us how you think Iwakuma will fair in the major leagues.

Special thanks to Clay Davenport for data assistance. 

Jesse Behr is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jesse's other articles. You can contact Jesse by clicking here

Related Content:  Hisashi Iwakuma

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Mike White

Wow. As if we weren't high enough on Oakland pitching. The walk rates look fantastic, wonder how rate stats translate. If all the A's get is an above-average innings muncher, he'd shore up the back end of a devastating rotation.
Beane's going aggressive early this offseason, I'm impressed.

Nov 12, 2010 19:12 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

I had a dream the other night that the A's were playing the Yankees in the 2011 ALCS. You never know.

Nov 13, 2010 13:14 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jesse Behr
BP staff

Are you sure it wasn't the 2001 ALDS? Hah.

Nov 13, 2010 13:32 PM
 
nickdemola

That's a very low K-rate, though.

Nov 14, 2010 13:33 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jesse Behr
BP staff

With the A's infield defense, Iwakuma won't need to worry about his SO9.

Nov 14, 2010 15:07 PM
 
smallflowers

With Edwin "The Human Dustbuster" Encarnacion shoring up the left side...

Nov 16, 2010 19:15 PM
rating: 0
 
Bellis

I think the comment about the "classic Asian deception" is pretty interesting. I think the A's have a pretty wide spectrum of ways in which they try to game the system. One of the things I think is important to them is to try and have pitchers that have different types of stuff that compliment each other. They always have a side armer in the pen. They like to mix some power pitchers with some soft tossers. I think they feel like over the course of a three or four game series you get a lot of different looks and this move gives them a whole new flavor to add into the mix.

This is a very good situation for a pitcher to come into. Great defense, pitchers park, well established rotation where he won't be expected to be a #1.

Kuroda looks like the closest comp, and I've read that comparison before. Iwakuma's Japanese H/BB/K per nine almost identical to Kuroda's MLB numbers. I would expect Iwakuma to perform about like Kuroda with slightly better results thanks to the defense.

Nov 15, 2010 13:53 PM
rating: 0
 
David Schwalb

If we assume that the Japanese leagues are somewhere between AAA and the majors, it would be logical to assume that a Japanese pitcher's numbers would worsen slightly when coming to the states. Because of this, I think we have to look closer at Kuroda because his numbers have actually improved. How has he managed this and is it likely Iwakuma will reproduce this? This may be the difference between him becoming a 5th starter in the American League and something much more valuable.

Nov 17, 2010 07:00 AM
rating: 0
 
Ivan Bezdomny

In no cases do SO9 rates go up from Japan to the majors. So he'll be a 4.5 K/9 soft tossing righty starter, at a time when teams are over drafting/overpaying power lefties. I don't get it. Isn't this a cheap commodity in the prospect ranks?

Nov 25, 2010 22:28 PM
rating: 1
 
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