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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

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