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Just when you thought you had a handle on the influx of Japanese players,
along comes Kazuhisa Ishii. Last week, the Dodgers won the rights to
negotiate with Ishii, a 28-year-old left-hander, in the same process by
which the Mariners acquired Ichiro Suzuki last season. They paid
$11.26 million for the privilege, and are optimistic about having Ishii in
the fold shortly.

So what kind of pitcher will he be? First, take a look at Clay Davenport’s
Translation for him:

Kazuhisa Ishii Throws L Age 28


Year

Team

Lge

G

GS

IP

H

ER

HR

BB

K

ERA

W

L

H/9

HR/9

BB/9

K/9

KW

PERA

STUFF

1994

Yakult

JCL

54

10

101.7

93

61

12

69

94

5.40

5

6

8.2

1.1

6.1

8.3

0.7

5.50

-2

1995

Yakult

JCL

26

21

146.0

116

59

13

65

146

3.64

10

6

7.2

0.8

4.0

9.0

1.1

3.16

27

1997

Yakult

JCL

18

15

112.3

75

31

5

44

112

2.48

9

3

6.0

0.4

3.5

9.0

1.3

2.36

33

1998

Yakult

JCL

28

27

187.0

151

79

14

97

232

3.80

12

9

7.3

0.7

4.7

11.2

1.2

4.18

37

1999

Yakult

JCL

23

21

126.7

121

71

15

69

157

5.04

6

8

8.6

1.1

4.9

11.2

1.1

5.47

30

2000

Yakult

JCL

29

27

173.7

139

69

15

75

189

3.58

12

7

7.2

0.8

3.9

9.8

1.3

2.96

33

2001

Yakult

JCL

27

27

172.7

141

77

20

77

146

4.01

11

8

7.3

1.0

4.0

7.6

0.9

4.33

15


Ishii is the best strikeout pitcher in Japan. He’s also a bit wild, and his
strikeout rate and Stuff score (a new tool to measure effectiveness,
introduced in Baseball Prospectus 2002)
declined quite a bit in 2001.

Pitchers from Japan have met with mixed success in the major leagues for a
variety of reasons, including the adjustment to American hitters and to the
American lifestyle. To get a handle on how Ishii might make the leap, let’s
look at the careers of the three most prominent starting-pitching imports
from Japan: Hideo Nomo, Masato Yoshii, and Hideki
Irabu
.

Nomo was 27 in 1995, the year he arrived in L.A. Over five seasons with the
Kintetsu Buffalos, he’d had a 3.15 ERA, averaging 10.3 strikeouts per nine
innings pitched (K/9), with a two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 1.317
WHIP. In his first season with the Dodgers, Nomo actually pitched better
than he had in Japan, posting a 2.54 ERA, more than 11 K/9, a better than
three-to-one K/BB, and a WHIP of 1.056. In his second season, he was also an
excellent pitcher. By his third season, he had slipped to above-average, and
since has been a mediocre, albeit high-strikeout, pitcher.

I was actually at Yankee Stadium for Hideki Irabu’s MLB debut. The place was
packed, and George Steinbrenner had posted signs all over the Stadium with a
800 number fans could call to order Irabu T-shirts.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Irabu was an excellent pitcher in Japan,
although he wasn’t the hero that Nomo and Ichiro are because of his
perceived attitude problem. Irabu was 28 when he came to the Bronx, having
pitched professionally in Japan since the age of 19, with a 3.41 career ERA,
9.1 K/9, a 2.2 K/BB, and a 1.299 WHIP. Not quite Nomo’s career numbers, but
good enough to justify the hype. Irabu had a rough half-season in the Bronx,
posting a 7.09 ERA and a 1.668 WHIP, although his 9.5 K/9 and 2.8 K/BB
showed he had potential for success.

In 1998, he started 28 games with pretty good, but not great, numbers: a
4.06 ERA, 6.6 K/9, 1.7 K/BB, and a 1.295 WHIP. Unfortunately, New York was
getting to him. Repeated reports that he showed up to games with hangovers
(hey, it was okay for the Mick), infuriated Steinbrenner, who had given up
prospect Ruben Rivera to acquire Irabu’s rights from the Padres. In
1999, Irabu’s performance, and his situation, deteriorated and he was
unceremoniously shipped to Montreal in the offseason.

Yoshii is a different type of pitcher than the other two. He’s a control
expert who doesn’t have a lot of giddyup on his fastball. He was already 33
by the time he came to the Mets, much older than Nomo or Irabu. In 13
Japanese League seasons, Yoshii had a career ERA of 3.43, averaged 5.6 K/9,
with a 2.0 K/BB and a 1.292 WHIP. Yoshii started 29 games in both of his
years with the Mets with similar results in both seasons, averaging a 4.17
ERA, 5.9 K/9, a 2/1 K/BB, and a 1.287 WHIP. After that he was banished to
Colorado, and has now been converted to a middle-reliever/spot-starter in
Montreal.

What does this mean for Ishii? He has a lot in common with both Nomo and
Irabu. All three will have entered MLB in their mid-to-late twenties, all
three with much fanfare and hype, and all three are high-strikeout pitchrs.
Ishii has an ERA of 3.38 with 9.7 K/9 in his career, similar numbers to both
Nomo and Irabu.

I think Ishii will be a very successful pitcher for the Dodgers, at least in
2002 and 2003. Like Nomo, he’ll be making his debut in a great environment
for a strikeout pitcher. Ishii has shown he can pitch as well in Japan as
the pitchers who preceded him to the States did, and while we know the
Japanese Leagues aren’t MLB, we also know that the best players in Japan can
have an impact over here. It’s time to get ready for Ishiimania!

Chris Maher is editor of the Fantasy
Baseball Review, an e-mail newsletter published three times a week throughout
the baseball season. For more information, please visit
http://creativesports.com/offers.shtml.