Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Igawa: Bronx Bound

I was surprised to find this morning, as I Googled "Igawa" at my desk, that the Yankees had put up $26 million dollars for the winning bid on the #2 Japanese arm on the market this offseason. At first, I thought it was too much money, and really I still do, but I think there are some logical reasons to like this move. Many Yankee fans around the blogosphere are complaining, while others are taking a wait and see approach. I'll give you my two cents on this player, from my firsthand observation of his pitching.

First, the bio on Igawa. I am going to steal the blurb written by Gary Garland over at Japanese Baseball Daily, as it is comprehensive and also comes from significant firsthand experience. (Scroll down to "Igawa" for the full listing.) Gary is a master of everything related to Japanese baseball, and you should make his site a regular visit for interesting and informative perspectives on the game over here. Sorry for the piracy, Gary.

"Biography: Started playing nanshiki ball in third grade. Reportedly joined his junior high baseball team because they didn't have a soccer program. Is still a big soccer fan today. Had an 18 strikeout perfect game (it was called after seven innings) in high school and at one point struckout 72 over the course of 42 innings and was unscored upon in 35 straight frames. Was scouted by the Mets as a schoolboy. Had some back problems summer of his senior year and didn't pitch during that time. Drafted on the second round (1997). Had control problems his first year of pro ball and set a Western League record for wild pitches in a game with four. However, as Hanshin was going down the tubes again with a crap pitching staff, then manager Katsuya Nomura asked minor league skiper Akinobu Okada who could throw hard down on the farm and Igawa ended up getting the call.

But in his first appearance, he walked three and gave up a hit and didn't record a single out. Started on Opening Day in 2002 and fashioned the Tigers first win on that day in 12 years with a complete game one run, six hit effort against Yomiuri. It was also their first Opening Day win against the Giants in 39 seasons (4/24/2001). He won 14 games that year, the first Hanshin pitcher to attain that in ten years. He also became the first Tigers moundsman to eclipse 200 whiffs since Shigeru Kobayashi in 1979. Won 12 straight during the 2003 campaign. Liked the team's dormitory so much (it was cheap and comfortable) he didn't move out until after the 2003 season. Was in such a funk during 2005 that he was actually demoted to the minors at one stage. He got absoutely drilled in the Japan Series against Lotte as well. He had lost some velocity off of his fastball after trying to add a two seamer to his arsenal and didn't recover it until late spring of 2006. Once it returned, then he started being the old Kei Igawa.

Became the first Hanshin pitcher to have five straight ten wins or more seasons since 1983 (2006). 1000th inning (8/23/2005 against Hiroshima at Hiroshima Municipal Stadium). 1000th strikeout (4/14/2006 against Hiroshima at Koshien Stadium, the 119th man to that mark). Selected to three all star teams (2001-2003). Is something of a bargain hunter (i.e., tight with a buck) and his hobbies are radio controlled toys and computer games. Is reputed to have several hundred soccer-related videos at home. Cannot drink without getting sick. He can also be a little oblivious at times off the field and he won't eat meat two days before he starts. Was angry before he made the start for what would prove to be a no hitter because he had to miss his favorite anime show, Meitantei Konan (Famous Detective Konan), which was on that night. Fastball that tops out at 92mph, decent curve ball, slider with good downward movement and his outpitch is a changeup."

I'll get into more specific scouting and analysis soon. First, I want to add to Gary's commentary with some thoughts of my own. I believe that Kei Igawa is capable of becoming a very strong #3 starter in the Major Leagues. I said as much at Matsuzaka Watch a few days before the Red Sox won Daisuke's rights, and here at COH a day before that. I've had my eyes on 6 Japanese pitchers in recent years. The first being Matsuzaka, the second being Koji Uehara, third was Kei Igawa, and more recently I've turned my attention to 3 others to be named at a later date. I used to be much higher on Igawa. At one point in his career he was terrifyingly good. He's faltered a bit in recent years, but is only going to turn 28 in the middle of the 2007 campaign and showed signs last season of jumping back to form. As a lefty, if he can recapture his form from the 2001-2003 seasons, the Yanks may have made a steal. The Hanshin Tigers are the Japanese answer to the Cubs or Red Sox. They have the most rabid and devoted fans, play in the oldest and most revered ballpark, and can't seem to win it all. The fan following alone is worth some of the posting fee.

Igawa isn't the beast on the mound that is Matsuzaka. He isn't an imposing force that intimidates hitters, or blows them away with blistering heat. He doesn't have that frightening glare that makes batters swallow hard, a la Clemens, but he has a presence. His stuff isn't electric, and doesn't make you leap out of your seat, like "What the hell was that?!" He throws hard enough(88-91 on the fastball), and has a plus plus change(78-81)that serves him well. Combine those pitches with a plus slider(80-83), and you have a solid player on your hands every 5 days. That's the up and down of Igawa. You can read a very thorough scouting report on him here.

His career stats are good. He has a 3.15 lifetime ERA, which is made to look worse by his shaky 2004 and 2005 campaigns. He has a career .235 BAA, .297 OBPA, and .288 BABIP over 190 games in 6 full seasons and change. Click the chart below for his 2006 game log, and important ratios.

You can see that his ratios were generally very good in 2006. He posted a 2.97 ERA and a 1.096 WHIP, which are better than average in the Central League. His ERA was good for 7th, and his WHIP was 5th. Igawa was 3rd in innings pitched, and 2nd in wins. 8 complete games was good enough for 2nd overall in the Central, and 3 shutouts was tied at the top with two other outstanding pitchers (Kawakami and Miura). Igawa closed out the season with a flurry of strikeouts to tie Kenshin Kawakami for the league strikeout crown. Looking more closely at his ratios, we find that he posted a .223 BAA with 8.35 K/9 and an outstanding 3.96 K/BB mark. I'm a big fan of the K/BB ratio, as regular readers may know, and I think it's worthwhile to examine what he's done in his career year by year to evaluate his combination of power and control. I did a piece at Matsuzaka Watch in which I evaluated Matsuzaka against the other top pitcher of the last generation. Igawa is one of the 10 pitchers on that list, and you should stop there to read a bit. Here are the K/BB ratios for Igawa:

2001 1.92
2002 3.89
2003 3.09
2004 4.22
2005 2.42
2006 3.96

Anything close to 4 is outstanding. The thing that separates Matsuzaka from virtually all other Japanese frontline pitchers is his ridiculous combination of control and power. His K/BB ratios have been skyrocketing in the Curt Schilling range for the last 3-4 seasons and topped out at 6.06 in 2006. Igawa has shown flashes of this ability too, although you'll note by his game log that he can lose the plate on occasion. Let's look at his Pitcher Abuse Points, shall we? First what are the stats we need to know:

TOT_NP = The number of pitches a pitcher has thrown in 2006.
MAX_NP = The highest number of pitches he threw in one start.
AVG_NP = The average number of pitches thrown per start.
TOT_PAP = Total Pitcher Abuse Points (NP-100)^3 where NP > 100
MAX_PAP = The single highest PAP total in one start.
AVG_PAP = The average PAP total across the full season's work.
CAT 1 = 1-100 pitch starts
CAT 2 = 101-109
CAT 3 = 110-121
CAT 4 = 122-132
CAT 5 = 133+
Stress = PAP/NP

Baseball Prospectus lists the following Major Leaguers as the leaders for 2006:

1. Livan Hernandez (4266 average, 42 Stress)
2. Carlos Zambrano (4085 average, 37 Stress)
3. Aaron Harang (3636 average, 34 Stress)
4. Jason Schmidt (3353 average, 31 Stress)
5. Dontrelle Willis (3202 average, 30 Stress)

Here is Igawa (click below):

I posted the Top 5 Major Leaguers and their stats, not to throw crazy numbers at you, but rather to show you how out of control Japan is in abusing pitchers. Igawa sports a 18,040 average and a 157 Stress. That's probably about league average. Yikes!!! Hope the Yankees give him a good physical.

I'll also throw you his MLB All Star Series numbers. It's worthwhile to see how Igawa has fared in a small sample size against Major League hitters.

The answer is......not well. He has been absolutely tattooed against Major Leaguers. Before anyone tries to look on the bright side, and say that it's unfair to evaluate him with a 4 game sample size against the best players in the Majors, Matsuzaka, Uehara, Kawakami, and Iwakuma have all shined in these series. Those are some of his most impressive peers. How he does in a real MLB situation remains to be seen, but these numbers aren't very encouraging.

The last thing I want to attack is an MLB projection, based on Jim Albright's work. He has been fairly successful with a simple set of calculations. This should be nothing more than an extremely rough sketch of Igawa's upside. He could be infinitely worse, or simply league average. I did this same process for Matsuzaka some time ago and the numbers look reasonable to me, save the ERA, which was far too low in my opinion. Clay Davenport at BP has done more fine work on Matsuzaka, and perhaps his calculations will arise yet again for Igawa. In the meantime:

29 GS
209 IP
18-5 (.770)
3.13 ERA
194 hits
21 HRs
53 BB
172 Ks
1.182 WHIP
3.25 K/BB
7.41 K/9

I see problems with the ERA in this situation again. The calculations don't seem to pan out when I do this process, although Albright has had some success with it. The WHIP, K/BB, and K/9 resemble a few different pitchers. I'll try to list the upside, mid-range, and lower expectations by choosing 3 lefties based on these numbers.

1. CC Sabathia (3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 3.91 K/BB, 8.03 K/9, 44 BB, 172 K)

2. Andy Pettitte (4.20 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 2.54 K/BB, 7.47 K/9, 70 BB, 178 K)

3. Randy Johnson (5.00 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 2.87 K/BB, 7.55 K/9, 60 BB, 172 K)

That's a good list of players. Remember, that's if Albright's projections hold up. It's important to note that Sabathia had a .247 BAA, Unit had a .250 BAA and Pettitte in the NL sported a .284 BAA. The 2006 ERA+ for the 3 pitcher above are:

Sabathia 139
Pettitte 108
Johnson 88

If the Yankees can manage a 2006 Andy Pettitte out of Kei Igawa, and can do so at a price of around $26 million posting, plus 4 years at $4-5 million a year, you'll be spending about $10-11 million per for Igawa at 27-28 years of age. Pettitte's 2006 salary was $16 million and change at 33-34. It's a gamble. One final word today. Looking at the two flops from the Japanese pitching ranks, Kazuhisa Ishii and Hideki Irabu, I find that Ishii was about a half to a full notch below Igawa in statistical analysis. His career ERA in the Majors was 4.44 and his career ERA+ was 91. Irabu and Igawa pitched together for Hanshin in 2003. Irabu's ERA was a full run higher. Looking at his MLB career he put up a 5.15 ERA and an 88 ERA+. If I were to use those players as a benchmark for Igawa, I'd have to say he'll post about a 4.10 or 4.20 ERA in all likelihood, and perhaps live up to Andy Pettitte's year in 2006. Hmmmmm....It's up to you to decide if that's worth the money. I'll keep you posted on more......

UPDATE: I forgot to mention before I went to sleep last night that I think the ERA for Igawa will be around 4.20, which will change the above mentioned W/L to something akin to his 14-9 over 29 starts with Hanshin. Interesting. If he makes 34 starts, he could win 16 games against 10 losses, or something in that neighborhood. Give or take.


Fred Vincy said...


Thanks for this analysis. It's a real service to Yankees fans.

I'm glad you addressed the pitch count issue. I've been wondering about that all along with Matsuzaka's insane (to American eyes) pitch counts.

An interesting post might be how do you think we should evaluate Japanese pitch counts? Is thereanything about the way the Japanese game that makes a 150 pitch game less dangerous than in the US (e.g., is the old "pitching in the pinch" mindset of easing up on weaker hitters or in less key situations still prevalent in Japan; is Japenese conditioning better suited to high PCs)? Alternatively, are there just as many arm injuries as we would expect based on US data, but the pitchers who get posted are mostly the survivors -- the Nolan Ryans of Japan who thrive despite huge PCs?

Vincent said...

ESPN's Buster Olney is reporting that "Hideki Okajima is in serious discussions with the Red Sox about a two-year deal." I like this deal for the Red Sox for multiple reasons.

Okajima has faced tough lefty opponents in critical situations out of the 'pen and proven his ability in Japan. He has a "big" curve, which is tough for lefthanded batters to hit, and he's held lefty hitters to less than a .200 average in '05 and '06.

Bottom line is, Okajima is a solid situational lefthanded pitcher, and probably will cost much less than three years at $12 million that Orioles paid Jamie Walker. And Okajima is four years younger than Walker.

Replace Villone and I don't want him. I hope Cashman sign this Okajima and former teammates of Matsui. He's tough against left handed batters and lefty specialist.

source - boston dirtdogs

mehmattski said...

Excellent stuff once again, Mike. When I saw the posting fee, I immediately thought "too much!" but then again we must remind ourselves of the rationalization from the Matsuzaka watch that the $26 million does not count towards the luxury tax. So even if you prorate that and include it to the $6 or $7 million/year that it will cost to sign him, I think it's a bargain if he ends up a #3 and a fair price in the 2006 market if he's a #4/#5 guy.

The scouting reports that he doesn't throw very hard, plus the small sample of data in the MLB All-Stars, scare me quite a bit. Do you have any numbers on how Irabu, Nomo, or Ishii did in these exhibitions?

I was pleased to see that the guy does seem to keep himself in ballgames in the Japan League. From his 2006 game log, one thing that jumped out was the 143 pitch, 10 K shutout in April. Is there some kind of extra incentive to throw shutouts in Japan, that would explain the crazy number of pitches in that outing?

Jose said...

Do you think He can learned new pitch like Wang's great sinker ?

Nico said...

Scouting report on Igawa

Igawa, a 27-year-old left-hander, has a record of 86-60 and a 3.15 ERA in eight seasons with the Tigers of the Central League. He won the league's MVP award in 2003, posting a 20-5 record and 2.80 ERA in 29 starts.

Igawa, who features a 90-mph fastball and an above-average curveball, went 14-9 with a 2.97 ERA last season, striking out 194 batters to tie for the league lead. It was the third time he has won the Central League's strikeout title, also doing so in 2002 and 2004.

Former big-league manager Bobby Valentine, who currently manages the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Pacific League, has seen his share of Igawa over the past four years. He believes that while Igawa is a solid starter, he isn't in the same class as Matsuzaka.

"I favor left-handers anywhere in the world," Valentine said during the MLB-Japan All-Star Series earlier this month. "The first time I saw him, I thought he was a lot better; four years ago, he was a lot better than he is now. But he's still good." Off of Yankee.com site.

The funny part about all of this is that is seems very similar to everything that is said bout Barry Zito. Which is ironic since nobody seems to want him on the Yanks.

I'm not trying to knock this move because I don't know enough about this guy yet but if anyone says we can't go after Zito because he doesn't have the "Stuff" then why get this guy?

janet said...

Here a quote from Peter Abraham from Lohud..

Peter Abraham said...
It's just scouting. Stats don't always tell you everything. You have to try and judge how a pitcher's stuff will translate against a higher level of competition.

A lot of Japanese pitchers are off-speed artists and were marginal when they got to the majors (Ishii, etc.). Matsuzaka is supposedly the first U.S.-style pitcher they have produced in that he pitches off his fastball

Al said...

Do you think Igawa could gain some weight from 185 to 210 pounds before spring training starts?

I'm worried about his fastball, maybe if he can some weight, His fastball may increase and stamina as well.

Jay Li said...


A website about Taiwanese baseball players who plays for USA.

It's interesting that Yankees have only Wang . I can't believe the Redsox have four taiwanese prospecys in their farm system and
blue jays have two.

I heard Yankees and Cashman let go one of The Pacific Rim Scout who scouted Chien Ming Wang . Did the Yankees suddenly stopped investing in Asia especially in Taiwan. I believe Wang was crown jewel and special player that came out of Taiwan.

Ned said...

Bullpen is still main problem for the Yankees. I don't still trust Farnsworth in big spots. He can't pitch twice a row because Farnsworth had back problems.

Britton - Young Sidney Ponson who Yankees trade for Jaret wright. Great, He throws hard with great fastball. His offspeed pitches are average and not that good.

What should the yankees do to improve the Bullpen? The Yankees still need lefty and another righty.

Should Cashman go after keith Foulke and give the draft picks to boston?

How about Gagne? He's Also a free agent.

Other Options Yankees should consider go after Lance Carter or Giovanni Carrara.

Ned said...

Do you think Yankees will called up Cox, or Sanchez ?

Alexia said...

Well . . . I did the same for Matsuzaka, so I might as well for Igawa. Lets break this man down.

His fastball appears to be around 138-143 Km/hr or 85-88 MPH. He looks to have pretty bad control of his fastball. It is very straight and thrown right over the top. Nothing much to see here but a below average fastball in velocity, movement, and control. He tends to miss up in the zone with his fastball. He seems to throw this maybe 55-60% of the time.

He has a decent breaking ball in the low to mid 70's. It has good tilt and good break to it. He has decent command of it. He has better command of it than his fastball, but still not great command. Its a pitch he will HAVE to use to get hitters out because of his lack of velocity. In hte end its just and average pitch though. He doesn't throw it much, I would say close to 10%.

His change-up is his money pitch. It also registers in the mid 70's. He has very good deception on is and it has above average drop to it. He has better command of it than any other pitch. This is the pitch he will have to rely on to get Al East hitter out. It will instantly become one of the better change-ups in baseball though. Its simple a plus pitch. He throws this alot, around 30-35% of the time.

So he has a far below average fastball, an average breaking ball, and a plus change-up. His command is what worries you. He really doesn't have the type of command you want from a lefty that lacks velocity. Maybe he can become an effectively wild type of guy. But he doesn't look like much more than a reliever to me.

His motion is pretty solid. He throws from a straight over the top arm slot, which is why his change-up is so good and deceptive. He keeps the same arm slot on all of his pitches. It isn't the smoothest motion you'll see. You can see quite a bit of effort when he throws.

In the end I see an average pitcher thats going to be thrown into the toughest division in baseball. He could start off with some success, but once teams see his change-up I don't see him doing that well.

Jm said...

Hey Mike,Any truth about Ny Post suggesting They should Trade Melky - who does have high value right now and Sanchez for Willis? I hope the Yankees do get Willis and their rotation will better than Redsox if they do get him.

Where would you play him? He would be fourth outfielder. By Melky's sitting on dugout, It will stunt his growth and development. There's no use for him sitting.

Mirna said...

wow, i just read that the Sox are going to give Drew $14MM over 4 years with an option for a 5th.

good I say, if they are going to give him that mush money for that long. on a guy that has health issues and has been looking at NL pitching for a while. Go a head trade Manny, and try to protect Ortiz with Drew.

sounds like they really need to get DMat in ink fast so they don't have to worry about scoring runs.

The Redsox rotation will have four flames throwers exception of Wakefield but losing Manny will be tremendous blow to Boston.

Travis G. said...

There are ways to use Melky where he could 140 games. His value is that he can play every OF position, he can run, a switch-hitter, and he's got a great arm.

Ned said...

Quote from DownfromNJ from Firetorreblog"

I disagree with the premise of your post. I think that our bullpen is going to be fine. Farns is an on/off kind of guy, but we still have Mariano in front of him. Proctor is solid. I think that you underrate Britton's plus curveball. Bruney is an option, although I am not his biggest fan.

Karstens or Rasner will fill the long relief spot. Myers will be our LOOGY (I'm not his biggest fan either, but the organization wants to stick with him).

By my count, that sets our bullpen. We won't have to invest in a free agent. In terms of call ups, the bullpen depth chart is probably Beam-Cox-Kennard-Veras [Henn might be in there somewhere]

In terms of starters, the depth chart is probably Sanchez-Hughes-White-Clippard.

Do you think The Yankees are set with their current bullpen ? The rotation still shaky at best. Do you think Cashman will sign zito or go after Willis.


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