When you talk about a Japanese pitcher signing with a MLB team, you immediately think of Yu Darvish – as you should. However, there is another Japanese pitcher that was signed that can help your team. His name is Hisashi Iwakuma.
Before we talk about what Iwakuma brings to the table, an interesting side note from 2010. Iwakuma was made available to the MLB on a bid system (like Darvish, Dice-K, etc.). The winning bid was by the Oakland A’s but they were not able to come to an agreement and Iwakuma went back to Japan and the A’s got their money back. There is a strong belief that the A’s never intended to sign Iwakuma and just put in the highest bid to prevent other teams (namely the Angels and the Mariners) from getting him. Not a bad move. Competitors didn’t get him and the A’s didn’t lose penny.
The 6′ 3″ right-hander is what I call a ‘traditional’ Japanese pitcher – he will not overpower (fastball in high 80’s) but will get you with off speed stuff. At 30, he has plenty left in the tank and a nice track record to judge on. In Japan, an ERA of around 3.00 was the norm, including a 2008 season with a 1.87 ERA. Although considered a ground ball pitcher, he gets his fair share of Ks. The last good thing to consider is that he plays in the most friendly pitcher park in baseball.
So, all good? No. He has had nagging shoulder issues for several years. The Mariners believe his shoulder is fine, but you never know. Then there is the transition from Japanese hitters to MLB hitters. Huge unknown! Still, facing a new pitcher often favors the pitcher. This could make Iwakuma a nice pickup late in the draft and then sell high as he gets off to a good start.
Don’t forget about the ‘other’ Japanese pitcher.