Can Igawa Adjust?

AP watching a different game?
Another option at catcher -- no, it's not Javy Lopez

It’s still early, and I know a lot of you are going to rip me for being too negative at this juncture, but I’m very concerned about Kei Igawa. Concerned to the point where I’m hoping that he’s the next Kaz Ishii. Okay, so maybe I exaggerate a little…but only a little. I can only think, he’ll be fine, he’s just making adjustments for so long while staring at his 9.00 BB/9.

Being a stat nut, I’m obviously enamored with his 15.43 K/9, but I realize that he’s not going to sustain that number. Once hitters figure him out, he’ll be lucky to post half that rate. Unfortunately, his walk rate isn’t guaranteed to drop along with it. That would place him right along with Ishii’s peripherals.

Then again, Ishii was a very high-strikeout, high-walk pitcher in Japan, while Igawa was a pretty high-strikeout, moderately low-walk version. What scares me is that Ishii’s strikeouts dropped and his walks rose in America, both significantly. Obviously, Igawa can’t afford to have that happen to his numbers (no pitcher can).

It is unfair to only compare/contrast Igawa to one other Japanese import, so I’ll cease at this point. I’m just trying to make some sense of him, and it’s not working. Emma Span of The Village Voice feels the same way. The only things we have to go on now are 1) his numbers and 2) the knowledge that hitters are going to figure him out and that he’ll need to make adjustments.

Well, we know his numbers aren’t so hot. A 12:7 strikeout to walk ratio seems generous when you see that he’s thrown 142 pitches this spring (over 20 per inning) and only 78 for strikes (55 percent). Soon enough, hitters are going to make their adjustments, and they’ll swing at fewer and fewer pitches out of the zone, meaning fewer strikes for Igawa. He has to adjust, and for my own sanity I’d like to see some degree of adjustment in his next start.

Here’s where the problem gets stickier: the Yanks don’t have many options if he fails to adjust quickly. They’ve invested $46 million into him, so he’s going to be with the big league squad. If he can’t hack it as a starter, the logical step would be to stick him in the bullpen, but the bullpen is a terrible place for a pitcher with control problems. Would they send him to Scranton? Could they, even if they wanted to?

Of course, he could make my ramblings moot if he settles down and quits walking guys. Based on his first three games, though, I’m not so optimistic about that. In fact, I’m trying real hard to resist the temptation to jump on the Jeff Karstens bandwagon. He’s also in the small sample size range, so I don’t want to get too excited. Another solid outing by him and another shaky one by Igawa, though, and I may just take that plunge.

Photo: Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

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AP watching a different game?
Another option at catcher -- no, it's not Javy Lopez
  • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

    Do you know what the problem is with Igawa? I’ll tell ya…

    He was an established pitcher in Japan, a very good established pither. Established pitchers, especially good ones, get those borderline calls.

    Here in the states, he’s just a rookie, so the umps don’t give him any calls.

    My guess is he’s pitching exactly like he did in Japan, and just isn’t getting the calls he’s used too. He’s just got to get that extra half-inch of the plate.

  • Neil

    I concur with Mike. The strike zone is flatter in NPB (about half a baseball width wider) and one has to remember that the baseball is different (slicker and very slightly bigger in the majors). These are the static adjustment issues Kei has to deal with before the usual ritual a rookie pitcher goes through here (I’m curious how Matsuzaka would be treated as well). Finally, the usual caveat on small sample size apply as 143 odd pitches is nothing.

    My misgivings about Igawa is that he’s used to working the high plane (sort of how the ML pitchers used to work before the strike zone was lowered over the past several decades) and changing the eye-level of hitters. With his velocity and a different strike zone, I wonder how effectively he’ll be in this regard especially in the AL East where plenty of power hitting teams reside. For someone with much better stuff like Contreras it was a shocking revelation from which he took time to recover. Nomo was the quintessential high plane/low plane pitcher (Gator in his prime was the same way as he’d work the higher portion of the K zone after getting a hitter to obsess about his fast dipping hard slider) who threw harder than Kei while pitching half the time off the high Dodger Stadium mound half the time during his adjustment years. Unfortunately for Kei, he’s got a huge shock waiting for him the first time he pitches at Fenway and at Camden Yard. I think he’ll have to adjust and keep his pitches low or we’re going to see some blasts that could rival Catfish’s.

  • http://yankeesetc.blogspot.com/ Travis G.

    call me an optimist if you like, but I’ve watched a fair amount of youtube video of NPB games, and i dont think there’s a big difference in strike zones. sometimes, the NPB zone even looks a bit smaller than MLB.

    i believe this is just a ST/rust problem for Igawa. he’s only pitched 7 innings. i mean, Karstens is NOT our best pitcher, despite dominating 9 innings so far. Igawa had great control last year, walking just 2.2/9 ip (career 2.9/9). and word is that he didn’t pitch at all from Nov to ST, so i’m going to assume it’s rust.

  • John

    Joe, Joe, Joe… mellow man.
    In addition the the small sample size, strike zone adjustment, cowhide adjustment my fellow posters have mentioned, we also have to remember that this is Spring Training and Japanese players handle spring training differently than their MLB counterparts. Dice-K said after his last start with the BoSox that he was only around 60%. I think this guy will translate into a decent 4th starter. His breaking stuff is filthy, but you have to pitch differently here in the States. He just needs time to learn how.

  • http://yankeesetc.blogspot.com/ Travis G.

    check out this youtube video of Igawa in 2001. he didn’t get a single borderline pitch go his way.
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=DLSnX2bB_7I

    i dont know if the NPB strike has changed since 2001, but it couldn’t have all that much. if my other post shows up here, it basically says that Igawa had great control in Japan, and i believe the BBs this ST are more from rust.

  • Neil

    RE: NPB K-zone.

    Well, I usually watch anywhere between 30-40 Pacific League games via satellite (I usually watch Chiba Lotte Marinzu), and I’d disagree with the characterization of the K-zone being smaller. If you don’t want to take my word for it, then refer to Jim Albright or Robert Whiting who are probably the most knowledgeable Western observers of NPB. I think another thing we have to note is that the quality (by that I mean the consistency) of NPB umpiring isn’t as good as MLB umpires. It’s not uncommon to see roving strike zone for certain players (In the past players like Bass, Lee brothers, Cromartie and Clyde Wright all could attest to who those usually were).

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  • Morivera

    Clippard and Weaver?

    As I watched yesterdays Yankee ST game, I caught Tyler Clippards 2 innings and said to myself “this guy reminds me of Jered Weaver” Neither are big guys, and neither pitchers fastball is explosive, but they have excellent movement on all of their pitches. Both Weaver and Clippard have pretty quick deliveries and seem to have overall similar motions.

    I’m not talking just looks though, I do wonder if this season or maybe the next, Tyler Clippard can have Jered Weaver like success. From what I’ve seen, they’re very similar. What are your thoughts?

  • http://mybaseballbias.com Jason McAdams

    Joseph P.

    Thanks for adding me to your blogroll. And…If Igawa can rediscover his control, he’ll be a hell of a pitcher. He may give up some bombs because of the way he goes after batters but I think he can be successful. He’s got a sneaky quick fastball and curve.

    Love reading your stuff guys!

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben

      This is a comment test.

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

        Further test.

  • Neil

    RE: NPB K-zone cont’d

    Travis,

    I’m not sure how to address this except I probably could pick a segment of a game from a particular umpire in the MLB (Let’s say Angel Hernandez or Joe West)who might differ from an average ML umpire. As I stated before, I do watch a lot of NPB games and the only thing I can do is to offer my view of it based on watching 30 to 40 games a year. As I mentioned Albright and Whiting agree on this. I’d add Mike Plugh (of Matsuzaka Watch blog) also agrees as well as Jim Allen who writes for the Yomiuri Shimbun. Among the players and managers who’d run through NPB I might add Julio Franco, Bobby V and Trey Hillman.

  • Fm

    Backupcatcher trade.

    Quote:
    The Angels haven’t decided whether they prefer Jeff Mathis or veteran Jose Molina as their backup catcher, but they have alerted other clubs that Molina might be available this month.
    — Los Angeles Times

    Anybody think the Yanks should make a move? How much do you think Molina would cost? Its certainly a better option than Nieves or Chavez

  • OldYanksFan

    ‘Once hitters figure him out, he’ll be lucky to post half that rate. Unfortunately, his walk rate isn’t guaranteed to drop along with it.’

    No, he won’t maintain a 15k rate, but half or better is pretty good. As far as the walks, the guy is obviously nervous and trying too hard.

    Iggy led the NPB in Ks 3 times, and had a BB rate of 2.9/9. He might get hit more/harder here, but unless he’s running scared, there is no reason for his BB rate to go up substancially.

    Lets remember this guy is in a foreign country and doesn’t speak the language. Many things about MLB are different then NPB. Let’s give the guy some time to settle in. He should be a league average pitcher at worst.

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