How do you solve an enigma like Kei Igawa?
For better or worse, the Yankees and Kei Igawa are seemingly stuck with each other. As we know all too well, the Yanks doled out $46 million to bring him States-side, and he’s been a disappointment ever since.
Yesterday, Igawa made his spring debut against non-college hitters. We know how disastrous his last outing was; he gave up four runs on one hit, a grand slam off the bat of a college kid with two at-bats total over the last two years. He walked hitters, hit one and threw a wild pitch. While it was just February, the outing simply added another bad chapter to long tale of Kei Igawa.
So facing the Blue Jays on Tuesday, Igawa had a chance to raise his own stock, and he responded with two perfect innings, and as RAB favorite – I say that sarcastically – George King notes, the fight for a roster spot continues.
While King’s article is chock full ‘o the typical Spring Training hype and hyperbole, Tyler Kepner of The Times wrote a piece more critical of Kei Igawa and the Yanks’ scouting of the Japanese import. Relying on the words of Hideki Matsui and Brian Cashman, Kepner creates a portrait of competing opinions.
“In Japan, he had pretty good velocity and he was the type of pitcher that usually threw fastballs and changeups to strike out hitters,” Hideki Matsui said through an interpreter. “In Japan, you don’t see that many pitchers throw changeups, as opposed to here, where a lot of pitchers throw changeups. And in Japan, his fastball was pretty fast. But when you compare it to pitchers here, it’s not as fast.”
Igawa also tried to throw too many pitches high in the strike zone, where umpires in Japan are more likely to call strikes. But General Manager Brian Cashman said Igawa’s problem was more about command.
“If I felt that our evaluations were improper, then I would think that he’s failed, and I’m not ready to concede that yet,” Cashman said. “It took José Contreras some time to adjust, and although he possesses a different ability, he led the White Sox to a world championship.
“All I can tell you is Igawa was the strikeout leader in Japan — and not just for one year — and those guys are contact hitters over there. Swing-and-miss is still a big part of his game. You can’t deny that; just look at his statistics.”
So what then is the real story? Based on Matsui’s words, Igawa thrived in Japan because his style of pitching was better suited for the NPL. Brian Cashman, on the other hand, would have you believe that the Yanks were getting a top-flight pitcher.
After a year of watching Igawa bounce back and forth from Scranton to New York and get bounced around by Big League pitching, I am tempted to side with Hideki Matsui. Igawa’s stuff was always up. He lived on a change-up in Japan, and in the U.S., that’s just not good enough.
Maybe one year isn’t enough of a sample to determine whether or not Igawa is a big bust, but as I read more about Kei Igawa the pitcher and the way the Yankees approached this signing, I can’t help but think that the Yanks’ international scouts dropped the ball on this one. It happens sometimes, and for the good of the team, the Yanks should be prepared to cut their losses. Now and then, Igawa has a good outing, but the bad ones are always just around the corner.