A matter of Igawan perspective

Spring Training Game 5 Thread
Test your baseball smarts

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.

Spring Training Game 5 Thread
Test your baseball smarts
  • Geno

    I thought at the time that the Igawa signing was to keep pace with the Sox and their Matsuzaka signing. As far as I can remember, Igawa was the 1st Japanese pitcher we’d signed, and it came on the heels of the Sox getting Matsuzaka. Coincidence? It looked at the time like getting Igawa was to distract fans from the fact we failed at getting DiceK, and it’s no wonder that logic hasn’t paid dividends.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      Don’t forget about Hideki Irabu. He was the first Japanese pitcher the Yanks signed, and that one really worked out well too.

      • Geno

        My mind must have been blocking out the memory of the fat toad to save me from the pain. Thanks, Ben, the agony is flooding back! While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a nice papercut and pour lemon juice in it! :)

  • http://www.thebronxzoo.wordpress.com iYankees

    I feel like Cashman is definitely pulling for Igawa to earn himself a spot. The funny thing is, he’ll never warrant the financial investment the Yankees staked on him. Granted, if he would’ve performed well last year (as a serviceable starter), then the team could’ve recouped. But now, he’s already spent a year in purgatory, and he wont be in the rotation come 2008. So how do they expect to make good on the investment because it makes no sense. Either way, even if he makes the roster, he’ll be a lefty reliever or a long-man which. That could be worth $4 million a year (I guess), but what about the posting fee?

    Cashman is a wierd dude. Just admit you made a mistake, trade the guy and move on. You’ll never end up regretting it, and if Igawa makes the team over Traber or someone else who has a good spring just because of his contract, it’ll be ridiculous and detrimental.

    • steve (different one)

      so you want Cashman to “admit” Igawa was a mistake, and THEN trade him?

      why would you want Cashman to say something negative about a player he may be trying to trade?

      his best bet at this point is for Igawa to show he has some value left, and they they can try to deal him.

  • Tripp

    You can live off of a change up here to can’t you? Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Trevor Hoffman are a few. Maybe they should tinker with his change up and teach him to be a finesse pitcher.

    I guess for that you need pin-point control as well.

    Eh…trade him for another cubby reliever.

    • Seamus O’Toole

      NL, NL, and yep… NL.

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  • save hughes

    i was told that the reason why Igawa was having trouble in the MLB was because he got away with pitching up in zone in japan and that’s a huge no no here.

  • Count Zero

    I don’t see the two comments from Matsui and Cashman as irreconcilable.

    Matsui described what made Igawa so effective in Japan, and opined that the same thing wouldn’t work in MLB. No argument with that.

    Cashman seemed to be saying that they thought Igawa had good stuff, but that he needed better location for it to be effective in MLB. That doesn’t contradict Matsui — it backs him up. We have seen that when Igawa pitches down in the zone and throws his off speed stuff for strikes, he generates high K rates even in MLB as Cashman says.

    The problem is — he can’t do that with any kind of consistency. He does it once in every eight outings. I seem to recall a nice long relief performance against the Sox on 4/28 — 6IP 2H 0ER 4BB 6K. That’s a solid pitching line against a good lineup with high OBP.

    I have said this about Igawa all along — if he actually had any command, he could be a 4 starter in MLB. Unfortunately, he doesn’t and I don’t see any sign that he will ever develop it because he strikes me as totally undisciplined in his approach to pitching. In that sense, he reminds me of Brian Bruney.

  • dan

    Johan Santana’s best pitch is his change-up. Igawa throws about 4 mph slower than Johan with less command, but then again we’re not saying Igawa is as good as Johan. But he’s an example of a successful pitcher (and a lefty) who relies on a change-up. James Shields is also an example of one.

  • Rob

    I think the book on Igawa is still being written. Please someone explain this to me:

    Dice-K was expected to be an ace. He was league average.

    Igawa was expected to be league average. He was below.

    I can’t see how folks widely expect Dice-K to improve, but not Igawa. Seems they both faced the same hurdle and both fell well short of expectations. But I think there’s room for both to find their projections. There’s just no telling, right now, if either or both will.

  • LiveFromNewYork

    Iggy was definitely Cashman’s knee jerk reaction to Dice K.

    I’m lukewarm on Cash and this signing is one of the reasons I go more luke than warm.

    I doubt Iggy has stuff in NY. I think he should be taken off the big stage and sent to a small market NL club. If only we can find someone to take him.

  • steve

    is it just me or does it sound like in japan if pedro from back in the day or johan now went over there (great change and great fastball) they would absolutely destroy all japanese hitters.

    • dan

      Pedro in his day would have about a 0.97 ERA with a 14 K/9 averaging 8 innings a start. Maybe to simulate that someone can re-create the late 90s Pedro in a video game and put him in AAA to see what he does.

  • Count Zero

    I think the sticking point on trading him is that carrot of potential hanging out there.

    Miserable as Igawa was last year in MLB, he had a 7.09 K/9 rate. Imagine if he had any command?

    As has been pointed out in other threads — young lefty, high K rate = rare commodity. He’s on the roster, he only earns $4MM per year (the posting fee is irrecoverable)…tough to give up on that when nobody’s dangling anything good out there for him. After all, look how long we’ve hung on to Henn who only has a 5.96 K/9 in MLB and is just one year younger than Igawa.

  • Jeff

    I’m not sure the Igawa signing wasn’t thought out more than people seem to think. I doubt it was just a knee jerk to Matsuzaka. Igawa is from the second most popular team in Japanese baseball… the rival to Matsui’s old team. The opportunity to pull in both fan bases was probably on the minds of the Yankees brass when they put so much toward his posting fee. Well it was proven that they over shot (which Cashman seems to endlessly do) but I bet they thought they could make that back with some smart marketing. If Igawa could have made it in the bigs that might have been easy.

    I think the Contreas comparison is valid in that when you look at a small sample size for a pitcher that needs to make adjustments to a new style of play you may very well miss the potential. When you think about it Matsui needed some time as too (18 HRs first year).

    I’d like to see Kei work things out further in the minors and see if he can bounce back and forth till he sticks. The money is already spent. And it would be foolish to trade when his stock is as low as it is.

  • tonton

    What do you think of igawa’s last outing in the last season?

  • Jeff

    I promise you I watched it but I can’t remember his last game like it was yesterday… I do remember him looking a little better after time in the minors but he just slipped right back to inconsistent self… but in any way you look at it he stunk for all but the one good outing (that he relieved Karsteins) last year.
    I’m not going to defend what he was but just want ot stay hopeful for what he could be. Although right now I’d probably have to side with Karsteins for the long relief role. That said if he does well for a couple of months and puts it together I’d be glad t see him get a shot again.

  • tonton

    igawa’s pitching at the game on 26 Sep 2007:
    5 IP, O ER, 2 H, 2 K, 5 BB.

    Here is his last game.
    http://mlb.yahoo.co.jp/score/live/?gid=2007092607&keyid=0520150&rf=off

    Do you think 5 IP O ER is so bad?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      One game, five innings. That’s great. How do you account for the other 13 games, 62.2 innings and 47 earned runs?

  • Paul

    You dont have to account for the other 13 games. The point is not that he didnt suck last year…he did. Rather, it is whether he has the capability to pitch in the majors. Those few blips where he did well (remember that red sox game where he came in early relief and pitched pretty good?) indicate that there is some potential there if he can get it together. The gets a lot of swings and misses, he also walks every other batter. You would think Cash may have a point, that if he can get a handle on his command, he could be halfway decent – maybe worth the 4 mill per year they owe him.

  • Rob

    I was at that game! I was sure we were going to get crushed – first Karstens, then he breaks his leg, then Igawa comes running in.

    Here’s the line against the Sox on April 28th:

    6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 6 K

    Sure, that was his best game all year. And even then he had trouble with his control. But it tells me one thing: He can miss bats. And that was the same as in Japan. Except there he had even better control. In his first full year there, at age 21, he had 89 BB against 171 K in 192 IP. His last season in Japan? 49 BB against 194 K in 204 IP.

    The point is: The kid has shown the ability to learn. Let’s see if he does this season. If if you think Dice-K will progress, then at least be logically consistent.

  • Babe’s Ghost

    #1 The speed of his changeup is irrelevant, the important questions are can he locate it and can he avoid tipping it to hitters?

    #2 I don’t know if there’s enough data, but it would be fascinating to read a pitch f/x analysis on good Kei vs bad Kei.

    #3 The point about sample size is well taken. I’d love to see a pointed analysis of how Contreras got ‘better’ when he went to the White Sox. As I recall, his problem was cracking under pressure in big games, something he obviously overcame to win games against Boston, the Angels and Houston in their march to the WS. That said, his initial small sample of 71 IP in 2003 was his best season in the majors. He had his lowest WHIP, ERA, OAV, HR/9 and his highest K/9 (9.13!) and was within a few thousandths of a point from his best K/BB. The one thing that really improved for him was his BB/9. Perhaps Cashman is right and if Igawa improves his control his results will improve dramatically, but I’m not holding my breath. His stats suggest that his problems go much deeper than Contreras’.

  • Rob_in_CT

    The sad thing is, to this point, the Toad’s Yankee career was far superior to Igawa’s. He actually put up one good season’s worth of pitching before washing out.

    Maybe Igawa can improve his command enough to succeed over here, but I’m doubtful. He’s not a prospect – he’s a finished product. Adjustments can be made, but making a dramatic improvement in command goes beyond making small adjustments. Looking at the “good” Igawa pitching lines that have been posted in this thread… look at the BBs. Even his good outings have ridiculously high BB rates. 6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 6 K. 5 IP, O ER, 2 H, 2 K, 5 BB. His two best games. 11 innings pitched. 9 walks.

  • tonton

    igawa’s pitching career:

    1244 IP, 1174 K, 395 BB in Japan.
    67 IP, 53 K, 37 BB in US.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      What’s your point? We know he was great in Japan. We know he’s been terrible in limited innings in the States. So far, nothing we’ve seen in his approach to pitching indicates he has the stuff to succeed in the Big League level. That’s not a slight against Kei Igawa, the person. It’s simply an indication that the NPL and MLB require different skill sets and different strategies.

  • tonton

    What will you say in October if igawa finishes this season with the record of 12-10 and 4.00 ERA ?
    i think it is possible — with 50% possibility.