Extracting value from Kei Igawa


Since 2006, when George Steinbrenner granted him autonomy over baseball operations, Brian Cashman has signed four free agent pitchers: Andy Pettitte, Kei Igawa, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. Three out of four represents an excellent mark, especially considering the crop of free agent pitchers the team signed in the few years before ’06. Still, the one stings a bit. The Yankees bid $27 million when the Hanshin Tigers posted him, and it seemed like overpayment at the time. That fee, plus his five-year, $20 million contract, add up to quite the blunder. But can the Yankees salvage something in deal’s final two years?

If Igawa plays any role for the 2010 or 2011 Yankes, he’ll do it from the bullpen. The Yankees have built plenty of rotation depth, leaving Igawa somewhere around sixth or seventh in line for an open rotation spot. Even if the Yankees suffered six separate misfortunes, of which there’s an outside chance, they might not turn to Igawa. There’s little in his track record which suggests an ability to get through a major league order multiple times with limited damage. But perhaps he can prove of value pitching in short bursts out of the bullpen.

At The Hardball Times today, Jeff Sackmann examines minor league starters who might make quality major league bullpen candidates. After all, since many, if not most, relievers were starters who failed, a number of these middling starters will eventually make the move. Identifying them now can perhaps expedite the process. The Yankees, as we know, prefer to develop their young arms as starters, but we also know that they will move a starter to the bullpen if the need arises. With Igawa, it might be the only way to extract even a modicum of value.

Sackmann identified three qualities which might suggest an easy bullpen transition. First, that they pitch well the first time through the order. Or, as I’ll examine, that they pitch well in their first inning of work. Second, they have a large platoon differential. This goes hand in hand with the short bursts, and matters much more for a lefty like Igawa. If he’s only coming in for a few batters, chances are that more than half will be lefties. And third, he pitches well out of the stretch. So how does our K-man stack up?

The only area where Igawa doesn’t rate well is in his FIP the first time through the order. In lefty-lefty situations last year Igawa posted a 2.54 FIP, inducing 40 percent ground balls. He strikes out more lefties, but more importantly he walks far fewer — just four over 169 lefties faced last season, while he walked 38 out of 491 righties. Predictably, he allows far more home runs against righties as well. With men on base Igawa actually pitches a bit better than with none on, with a FIP of more than a run lower. This is mostly attributable to his home run rate with runners on, an important factor for a reliever. Of the 260 batters he faced with men on, he allowed just five home runs, while 17 of 400 batters with the bases empty took him out of the park.

Using Igawa’s minor league splits, there is evidence that he can pitch well in short bursts as well. While Sackmann rated him 3 on a 5-point scale in that category, he based it on the pitcher’s first time through the order. But most relievers won’t face nine hitters. In Igawa’s first inning of work he boasts a 4.08 FIP, his best mark of any inning in which he faced more than 100 batters in 2009. He induces more ground balls and fewer line drives, and allows fewer home runs. He also showed this tendency during his brief major league stint in 2007, performing far better in the first inning than in any other.

These numbers, of course, provide no guarantee that Igawa could succeed even in a limited role. They do, however, suggest that the Yankees could do worse than giving him a shot. As it stands Boone Logan is the second lefty out of the pen, but the Yanks could cut him loose if he pitches like he has over the last couple of years. At that point they might stick with Damaso Marte as the sole lefty bullpen arm, but they could certainly give Igawa a shot. There’s little harm in it. They have just 38 men on the 40-man roster, and could have up to three open spots if they end up returning Jamie Hoffman to the Dodgers. It doesn’t look like they’d have to make much of a sacrifice to get Igawa on the roster.

Most of us have a set opinion of Igawa, based on his 2007 performance. It’s pretty clear that he won’t work out as a major league starter. The Yankees, however, probably want to get any value out of him that they can at this point, and there are numbers that suggest he could capably fill a bullpen role. With open 40-man spots, why not give him the chance? Worst case he sucks and they send him back to AAA. If they need to remove him from the 40-man at that point, I don’t think they’ll mind letting him walk as a free agent. But before it comes to that, I’d like to see him get his shot.

Credit: AP Photo/Duane Burleson

Categories : Death by Bullpen


  1. Andy in Sunny Daytona says:

    After he held the Red Sox to one hit over 6 shut-out innings in relief, Kei held a special place in my heart. That place has progressivly gotten smaller and smaller, but nonetheless it’s there.
    I’ve always had a soft spot for underdogs. I liked Melky, I rooted for Hideki Irabu to be a success and I’ve rooted for Kei Igawa. If the Yankees would have gotten Aroldis, he would have shot up to #1B on my list (ever behind Melvin).
    I know that in the minds of almost everyone he’s dead to them, but I hope that someday Kei will be able to redeem himself at the major league level, whether it be from starting or relieving.

    • Mike Pop says:

      Did you root for Jeff Karstens before Igawa came in?

    • Mr.Jigginz says:

      I got your back on this one,Andy….Wayyyyyyyyy back.jk.Actually,I’ve always had a “hope” for Kei.I really don’t see him ever coming close to earning the value of the contract given to him,but hopefully he’ll find his niche somewhere in this league,someday.

    • Brian says:

      Exactly, Andy. I was at that Yankees/Red Sox game, and I could not believe my eyes — Igawa shut them down! I loved reading this post because I have been saying for 3 years that Iagawa could be used out of the bullpen. If the Yanks are paying him so much, it’s certainly worth a try to see if he can perform as a reliever. And like JP says, if he still sucks, they can just send him back to Scranton.

    • Marty in Arlington, VA (born in Bronx) says:

      I absolutely agree that Kei Igawa should be given a shot as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen and made this argument about a month ago on a blog posting. As Joe P points out, Igawa’s numbers against lefties are incredible. Girardi seems to like the option of using lefty specialists twice in a game and a Marte-Igawa tandem could be powerful. At the very least, showcasing him in this role could enance his trade value. The Angels lost lefty specialist Darren Oliver. Could Igawa, as a proven lefty specialist, become part of a package for Juan Rivera? That’s a former Yankee who could be worth bringing home to play left field.

  2. mustang says:

    “Still, the one stings a bit”

    47 million !!!! For AAA guy that’s one big ass sting.

    Anyting you can get now is a plus.

  3. Zack says:

    I could live without seeing Kei Igawa pitch another game; but if the ST battle for the 2nd lefty is between him and Logan and he wins then ok. Logan does have another option correct?
    And if they both suck during ST then let Melancon or whoever else stands out in ST get that last spot.

  4. Mike Pop says:

    Solid idea. No risk really, except making my eyes hurt.

  5. Slu says:

    I think WFAN and the tabloids would blow it so out of proportion if he made the team that, if I am making the decisions, it is just not worth it. I just don’t think there is any way he ever pitches for the Yankees again.

    But what do I know?

    • If I’m making the decisions, I don’t read the tabloids nor do I listen to WFAN.

    • Zack says:

      “But what do I know?”

      Less than Cashman, because he doesnt let the media run his team. Or else Cano, Joba, Hughes, and Jesus would have been traded by now.

      • Slu says:

        I never said Cashman lets the media run his team, but he by no means ignores the media or the media’s reaction to his decisions. He uses the media as much as the media uses him.

        Would the benefit of this move outweigh the constant questions he and others in organization would get about it? Girardi having to constantly defend his use of Igawa, or his non-use, etc. Would the “distraction” outweigh the benefit? I am not sure it would. Especially if he was awful and/or blew a lead in a “big” game.

        And they listen to the public reaction to some extent, and it is naive to think they don’t. Every good business listens to their customers. Some things about the stadium were changed based on feedback from the public. I know that it is not a roster issue, but why is suggesting that they would not do this because of the public reaction and different to those that suggest they won’t bring in a player from the outside because of something he has said or done in the past? If it all about performance on the field, then none of these things should ever matter. Why would it matter what Sheffield said, for example, if they wanted to bring him back?

        But hey, let’s make it a completely black and white issue and call me an idiot because I suggested that it may not be worth it, PR-wise.

        • Zack says:

          Would it be a distraction? No. Girardi gets asked 100 questions whether they win or lose, the media writes negative stuff about the Yankees whether they miss the playoffs or make it for 10+ straight years. No move the Yankees make is ever right according to the media, so it doesnt matter.
          Did Brett Tomko on the roster destroy the season and cause massive distraction? No. Did Edwar Ramirez? Veras?

          The stadium issue is irrelevant to the team. Does their PR/Marketing/etc department pay attention to fans when it has to deal with revenue? Yes. Is Igawa in the bullpen going to decrease the revenue? No.

          I never called you an idiot. Just answered your question with my opinion.

    • Bo says:

      If you start listening to the fans, u start sitting with them. You cant make moves based on what fans think.

  6. Rose says:

    This never made any sense to me. The players all around the MLB who had seen him previously were openly talking about how horrible this guy was. I don’t think it’s possible that any scout or talent manager would disregard all of this because of his irrelevant ability to perform well against fellow Japanese players.

    It was either that…or the scouts were actually agreeing with the outspoken players who said Igawa was worthless…and Cashman didn’t care and figured he had to make a drastic move after missing out on Dice K.

    I don’t even think the worst part about it was that the Red Sox got Dice K and we got stuck with Kei Igawa. I think the fact the Red Sox got Dice K and a very effective Okajima under the radar…while we made an unnecessary splash for Igawa is the worst part.

    As I read on another site somewhere…it seems like Boston has a much better knack at evaluating Japanese players than the Yankees do.

    • Zack says:

      “As I read on another site somewhere…it seems like Boston has a much better knack at evaluating Japanese players than the Yankees do.”

      Going off a grand total of 3 players?

      If DiceK was signed by NYY then all the stories would be about how Theo was smart not to sign a stubborn pitcher who walks too many and just gets lucky, not to mention showing up to camp injured and out of shape and missing the whole season.
      And no one expected Okajima to be that good his rookie year.

      • Rose says:

        And no one expected Okajima to be that good his rookie year.

        Especially after he gave up a bomb on his first pitch ever in the MLB to John Buck…I was rolling around on the floor laughing and loving every minute of it…but they go the last laugh that year…unfortunately.

    • JAG says:

      The Okajima loss was even tougher because Matsui was good friends with Okajima and was pushing the Yankees to pick him up. If only they’d listened, Okajima has turned out to be a fairly effective bullpen weapon.


    • A.D. says:

      it seems like Boston has a much better knack at evaluating Japanese players than the Yankees do.

      SSS Alert!

      That really applies to all Japanese players, but looking at the Sox track record:

      Dice-K: Spent over 100M on bringing him over, have gotten a solid season, a very good season (albeit it terrible peripherals), and a lost season paired with some public dispute on his training regiment. The jury is still very much out, but so far probably not worth the total investment, given Dice-K has yet to record a FIP below 4 (or worse than Gil Meche)

      Okajima: no doubt a huge find, but I don’t think Boston really expected this, and it is just a reliever

      Tazawa: Wayyy to early, and this was less talent evaluation than breaking an unofficial rule, plenty of teams were high on him


      Irabu: Didn’t meet the billing, and was league avg at best, but the Yanks were able to get Homer Bust, Jake Westbrook, and Ted Lilly in the various deal Irabu was part of, so that’s something.

      Matsui: Some injuries at the end, but otherwise an incredibly productive hitter

      Igawa: Thus far worthless.

      So Yanks haven’t done will with the pitchers, but I wouldn’t give Boston too much credit yet

  7. dalelama says:

    In my mind the signing of Burnett has yet to be a proven a “success”. We seemed to pay alot for a Jekyll-Hyde type pitcher who looks like Bobby Feller one moment and Ed Whitson the next. In my mind he certainly has underperformed for the “stuff” he possesses.

    • Steve H says:

      In my mind he certainly has underperformed for the “stuff” he possesses.

      That’s AJ Burnett. They knew that when they signed him, and year 1 of the deal is absolutely a success. That may change down the road, but they did not sign him expecting him to, at 32, completely stray from his career trends and become Bob Feller all the time.

      • Zack says:

        It is all about realistic expectations. Could he have been better some games? Yes. But if we expected him to dominate for 200 IP like he seemed to do every game vs the Yankees then your expectations were way too high.
        Is he overpaid? Yes. But that was the market at the time, fans insist we build through FA and not develop young SP so they had to choose between Lowe and AJ, they made the right choice.

    • jsbrendog officially approves signing Fernando Tatis says:

      what does this have to do with kei igawa?

    • It’s a success because they signed him as a piece with winning the 2009 World Series in mind, and that’s what happened.

      He’s overrated, it often feels like there’s no grey area in the AJ performance spectrum and the contract will be suck in the 4th and 5th years but right now it’s a “success”.

      I’m also pretty sure the Yankees realize that his contract (and he) may suck in the tail-end but they had an immediate goal. When his stuff and effectiveness goes they’ll figure it out.

  8. whitey says:

    Maybe he could run a shades stand out front of the stadium?! Yanks could recoup a little of their investment.

  9. UnNamed Yankee Source says:

    How come Cash has not found a taker for this guy yet? We could use an outfielder right? Maybe do a little dumpster diving and swap Igawa for say Wily Tavares? or someone of similar contract status? The Mets need pitching.. Kenny Williams likes to make out of nowhere deals.

  10. Chris says:

    A better way to extract value from him is by having him grow a beard, get implants, and charge 50 cents a pop for fans to see the “Bearded lady with a league average fastball.”

  11. A.D. says:

    These numbers, of course, provide no guarantee that Igawa could succeed even in a limited role.

    Agreed, Igawa has been fine in the minors, and has been pretty bad in the bigs, mainly because he just gets crushed, vs not having enough pitches to go multiple times through a line up.

  12. UnNamed Yankee Source says:

    ~ SOLUTION ~

    Lets post him!

    Sell his contract back to Japan.

    (can we do this?)

  13. Bo says:

    This has to be comedy. If they thought he could bring value as a lefty rp dont u think they would have tried it?? They know he cant get major league hitters out. In any capacity.

    He should have moved 2 yrs ago when a few NL teams inquired. And every scout that gave their blessing on him should be evaluated.

    Otherwise hes going to make the Scranton HOF.

  14. Bo says:

    I think we’ll all survive and the team will continue to prosper if we’re not subjected to Igawas mug and those sunglasses again.

    Keep him far away from the Bronx.

  15. MattG says:

    The problem with having a second lefty in the pen is you have to use him. The problem is exasperated when that second lefty is a fringy player.

    I’d rather Cashman just create a depth chart of relievers regardless of throwing hand.

    Who are the other finalists for the 40 man spots? The Yankees can leave them open indefinitely, correct?

  16. YankFanDave says:

    When Cook was traded I thought the Yanks left (no pun intended) themselves short of lefties, I completely forgot about Kai. Your point likely factored-in in some small way to the comfort of trading Cook.

    Might the means of getting value be to keep him in the minors where he shows well and attempt to get some value via a trade (came close a couple of times.) That seems to be their strategy since he hasn’t had a sniff of the majors since 2008 (not even roster expansion call up) regardless of good minor league performance. Time is running out on that tactic though.

  17. Charlie says:

    no thanks. his putrid pitching an his face are just things that i don’t want to see. winning>extracting value out of kei igawa

  18. Matt says:

    I normally think people in New York a bit a quick to judge: a bad season or postseason and Yankee fans don’t ever want to see a player again (think A-Rod).

    In this case the fans are right: Igawa is a terrible pitcher, who is simply way overpaid. Forget him; I’d rather see a young kid with some potential get some experience than waste time with Igawa.

  19. Jeffrey says:

    Igawa has had a grand total of 70 major league innings, so it would seem a bit premature to conclude that he can’t pitch in the major leagues on such a small sample size, especially if you give him some slack for first-year adjustment period(Dice K needed it too). He has been very successful in AAA and we should not forget the reports on him before he was signed:

    “He does make me think of (Jarrod) Washburn,” says one NL Central scout who was assigned to Matsuzaka, and later Igawa by his employers, who were expected to be serious contenders for both pitchers this offseason. “He’s got a little swagger in him, more than Matsuzaka, at least demonstrably. He’ll sit right in the 90mph range until he needs a big strikeout and than he reaches back for added gas.”

    I see no reason to assume that Boone Logan will do better than him as a lefty out of the bullpen. I don’t think that this will happen but I wouldn’t have any preclusions.

  20. ShuutoHeat says:

    Use him as a mop up to burn up innings. Make him pitch till his arm falls off…

  21. Dave says:

    Something about Igawa just screams NY MET!

  22. pete luciano says:

    Can you imagine Igewa in the bullpen. Can’t throw strikes, he would be a disaster. How about Cashman penny pinching Johnny Damon while he’s got $46m tied up in this bum. Please.

  23. Bill says:

    If the Yanks bring him up, won’t his salary count towards the luxury tax again? I think that’s the reason they removed him from the 40 man roster in the first place. Bringing him up will cost them a few million dollars in luxury tax as well as forcing them to cut or expose someone else from their 40 man roster.

  24. mrpappageorgio says:

    Wow, a little time goes by and people forget. Forget this guy gets shelled by big league hitting. Forget that he simply cannot keep the ball down and walks a ton of hitters.

    Why can’t people face the facts – Kei was a huge mistake. Leave it at that, let him be in AAA. He’ll be back in Japan soon.

  25. CommerceComet says:

    Kei Igawa is my AAA benchmark. Every time I start getting excited about a young AAA prospect, I compare his stats to Igawa’s. Since it has been pretty much proven that Igawa can’t pitch in the bigs, I’m not real optimistic about a pitcher who doesn’t out-perform Igawa in AAA.

    Admittedly, $47 million is a pretty expensive barometer.

  26. [...] if the Yankees end up liking one of their non-roster pitchers more than Mitre? What if they like Kei Igawa in a lefty relief role? What if Jason Hirsh lives up to his potential as the No. 42 prospect in baseball in 2007? What if [...]

  27. [...] of him. This isn’t the first time Igawa has come up as a reliever. Joe explored the idea in late January. In AAA last year, he both struck out more lefties and walked fewer, and while his career splits [...]

  28. [...] the winter I wondered whether Kei Igawa would profile as a reliever. The idea came from The Hardball Times’s Jeff Sackmann, who identified key traits of quality [...]

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