The Obligatory Hideki Okajima Post

Yankees sign Buddy Carlyle
The RAB Radio Show: December 2, 2010

This post seemed inevitable, and sure enough the emails started trickling in not long after we learned that the Red Sox will decline to tender Hideki Okajima a contract before tonight’s deadline, making Daisuke Matsuzaka’s buddy* a free agent. With the Yankees in the market for a second lefty, wondering if Okajima was worth targeting was only natural. I’m here to tell you that hell no, the Yanks should avoid the guy.

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Okajima burst onto the scene in 2007 by allowing a solo homerun to the first batter he ever faced in the big leagues (John Buck) and then not allowing another run until late-May, 19 pitching appearances later. Okajima was an All Star that season and finished the year with a 2.22 ERA (3.33 FIP) and a rather studly 1.5 fWAR  in 69 innings of setup work, and of course a World Series ring. Even more impressive is that he was effective against both lefties (.302 wOBA against) and righties (.222) thanks to a split-change and funky don’t-look-at-the-target delivery.

Although he wasn’t as dominant the next year, Okajima did pitch to a 2.61 ERA (3.62 FIP) and 1.1 fWAR in 62 innings even though right-handers started to figure him out (.356 wOBA against compared to .259 vs. LHB). Things started to fall apart in 2009 (3.39 ERA, 4.20 FIP, .371 wOBA vs. RHB, .225 wOBA vs. LHB) and then the wheels came completely off in 2010 (4.50 ERA, 4.64 FIP, .381 wOBA vs. RHB, .314 wOBA vs. LHB). The league, it appears, has finally caught up to him after four seasons in the States.

Oh hai baseball. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)

There’s a lot not to like about Okajima, starting with his stuff. His fastball, never great to begin with, averaged a career low 86.3 mph last season and he’s using it more often than ever, basically two out of every three pitches. As funky as his delivery is, Okajima’s not particularly good at hiding the ball since he comes right over the top (right). If batters can see a mid-80’s fastball out of a pitcher’s hand, they’ll probably hit it not matter which way the guy’s head is going, and unsurprisingly Okajima’s heater was worth 2.8 runs below average in 2010, easily the worst mark of his career. His split finger has lost three inches of vertical break over the last two years, and it’s gone from two runs above average to 4.4 below. The curveball’s more than fine (1.52 runs above average in 2010), but that’s all he’s working with these days.

Another issue with Okajima is health after he missed close to two months with a back stiffness last summer, and then there’s the homeruns (one for every 7.2 IP over the last two years). And sheesh, he’s not even that great against lefties anymore. Like I said earlier, they got him for a .314 wOBA in 2010, below (in a bad way) the .304 left-on-left league average. Okajima’s not outrageously expensive but $2.75M for a LOOGY (his 2010 salary) is less than ideal, and I assume he’ll want a similar salary next year. Also, just think about what’s going on here, a team in the process of overhauling a weak bullpen is cutting him loose because he was part of the problem, not the solution. Boston can surely afford him, this is all about performance.

I suspect that if Okajima had performed exactly the same way over the last four years for a team like the Padres or Royals instead of the Red Sox, no one would think twice about him. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with exploring possibilities, but let’s just keep moving along, nothing to see here.

* Kay’d

Yankees sign Buddy Carlyle
The RAB Radio Show: December 2, 2010
  • Brazilian Fan

    thank you, apreciate it. Not offtopic anymore. lol

  • Section 203

    Just a comment on the picture — perhaps if he looked where he was throwing the ball, his stats would be a little better.

    Sufficive to say, automatic HELL NO for Okajima in pinstripes!

  • mike

    yea we dont need him anyway considering we have a perfectly good LOOGY and spot starter in AAA named Kei Igawa.

    Get him on the 40 man Cash

    • Bruno (The Manchine)

      yea we dont need him anyway considering we have a perfectly good crappy LOOGY and spot starter in AAA named Kei Igawa.

      Get him onKeep them both off the 40 man Cash


  • JGS

    but let’s just keep moving along, nothing to see here.

    He is not the droid we are looking for

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    If the Red Sox are not even tendering him then that should tell you that he hasn’t got much left.

    • Slugger27

      …as mike noted

  • Clay Bellinger

    They signed that Buddy Carlyle hooligan over this guy?!! Fire Bronny Cash!!

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    Beeter option. White Sox non tendered Bobby Jenks. He’s a righty but I’d much rather have him than Okajima

    • Bruno (The Manchine)

      Jenks only makes sense if they’re not sure about Ace’s recovery, but I’m sure he’ll find a more lucrative ($$$ and closer/8th) spot elsewhere.

      Erick Threets as the 2nd lefty? Yes please.

      • Bruno (The Manchine)

        Jenks has D’Backs written all over him IMO.

      • Mattchu12

        Jenks could be this years’ Matt Capps.

        Not saying we should sign him, we’ve got Joba/D-Rob for the eighth. But if he isn’t too expensive, I would be just fine with seeing him compete with Joba and D-Rob for a set-up role.

        • Bruno (The Manchine)

          Oh I wouldn’t object at all. Just saying I think he finds a much more prominent role with another team.

          • Mattchu12

            Agreed. I’m thinking either the D-Backs, Red Sox, or Rays to be honest.

  • B-Rando

    Hell no to Okajima. The guy is terrible.

    It’s funny how a lot of Japanese pitchers get “figured out” after 3 or 4 years in the league.

    • Slugger27

      the only reason it took this long is cuz he’s a reliever… if he had started he wouldve been “figured out” by august of the first year

    • GermanYankee

      it’s also funny, that Japanese pitchers had their prime years in Japan and are just looking for a big payday in the MLB to finish their careers. Look how old those Japanese guys are, almost none of them were in the MLB in their prime years. They figured out Okajima? I say he’s just getting old. The young Japanese guys can be pretty good, u just won’t see a lot of them here because of NPB’s international free agency rules.

  • Chris

    No no no no no no the guy dosen’t even look at the plate when he throws no no no no no…oh, and NO

  • Monteroisdinero

    Staying on the Hideki topic, where is Matsui going?

    • pete


  • AJ

    Why is everyone saying Okajima’s terrible? Yes he’s getting up there in age and his fastball is losing velocity but he was excellent against lefties in 2007, 2008, and 2009. He got hurt and hit the wall in 2010, but the track record against lefties is promising. In fact by Whip and Avg against, he’s gotten better against lefties until 2010.
    Against lefties:

    In 2007 – Whip: 1.18, Avg: .236, 23Ks in 23 innings
    2008 – Whip: 0.88, Avg: .184, 31Ks in 28.1 innings
    2009 – 0.82, Avg: 167, 26Ks in 30.1 innings.

    Also…his postseason pitching stats:

    21.1 innings, 2.11 ERA, 16Ks, 5 BB, .84 WHIP, 6.8 SO/9,

    2010 was a disaster. And I’m not saying that Okajima is going to be the star lefty he was in 2007 but I don’t think he’s washed up. I wouldn’t mind him in pinstripes for a year or two, and I think he’d be a nice, cheap risk to take.