Sunday, October 28, 2007
After seeing the success teams has had with Japanese relievers, other teams will dig in to Japanese bullpens to find their "Okajima." The most obvious choice is Koji Uehara, who is a closer with a fastball, slider, split-finger in his repertoire. He has stated his interest to come to the States and is already drawing interest from the Mariners, Angels, Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees, and Mets. According to the MLB Rumors West Coast Correspondent Thomas Reiss, the Angels are most interested and have been since he rejected their three million dollar contract. However, Hitoki Iwase is a lefty closer who would see much success as a late inning reliever in the States. He put up forty-three saves this year and 129 over the past three seasons. He has a great slider, but his fastball tops out at 88 mph, so there are some concerns. But he is considered the best lefty pitcher in Japanese history-and the same concerns about him were brought up when Okajima was signed, so I would not be too worried about him. I see the Red Sox, Giants, Twins, Dodgers, and Mets to be most interested, but we will know more when he officially declares that he will come here.
Here's my take on it all: Japanese pitchers are a different breed. They work harder, work on their pitches so much that they can throw them in any count. Okajima will throw that nasty breaking ball on a 3-0 count with the bases loaded. Furthermore, aside from personal skill, their tendencies are different than most American pitchers, and cannot always be read as easily. Okajima had so much success early on because no one could pick up his tendencies. I expect those kinds of things to happen with some of the new Japanese players along the way. I expect Kei Igawa to have more success in the bullpen than in the rotation next season. A middle relief pitcher that will set it up for the late inning ones, I believe that is where his success is. His stuff is not overpowering, but it can get the job done for an inning.