The Good, Dept.
Some Japanese fans thought that Hisashi Iwakuma was going to perform better in the majors than Yu Darvish, and by extension, that Daisuke Matsuzaka. The 2008-11 Iwakuma ran an ERA in the low 2's, starred in the WBC, and wielded seven pitches, all separated from each other by several MPH. Read them and weep:
Iwakuma's finish-'em-off pitch was, if you believe the internet and why would you not, a forkball. He got to two strikes, it was Brandon League city. But before he got there, he also had a precision-located fastball ... and in between the fastball-forkball whipsaw, there was the deadly gyroball/shuuto, which verrrrrry reliably produces three-hoppers to third base. The four breaking pitches were almost just there for showing off.
The Bad, Dept.
Based entirely on the unanimous reports that Iwakuma had a Brandon League forkball, SSI was understandably bullish on him for 2012. As had been Billy Beane. As had been Iwakuma himself, who'd demanded a $100M plus contract and gone back to Japan when the impoverished A's could afford only $30M plus.
Iwakuma came to the U.S. in 2012 having no forkball whatsoever and, as it turned out, very little to turn to when the count was 2-and-2. His fastball was Ian-Snell-like, lifeless, coming from a low, flat angle and with little bite ... here, let's chart out his arsenal:
|"Fastball"||Actual 91 MPH but effectively 88. No bite. Lots of centered FB's and 2-0 counts.|
|Forkball||Did not exist|
Hard to square up, but maxes at 25% ratio, & it can be fought off for foul balls on 2-2
|Curve||Mushy and sort of telegraphed|
|Slider||Mushy, no swinging strikes|
So the hitters, with no respect for his fastball, were "bullying" Iwakuma -- standing on the plate and barrelling up pitches outside. Even when Iwakuma happened to get to a 2-strike count, what was next? He would stumble into a 1-2 count and ... here was a 91 MPH fastball way outside, a desperate gamble for a fishing strike.
You can't pitch that way. You need some kind of "dangerous" pitch, something the hitter is scared of in a two-strike count. Just nibbling and picking with four mushy pitches ... they'll foul off your located pitches and crush them when you miss.
Mr. WBC-san, in Japan in March, had three mushy pitches ("fastball", slider, change curve) that AA hitters would not miss and one good pitch (shuuto) that major league hitters can foul down the 3B line when they want. What's left? To grovel for mercy and hope that the next pitch will be hit at somebody.
Dr. D has to agree that the M's alarm in March was warranted. Well, not warranted, but very understandable. They hadn't seen the WBC Iwakuma. It's as though a team had only ever seen Jason Vargas on his worst couple of days.
... Iwakuma's first inning in Tampa Bay was somewhere between the two: