Hisashi Iwakuma Goes Dangerous, 4

M's fans swoop in for some heavy WBC action?

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Dr's Prognosis

The Rays aren't the 2001 Ichiro-Edgar-Boone Mariners, nor even the 2012 Texas Rangers.  Nah, LrKrBoi29, we're not saying that one quality start against the Rays puts Iwakuma back into the $100M powerbroker game.

It ain't even that Mr. WBC-san ran a 6ip 6h 2r 2er 1bb 7k line.  It's about the fact that he demonstrated the ability to miss bats.  Let's chart his pitches as thrown Friday night:

Fastball 90-93 sustained 100% ... much more "hop" ... good command
Shuuto up Foul ball or three-bouncer virtually guaranteed.  +3.5 run value per 100 pitches
Shuuto down Legit MLB strikeout weapon ... excellent deception on it
Slider Still a bit mushy, but as a 3rd pitch, located, does add to timing problems
Change curve Fourth pitch, occasional, to "steal" a called strike

With Jesus Montero calling the pitches, this version of Iwakuma-san consistently changed the hitters' eye levels.  He went up with the fastball, and he took the shuuto down below the knees.  He pitched to miss bats, not to hit them, and as a result his command of 4-5 pitches was effective.

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Rotation 2013-14

Let's recall that Iwakuma isn't in midseason form yet.  He's been in the deep freeze, and is just now regaining some command and the "hop" on his fastball.  It rose 8.3 inches on Friday, compared to 6 against the Rangers, and even that 6 had edited out a bunch of "sinkers" that the Friday data did not.

As a completely separate issue, NPB pitchers (like Sasaki) often have a learning curve.  Iwakuma has plenty 'nuff upside ahead of Friday's performance.  He can locate better than he did, he can learn the league better, and he can use his change curve more often.  If his fastball velocity stays 90-93 touching 94, here we are back to the possibility of a "poor man's Yu Darvish" or a Hideki Kuroda, the way (very intelligent) NPB fans had predicted.

The M's saw a mushy version of Iwakuma in March, they feared an International Star Poser scenario, and they overreacted.  It was an understandable overreaction, but still .... ah well.  Give them credit:  he's in the rotation now.  Maybe that even means that Vargas is being dangled in several different July 31 scenarios...

..............

As with Moyer, Vargas, and other pitchers who are not overpowering -- indeed Doug Fister is solidly in this category -- Iwakuma will have naysayers until he wins 15 games some year.  But you're asking me?  I'm VERY interested in this guy as a back-of-rotation starter who is going to pitch much better than a 4-5 slot.

What do you do with Iwakuma, considering that the M's have the Big Three and Erasmo coming up?  Well... for 2013 only one or two will start the year here.  Even if they all come charging into Safeco?  And you had Felix-Erasmo-Hultzen-Paxton-Taijuan?  You'd trade Vargas, and still be in great shape with Iwakuma as your #6 starter / swing man.  And the odds of Erasmo-Hultzen-Paxton-Taijuan all being healthy together are what?

Point is, you could offer Iwakuma not just one year, but two or three.  If you wound up with six starters, well, how many did the 1970's Dodgers have :- )

At the least he's worth a long look, which he'll now get, we're sure.

Cheers,

Jeff

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