Hisashi Iwakuma Scouting Report, 7.15.12 - Dr's R/X

The exact moment of breaking the sound barrier, or of breaking 7.0 strikeouts per game, one of the two


Q.  Is this situation fixable?

A.  I would be very confident that it is.

Iwakuma has many ways to keep the hitters honest - to prevent them from leaning out over the plate and crushing outside-third pitches.  He is capable of doing these things, too.  

Jamie Moyer kept hitters honest despite an 87 MPH fastball ... why?  Because he would zip a stinging little straight pitch right on the inside corner, hand-high.  No leverage there.  He could saw off hitters at will, and they absolutely hated it, so would not lean over.

Changing speed is great, but is not enough by itself.  That's a nibble-and-pick game, 100 pitches for five innings.  There's got to be some reason for the hitter to respect the fastball itself, which will always be 50-65% of the pitches thrown.  For everybody.  

Vargas, Moyer, etc., do this by moving fastballs around.  They actually do hit the jam spot, the outside black at the knees, the letters, all the while missing the big circle in the middle.  If a hitter has to guard in, and up, and low-away, and a tease pitch OFF the plate... he won't get good swings.

Iwakuma can do this.  He did it in Japan.


Q.  So why doesn't Iwakuma locate all that great?

A.  I dunno.  Would never pitching have anything to do with lack of sharpness?  Could Jason Vargas or Jamie Moyer sit for a month, and then make their games work with no rhythm?


Q.  But Vargas and Moyer have earned respect.

A.  And that is part of the explanation for the reason Iwakuma suffers such over-eagerness against him.  

He hasn't established himself.  ... if a batter saw Jamie Moyer for the first time, he'd laugh at Moyer too.  Until Moyer's jam pitch taught him some respect.  Same with Iwakuma.  Give him a fair chance - next year, in Houston, no doubt - and let Iwakuma roll out a 7-4, 3.50 record for half a year.  ... batters will learn that the 90-92 inside pitch, and the Shuuto, are to be respected.  

Moyer, Vargas, etc., had uphill battles to establish themselves.  Iwakuma's is even more uphill.  There's a built-in cynicism about Japanese stars.  Guilty until proven innocent.


Q.  Is Iwakuma's fastball really as lifeless as the hitters seem to think?

A.  Good possibility that it is, yes.

It seemed real limp to me - like it wasn't as fast as the gun showed.  Maybe an Ian Snell situation.  Iwakuma's not a big man, and could be his release point and angle take -4 MPH off his fastball.  Very possible.

Also his 4-seamer is unpleasantly straight.  It's got a 6-inch armside run and 4-inch armside rise, which is the definition of a "straight" fastball that moves normally But Not As Much.


Q.  What's the best general pitch mix for him?  Does he have to "learn the MLB game," or is that just kind of baloney they give us?

A.  Japanese pitchers DO have to get used to the fact that mistakes are home runs in the American League.  Most of them, such as Sasaki and Matsuzaka, go through culture shock.  It's more than just not challenging.  It's learning how to back the hitters off the plate.  Iwakuma's strengths:

  • Iwakuma's 90-92 two-seam fastball has excellent bite and sink.
  • His Shuuto - in effect an 86 MPH screwball - is a game-breaking weapon.  F/X has him at +3.5 runs per 100 pitches on it.
  • His forkball, per video, is a strikeout pitch.  He never throws it.
  • The slider is meh, but can be "shown" if set up with inside fastballs.
  • His 70 MPH change curve would be cool, once per inning, if he established respect for the jam pitch.

Give Hisashi Iwakuma some time to learn to pitch Big Boyz inside, and some work so he can get his location sharpened up, and I believe in his chances.  So did Billy Beane, who won the bidding for him last year.

His time with the M's was a washout, but it did give him a chance to get his arm right.  The guy is a lot better than he's shown.  Wrong place, wrong time.


Q.  Is there NO upside scenario for the MARINER fan?

A.  Iwakuma is in a Bedard situation, one in which a back-room handshake deal is feasible.  Iwakuma's not hitting the free agency jackpot this winter.  
Hey, man, you just chill and get it together this next few months, and if we can get some good starts rolling we'll score you a Bedard-type two year incentive deal.

If they were so inclined, the Mariners could spend (a portion) of the last months of their 95-loss season on trying to develop a Kuroda / Darvish resource, rather than spending it on Beavan, Noesi, and Millwood.  


Dr D



I missed most of the game, seeing only a few batters.
But this game aside, I have never been able to figure out why Wedge wouldn't use him. He used MIllwood for a bunch of starts when he was terrible, before he got decent. Noesi? Meh. Beavan? Same.
So why didn't the proven Japanese dude get some starts and some chances to shuuto some people down?
Starts and stops with Wedge, I think.
There are nearly 15 starts out there waiting for Iwakuma, between now and whenever they lock up Safeco.
OK, Felix and Vargas and Millwood are going to throw. But Iwakuma should get his 15, just so we can see what we have moving forward.
But as down as I am about Wedge and lineup decisions, I'm not betting on it.


Serious question - Doc: It appears to me that generally you have been a supporter of Wedge and his decision-making. If I am mistaken in that regard, I apologize. However, if I am correct and we total up: 1) Wedge's refusal to play Jaso at the beginning of the season despite Jaso's demonstrated credentials as a strong platoon hitter against RH pitching, 2) His refusal to play Wells at the beginning of the year despite Wells' solid major league hitting record and superior defense, 3) His obstinate man-love for Olivo despite Olivo's high CERA, woeful hitting, and terrible base-running at the expense of Jaso and Montero, and 4) Wedge's refusal to give Ichiro a single day off for the first 2 months of the season, despite Ichiro's advanced age of 38 & his worsening platoon split against LHP ---- what is your current view of Wedge's player evaluation capability and line-up decision-making?
Thank you - Terry


In regards to 1 and 3, Olivo has not been as bad as his .564 OPS indicates (about 100 points better since mid-April), he's a pretty decent baserunner for a catcher (certainly miles better than Montero and probably Smoak as well) and Olivo has started in 25 of 44(57%) games since coming off the DL in May. I know a lot of people would like to see that more like 5, but let's face it, Montero has struggled when given everyday catcher opportunities, quickly wearing down while Olivo was on the DL (like Wedge said he would).
As far as Jaso, let's remember Jemanji described him more or less as Casey Kotchman at catcher (in a good way), he was coming off a .651 OPS last year, and his career split vs. Right Handed Pitching today, is an unimpressive .767 based heavily on OBP, so having seen him hit against AAAA guys and established vets that didn't care about results in Spring Training for 4 weeks was supposed to turn on the lightbulb because...
Regarding Casper Wells, nobody has liked his approach despite the quality results, Wedge isn't the first. After he was sent down, the announcers commented on his reduced leg kick. Still, since his return, he's still struck out 22 times in 87 PAs (25.2%) and is riding a .357 BABiP to his .806 OPS (as of 5th inning tonight), he does not have a history of super high BABiPs. I like Wells, and so does Wedge (as he's said), he's found opportunities to put him in at the expense of Saunders, (originally) Carp, and even a couple times Ichiro.
Ichiro....is Ichiro. If you've looked at lookoutlanding.com today, you'll have seen the article where Z calls him a franchise player and that he is open to retaining him for next year, and Jeff doesn't blame it on Z. The same goes for Wedge, who has expressed frustration of a couple of times with Ichiro. Baker has commented a few times on how unlikely it is to see him bat below 3rd in the order. Wedge practically crowed! when he gave Ichiro a day off and Ichiro looked like Ichiro for a week. I'm quite sure that Wedge would like to sit Ichiro at least once a week (and probably 2 or 3 times), and I'm pretty sure he's not allowed.


I mean, they're not calling up Hultzen (Beavan is stepping back in momentarily, I guess) and Erasmo's gonna get some run...
But doesn't Iwakuma kinda need to get rotation opportunities for the next 2 months just because of the dearth of options? Carraway's leveled off, Beavan is nobody, Noesi just got obliterated in AAA, Erasmo is hopefully healthy but has to rehab in the minors for a couple of starts, Hultzen isn't gonna throw a full 6 month season and is still ironing out kinks to management's satisfaction in the minors for a bit longer...
If Vargas gets traded we're gonna be in dire need of Iwakuma, but even if Jason stays we should be able to get the Japanese dude some innings.
If not, he really is on the arctic freeze setting of the Mariners affection level toward him.


phxterry has some good points that I think show the M's haven't had their best lineup on the field for a good portion of the first half. 
Even if you're correct Mal,  Olivo's OPS since mid April that's still over .150 points below Jaso's and about .30 points below Montero's.  As for Olivo's base running I'm not sure what to say.  Montero has had some real bad mistakes on the base paths.  Olivo thinks he's a base stealer and has been thrown out 4 times against 1 steal (ref: June 18, July 2 DP's) so I guess it's a wash....at best for Olivo.  If you have time I'd like to hear how you came up with your statement about Montero wearing down.  Guess I don't see it but would love some insight.  The other important factors that turns me off about Olivo and sounds like PHX as well is Olivo's horrible defense and CERA.  He has more past balls, errors, wild pitches while catching and the same or higher CERA than the other two catchers.  So Olivo in my opinion isn't better behind the plate and isn't better at the plate so a spot start against left handed pitching is all he gets in my lineup - I'd give him 30-40 starts a year and never never DH him.   
Again not sure I get why Wedge couldn't have given Jaso a few more starts at the beginning of the year. You say Jaso's .651 OPS was low but it was still higher than Olivo's .641 OPS and Jaso's OBP was .045 points higher so there's gotta be a lightbulb in there somewhere I believe.   (Oh and don't get me started that Olivo is  this great "established vet" because that's simply Wedge blowing smoke.)
More to the point Olivo is not apart of the M's future and he's not better than Montero or Jaso so we might as well play our future. 
Not sure how to address Wells he's young and is a solid defensive outfielder.  I hope more time will show us he can be a major league outfielder and a part of the M's future. 
In my opinion Wedge has shown in Seattle and while in Cleveland that he is extremely hard headed when it comes to rookies and low time guys trying to find their way in the major leagues.  It defiantly shows with Olivo, Ichiro and some with Wells.  My view of Wedge is that he doesn't show the ability to properly evaluate talent in a timely fashion.  If Olivo won't of hurt himself Jaso would still be on the bench along with Saunders if not for guti's injury as well.   Some of the positives we've seen this season have come from Wedge having no other options at positions i.e.  Jaso, Saunders, Wells, and I feel Iwakuma as well.  This leads me to believe Wedge can't figure out who the best players are to put in the lineup in a consistent matter to give the M's the best chance to win night in and night out. 
I'd also love to hear the Doctor's take on phxterry's points. 

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