Ichiro Hands Over the Baton?

Q.  Remind me again what the problemo was supposed to be in spring training?

A.  His fastball was a little short, his slider was a little mushy, and in the NPB he'd been used to throwing everything low and away.  MLB(TM) bullies stood on top of the plate, so the barrels of their bats were over the outside corner, and gleefully took the nibble-and-pick soft stuff off the fences.

There was a cultural bias involved, in assuming that Iwakuma couldn't learn to come in on their hands, and to take them up the ladder.  Iwakuma has, in July, disabused snooty Americans of the notion that he was incapable of adjusting.

I think it's very fair to emphasize that WBC stars from Japan have earned more benefit of the doubt than Iwakuma received.  ... I'm not saying that Iwakuma deserved a red carpet.  But what he got was the basement of the Port-a-Potty.  World pitching star Iwakuma should have received more benefit of the doubt than a Rule 5 kid, period.  He didn't.  That's okay; it's over.


Q.  How about the gopheritis?  Is it over?

A.  That's the legit worry here.  Especially that 82 MPH slider - he likes to throw it up in the zone.  Tremendous guts, but... You saw two deep shots at the warning track tonight, as well as a solo home run.  (Don't oversell that.  Those were about the only three good swings the Jays had all night.)

With each game, Iwakuma gets more conditioned to keeping his fingers out of the tiger's mouth.  The man is just very intelligent.  He's going to avoid mistakes more and more, as time goes on.  It takes a while to overcome your old NPB conditioning.


Q.  What's the projection going forward?

A.  Without the great slider, Iwakuma aspires to be Shaun Marcum or Chris Capuano.  Those are pitchers who have signature changeups (cf. the shuuto) and who grovel the rest of their mediocre games around that.

Now if you were to stipulate that Iwakuma will now be throwing that delicious change-slider, then in that case he aspires to be James Shields or Hiroki Kuroda.  Shields is a legit TOR because he has a third scary pitch to go with his signature changeup - Shields has a tough overhand curve ball as the #3.  Shields and Kurdo are what you get if you cross Marcum or Capuano with an additional strikeout pitch.

Iwakuma had that on the 30th.  Will he in the future?  We'll see. 


Q.  Where does SSI see Iwakuma-san as fitting in to the M's future.

A.  OK, we'll forget the spring training issues, even if Iwakuma might not.  In any case, there is no excuse for cultural bias echoing into August.  Iwakuma has shown his WBC form.  That's the way he's pitched all his life, and now he's back to it -- and he's come up to speed on how to deal with 230-lb. MLB bullies. 

The question is his durability.  Not his effectiveness.  Iwakuma has that high elbow that Taro hates, and better pitchers than him (namely, Dice-K) have come up lame having been ridden into the ground overseas.  Also, Iwakuma's NPB records were never those of a workhorse.  The durability is a major concern.

If he's healthy, there's no question at SSI but that he's a $10M (without the slider) or $15M (with it) per year pitcher.  Five more outings and that's what he's liable to get this winter.  Kuroda has been getting $11-15M per.

If I'm in Zduriencik's shoes, and there is a hometown discount available to me, I'm grabbing it.  There is the Japanese fanbase to factor in as well.

The Mariners have options in the rotation, of course.  Whether they want to see Iwakuma become their next R.A. Dickey is another matter.

My $0.02,


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