Kawasaki SS - here's a WBC star, whose game plays


Matty sez,

....are you buying that Kawasaki might be a little bit of a hitter?  That seems to be a new source of buzz...I am deeply skeptical due to his lack of demonstrated contact skill in Japan, but would welcome feedback.

To which Bat571 aptly replies:

Kawasaki wasn't a bad hitter in the JPL (avg .295 w/ .721 OPS), but with the tennis/placement swing like Ichiro without any of Ichiro's occasional power (14 HR in 5 years in smaller parks), most felt that MLB pitchers would just knock the bat out of his hands.

Well, it looks like his wrists are pretty strong, and though he's not hitting it far, he is placing it well. I wouldn't start him, but Ryan looks like he's going to be iffy, and if the alternative is Figgins in the lineup, I'm starting to like the idea of Kawasaki as our SS/UT guy with Seager available with a bigger bat when needed.

To answer Matty's question, I'm buying that he might be a little bit of a hitter yes.  By "a little bit of a hitter" I mean that he might outhit Derek Jeter, Elvis Andrus, and/or Jimmy Rollins this year.


=== My Bad, Dept. ===

The first thing that SSI guessed about Kawasaki is that we feared he might get embarrassed here.  The basis was superficial:  if the great NPB hitters had been merely okay, what would a mediocre NPB hitter do here?  Also:  Kawasaki is one of the few guys who has showed up without NPB power:  would a hard inside pitch knock the bat out of his hands?

The second thing that SSI said was that it's all just guesswork.  There have been about 10 players to translate.  Would you put any confidence in Major League Equivalencies if only 10 PCL hitters had ever come to the bigs?  Hint:  No.

SABRMatt is an accomplished mathemetician.  He can relate to the fact that an MLE formula, based on 10 players only, could be worse than useless.  Such a formula could be deceptive and distracting.


=== What's Changed? ===

Two weeks on, Kawasaki has shown that his ISO is low not because he is physically weak, but because he emphasizes a slap-and-run game.  He stays within himself.  It's like a golfer choosing to use a 3-iron off the tee, as opposed to a golfer not being able to hit 180 yards with his driver.

Kawasaki has a wonderful flair for staying back on the offspeed pitch, squaring it softly and beating feet down the 1B line.  Here's an example.  Notice how he steps, transfers his weight ... but keeps the hands back and the head down on the ball.

Similar videos have come out of camp this spring.  Kawasaki can track the ball in flight, keep the hands back, and bisect the ball.  

He patterned himself after Ichiro, and he actually IS a mini-Ichiro.


It's not just my opinion.  It took Wedge and staff about four days to realize that Kawasaki-san can play this game. 


=== So Taguchi ===

In the two WBC's, 2006 and 2009 -- going against unknown, quality pitchers, of course -- Kawasaki-san hit 10-for-34 and struck out ... wait for it ... one time.  

It's hard to explain sometimes why a ballplayer's performance will actually improve from AAA to the major leagues, or from NPB to the majors, as Michael Pineda's did, as So Taguchi's did, as Kerry Wood's did ... often it has to do with the player's fear of failure.  He dials in, "stays within himself," and you see his very best game as he goes into "I gotta prove myself" mode.

Taro informed us that So Taguchi was the outfield version of Kawasaki.  Both are 5'10", 165 lbs., both hit about .300 in Japan, with single-digit homers.

Taguchi came over here and, rather than hitting the .205 that we would assume through "translated stats," hit the same .290/.330/.420 that many of the NPB stars hit.  We've remarked before that these NPB lines -- .290, .330, .420 -- represent average performance in all offensive categories.  The solidness of Taguchi's Japanese game just transferred well to the ML game.


For political reasons, the M's would have to phase Kawasaki in, after one of Ryan's injuries.  Not political like the embassy of Japan; political like the MLB(TM) entitlement code.  It would be interesting to see the M's decision, in June, if Ryan is having one of his 57 OPS+ seasons and Munenori Kawasaki is hitting .300 with a prorated 30 SB's.

Has everybody forgotten Ryan's 2010?  With an OBP of .279 and a SLG of .292 -- that's 2.8 runs per 27 outs -- in 500 plate appearances?

I'll take the LH batting WBC star.  If he's playing like this I will.

Guess here is that, if Kawasaki were hitting .300 and Ryan tanking, Wedge could get away with saying, "Kawasaki is playing well right now and we're going to go with the hot man for a while."  Or "Brendan's really battled that neck, but it's not loosening up for him and we're going to take it cautiously with him."  Say whatever you want.  Just as long as you say it.  :- )


We knew very little about Kawasaki when he got here.  What we've seen, in two weeks, leads us to believe that he's far more in the bubbly, optimistic Taguchi category than in the fearful, tentative Nishioka category.  Sweet.  A dice roll that tumbled off the wall as a 7.

If Kawasaki hits anywhere near 100 OPS+ ... and he could ... well, he's also a 30-SB guy (prorated) and, at shortstop, that would be more productive than at least one of the Jeter, Andrus, Rollins group.

He could flop.  The first two weeks have been anything but.  This could be one WBC star whose game plays.


Dr D






I know, small sample size but...
Since Kawasaki does not have a hit versus lefties this spring but he is hitting over 450 versus righties, and Ryan is slightly better versus lefties...
Come on Wedge....


I think the real political football is not just replacing Ryan, but what if Figgins is still at .200/.300/.200 in mid-April and Ryan is fragile. Do you put Kawasaki at SS and leadoff? If he's still looking like Navratilova placing a strong two-handed backhand to the opposite corner on two of five at-bats, I say yea.


Most NPB players hit LH-on-LHP very well... would guess that Kawasaki's splits are more than fine in NPB...
On the other hand, he does have that leg kick, that looping swing, and it would raise my own comfort level (FWIW) to let him take them when RHP's are out there ...

Auto5guy's picture

This was my first thought upon reading the article. When the time comes to powerflush Figgins (and i firmly believe that time WILL come) does Kawasaki become the logical leadoff guy?
I guess we'll find out how attached the M's are to Ichiro hitting third and if that was in part a ploy to help Figgins.


but the Braves were looking for a 3B and OF.  They probably need the even more now that Chipper is at the end.  Maybe he pulls a last season Griffey and is terrible until the middle of May.  I hope Figgins can play well enough to fill that void.  Ship Figgins about as far away from Seattle as possible.

IcebreakerX's picture

Kawasaki's game is limited, however the strengths are extremely specific and potent.
He's definitely your waterbug utility IF. Might even be able to play a McLemore-style OF.
There's nothing wrong with that if you're piling in the bats and need an out in a late/close game with lots of benches on the bat with him.

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