Q. You make him sound better than Darvish.
A. I don't look at it that way, but some Japanese fans think that he is. Here's an exchange from MLB Trade Rumors ... go down to where Snowmen10 begins. This is from just a week ago:
I think Iwakuma will have a better success than a lot of Japanese pitchers probably including Darvish for the first couple years. Unlike Darvish and Dice-K, Iwakuma is totally not afraid of letting his 2 seamer (shuuto) got hit by the hitter and work out as a ground ball. He also challenge batter with his breaking ball to go into the strike zone, which is where catcher wants. His command is a lot accurate compare with Darvish and Dice-K, and his splitter is very very good as well.
John McFadin scoffs at the idea that Iwakuma might outpitch Darvish:
Iwakuma's and Darvish's command is almost identical. Plus, any major league team will easily take a pitcher who misses bats as opposed to a pitcher who pitches to contact. Why else do you think Darvish is the one that got the mammoth posting fee and contract?
Snowmen10's reply is thoughtful:
If you watch NPB for a couple seasons not just clips from youtube, you'll know that Darvish doesn't pitch to where catcher wants in many occasions, but Iwakuma will. Darvish doesn't pitch his breaking ball into strikezone except for fastball and slider. Dice-K has similar attribute, that's the reason worrying me about how Darvish will perform in the big league. Of course Iwakuma is not accurate as someone like Uehara, but he is for sure has way better accuracy than Darvish. Plus the way Iwakuma work out in the big innings is smarter than how Darvish approaches it.
Yes, MLB team will easily take a pitcher who misses bats as opposed to a pitcher who pitches to contact. That's the reason Yankee used to against Wang in negotiation in 2006. However, for Iwakuma, he still can strike-out a lot of hitters in Japan. He's not just solely a contact pitcher.
Q. If Snowmen10's report is on target, what does that mean in the MLB context?
A. DiceK and Darvish favor challenging with a fastball out-and-over, while nibbling and picking with the breaking balls, hoping for "garbage" swings that can't possibly make contact. (My own impression of Darvish is exactly this: that he likes to get swings outside the zone on offspeed stuff.)
This is the infamous NPB adjustment for pitchers like Sasaki: they challenge with their fastballs 2-and-0, and then look shocked when somebody takes them off the fence.
A pitcher like Michael Pineda, or Jered Weaver, throws his slider inside the strike zone -- but is careful with the fastball. Iwakuma is the one pitching in Weaver / MLB style.
In principle, Snowmen10 is absolutely right. Iwakuma is pitching in MLB style, using a Dan Haren-, Erik Bedard-, Felix-type attack. Locate the fastball carefully, but get lots of the plate when you take something off. The adjustment is going to be much more subtle, anyway.
In the WBC, facing unfamiliar lineups, Iwakuma was sensational. If I recall correctly he was the only guy to shut out the Cubans in a final in lots of years. His game -- careful with the FB, change speeds a lot, pitch ahead -- is very resilient.
Q. Is SSI wary of NPB pitchers in general?
A. Here is the SSI Darvish article on that.
There have been some "macho" NPB pitching stars (challenge FB, high BB types) who have been famous disappointments - Typhoon Irabu, Igawa, Ishii, to some extent DiceK. But those disappointments have obscured the fact that the group has done well -- probably more NPB pitchers have exceeded expectations than fallen short of them.
The precision guys do much better than the arrogant guys. Without a doubt that would be true for MLB players crossing over to Japan, too.