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introducing_kenshin_kawakami_1-2 | February | 2009 Articles

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Introducing Kenshin Kawakami

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UPDATE: Clay Davenport projected Kawakami on Baseball Prospectus a month ago. Slightly different translation, slightly different numbers, but more or less the same overall conclusion: this is a good guy for us to have.

Two days ago, we got to see our first glimpse of Tommy Hanson, and while he wasn't quite as sharp as he was in the AFL, he really does have some nasty stuff. A sinking, boring hard fastball that comes straight down from his 6'6" frame, a filthy slurvy slider, and a big old curveball, and he showed that he's capable of throwing them all for strikes, if not with quite the consistency he's likely to have in the middle of the season.

Yesterday we showcased our new #4 starter, Kenshin Kawakami, and he had a nice debut: 2 innings, 1 hit, 1 strikeout, no walks. His signing probably received less ink than our pursuits of Lowe, Burnett, Peavy, Furcal, or even Griffey, because he's much more of an unknown quantity. If you haven't read much about him yet, here's a very favorable profile of him, and some game video; if you speak Japanese, you can read his blog.

Still, there have been enough Japanese players in the majors for some stat geeks on the web to devise Major League Estimator algorithms. I used one from Seamheads to create an alternate history for Kawakami, if he'd spent his whole career pitching in Turner Field instead of in Japan. Using year-by-year park factors for Turner Field, year-by-year runs per game and league ERA for the NL, and year-by-year runs per game data for the Japanese Central League, the algorithm normalizes his career stats.

Here's what he did during his career in Japan:

Year W L G GS CG SV GF IP H R ER BB SO ERA HR
1998 14 6 26 21 4 0 1 161.3 123 48 46 51 124 2.57 14
1999 8 9 29 22 3 1 1 162.0 173 84 80 43 102 4.44 20
2000 2 3 14 10 0 0 2 60.3 65 32 32 20 24 4.77 10
2001 6 10 26 22 3 0 1 145.0 153 61 60 36 127 3.72 12
2002 12 6 27 24 3 0 0 187.7 170 54 49 34 149 2.35 13
2003 4 3 8 7 1 0 0 53.7 60 22 18 14 37 3.02 2
2004 17 7 27 22 5 0 0 192.3 173 72 71 38 176 3.32 27
2005 11 8 25 22 3 0 0 180.3 186 75 75 28 138 3.74 20
2006 17 7 29 22 6 0 0 215.0 166 74 60 39 194 2.51 22
2007 12 8 26 26 0 0 0 167.3 175 72 66 23 145 3.55 18
2008 9 5 20 16 1 0 0 117.3 99 33 30 25 112 2.30 11
totals 112 72 257 214 29 1 5 1642.3 3 627 587 351 1328 3.22 169

And here's what it would have looked like if he'd been a lifelong Brave:


W L G GS CG SV GF IP H R ER BB SO ERA HR
1998 12 7 26 21 4 0 1 155.2 147 61 56 61 119 3.25 10
1999 8 9 29 22 3 1 1 158.4 201 97 88 50 100 5.01 13
2000 2 3 14 10 0 0 2 57.3 81 42 39 25 23 6.14 7
2001 7 8 26 22 3 0 1 138.9 179 78 72 42 122 4.66 9
2002 11 6 27 24 3 0 0 181.7 196 62 58 39 144 2.85 9
2003 4 3 8 7 1 0 0 53.4 63 20 18 15 37 3.10 1
2004 15 9 27 22 5 0 0 191.8 195 78 72 43 176 3.38 19
2005 9 10 25 22 3 0 0 176.9 216 87 82 33 135 4.18 13
2006 16 7 29 22 6 0 0 209.4 201 74 70 47 189 3.01 15
2007 10 9 26 26 0 0 0 162.8 205 80 75 27 141 4.15 12
2008 9 5 20 16 1 0 0 112.6 120 39 37 30 108 2.95 8
totals 103 76 257 214 29 1 5 1598 1805 717 667 412 1293 3.80 115

11 years and a career record of 112-72 and a 3.22 ERA in Japan translates to 103-76 and a 3.80 ERA as a Brave in the NL, many of those years during the height of the steroid era. His translated K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) works out to about 7.28, which is pretty good, but his K/BB (strikesouts per walk) is 3.14, which is spectacular. If that's the pitcher we're getting then $8 million is a ridiculously low price.

Keep in mind that the Japanese Leagues play fewer games a year than we do, usually between 135-144 games a year. Over his 11-year career, the Dragons played 1688 games; the Braves played 1782 over the same span. But his biggest question might be his health and stamina. Though it can vary widely, Japan's top pitchers often start 26-30 games a year, which he has only done once in his career -- he has started over 20 in all but three seasons, though, so he's been on the field most of the time even if he hasn't been a horse. He missed much of the 2003 season, and he missed some of the 2008 season with a back strain.

Apparently, though, he hasn't had arm problems, and we'll just have to hope that continues. One of my favorite lines from the player profile I linked above: "his windup isn't deceptive, like many Japanese pitchers. Kawakami gets by purely on quality stuff." If he stays on the field, he could be a really good middle-of-the-rotation starter. His acquisition flew under the radar, but his season probably won't. Good job picking him up, Frank.


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