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2010 Season in Review: Kenshin Kawakami

Written by Joe Lucia on .

I'm sure you're all going to read the title of this piece, see the name Kenshin Kawakami, and bust out your pitchforks and torches, ready to run Kawakami out of town. Well, its true that he had an ERA over 5.00 and a hideous 1-10 win/loss record in 2010, but we've moved on past those types of stats these days...we know that wins is a stat that the pitcher can't control, and that ERA is primarily influenced by the defense beind the pitcher. So let's take a look at Kawakami's 2010 and see if it was really much different from 2009...

...and in a word, I can tell you "no". Kawakami's strikeout and walk rates were nearly identical in both years (6.04 K/9 in 2009, 6.08 in 2010; 3.28 BB/9 in 2009, 3.30 in 2010). There was one major difference among the three peripherals that Kawakami can control, and that was his homer rate. In 2009, KK allowed 0.86 homers per 9, while in 2010, he allowed 1.03. That's a pretty big jump, but not really one that precipitates an ERA rise of 1.29 points. When you start digging a little deeper, things get a little more confusing. KK's GB/FB ratio remained nearly identical from 2009 to 2010 (1.08 in 2009, 1.05 in 2010, while his LD% rose to 22.3% from 18.9%. That helps explain the higher ERA. More line drives = more extra base hits.

But its funny...he really just was tremendously unlucky. Kawakami's 2009 BABIP was .291, a little low but still within the realm of possibility. It rose to .320 in 2010, a jump of nearly 30 points. That .320 mark is high, but not absurdly so. So that 29 point rise in BABIP helps explain the ERA rise, but is there anything else? Why yes, there is. In 2009, Kenshin stranded 73.3% of runners, which is around league average...maybe a little low. In 2010, that number dropped 10% all the way down to 63.3%, a HIDEOUSLY low percentage. You're not going to have an ERA under 4.00 (and probably not under 5.00) when you're stranding less than 2/3 of the runners you let get on base. Its just not going to happen.

And then, just as a final farewell, we're gonna look at the sum total of all of these parts. KK's FIP in 2009 was 4.21, and in 2010, it was 4.35. A 0.14 difference over 2 years is not a dramatic, life altering change. If you enjoy looking at xFIP, we'll look at that. 2009: 4.61. 2010: 4.56. So he pitched slightly *better* in 2010? xFIP says so. Gotta love normalizing homer ratios to account for sudden bouts of gopherballitis.

Kawakami is, in all likelihood, not going to be a Brave in 2011. And its a shame, because he's really not a bad pitcher. He's a back end guy who's probably worth a little less than the $6.67 million he's scheduled to make in 2011. Unfortunately for Kenshin, the Braves have 4 guys absolutely locked into the rotation (Hudson, Hanson, Lowe, and Jurrjens) and 2 rookies fighting over the fifth spot (Minor, Beachy). There just isn't any room for him on the staff. It would be in another team's best interest to attempt to acquire Kawakami from the Braves if they need a starter, because he can really be effective plugging a hole in the 4 or 5 spot in a rotation. Its just not going to happen in Atlanta in 2011, and I hope that the speed at which this deal has gone sour doesn't affect the Braves scouting and development in Japan.
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