Friday, November 17, 2006

Ga Ga for Igawa or Should We Ignore Him?

Someone on McCovey Chronicles (and his Igor there) believes that the Giants should bid for Igawa. I've been suspicious of Japanese starting pitchers for a while, so I thought I would take a swing at the data and see what I come up with and posted much of the below there.

I am providing complete stats and ages they were when pitching. These are the starters I could find in Baseball Reference who were born in Japan, played in the U.S., and I could find their stats on the Japan Baseball website (could not find any Tomo Ohko or Mac Suzuki stats there).

Comparative Stats for Japan Vs. MLB

Stats: ERA - WHIP - K/9 - BB/9 - HR/9 - Ages

Ishii
Japan: 3.38 - 1.29 - 9.7 - 4.7 - 0.8 - (18-27)
U.S.A.:4.44 - 1.53 - 6.9 - 5.7 - 1.1 - (28-31)
After: 3.44 - 1.33 - 8.6 - 3.0 - 0.8 - (32)

Irabu
Japan: 3.37 - 1.30 - 9.1 - 4.1 - 0.6 - (19-27)
U.S.A.:5.15 - 1.41 - 7.1 - 3.1 - 1.6 - (28-33)
After: 4.44 - 1.42 - 8.3 - 2.5 - 1.4 - (34-35)
2003: 3.85 - 1.35 - 8.5 - 2.4 - 1.2 - (34)

Nomo
Japan: 3.15 - 1.32 - 10.3 - 5.0 - 0.7 - (21-25)
U.S.A.:4.13 - 1.35 - 8.7 - 4.1 - 1.1 - (26-36)

Yoshii
Japan: 3.43 - 1.29 - 5.6 - 2.8 - 0.8 - (20-32)
U.S.A.:4.68 - 1.36 - 5.3 - 2.6 - 1.3 - (33-37)
After: 4.87 - 1.40 - 3.9 - 1.9 - 1.3 - (38-41)

Matsuzaka
Japan: 2.95 - 1.14 - 8.7 - 3.2 - 0.7 - (19-26)

Igawa
Japan: 3.15 - 1.24 - 8.5 - 2.9 - 0.8 - (19-26)

Analysis

For the starting pitcher who jumped over to the U.S., ERA jumped by around 1.00 or more. WHIP varied but generally increased. K/9 dropped around 2.0 for the strikeout artists, while BB/9 generally dropped as well. HR/9 jumped at least 0.3. Yes, small sampling, but this is all the data there is. Plus this makes sense given that players who couldn't win starting jobs in the MLB come here and become league leading HR hitters, the talent level here is much lower.

And for the two pitchers who returned just past prime peak years - Ishii and Irabu - they returned at basically the same skill level as they had left, implying that what we saw for them in the U.S. is about as good as it's going to get because their skill clearly did not go away while in the MLB, as they were able to come back to Japan and play at their previous Japanese League performance level, implying that their skill level in the U.S. was, at worse, the same all those years and most probably was their peak years since they were approximately 28-32 years old during their years in the MLB.

What If Matsuzaka and Igawa Did the Same As Predecessors

If I just averaged out what each similar pitcher did (hence I dropped Yoshii, who relied on control more than the other three, plus came to the U.S. after his peak years), from pre-US to U.S, the average ERA rose 1.27, the average WHIP rose 0.13, the average K/9 fell 2.1, the average BB/9 dropped 0.3, and the average HR/9 rose 0.6.

Applying these to Matsuzaka and Igawa I get:

Matsu: 4.22 - 1.27 - 6.6 - 2.9 - 1.3
Igawa: 4.42 - 1.37 - 6.4 - 2.6 - 1.4

Looking at a grid of K/9 vs. BB/9, if they do attain such rates, their ERA will generally be in the low 4 ERA, particularly if their HR/9 do go above the 1.0 max rate you would want in a pitcher. So that looks about right.

In case there were extremes, I thought maybe we should examine medians instead. Median for ERA was 1.06, WHIP was 0.11, K/9 was -2.0, BB/9 was -0.9, and HR/9 was 0.4.

Applying these to Matsuzaka and Igawa I get:

Matsu: 4.11 - 1.25 - 6.7 - 2.3 - 1.1
Igawa: 4.21 - 1.35 - 6.5 - 2.0 - 1.2

These obviously look a bit better. If they can really get their K/9 and BB/9 down to those rates, then they might be able to get ERA below 4.00, into the high 3's, depending on how those HR/9 rates affects things overall. But generally, pitchers with K/BB ratios in the low 2's, as they appear to project out to be, they tend to have ERA's in the low 4's, not the high 3's, particularly if they end up with high HR/9 rates like the above, but if they can get their K/BB to the high 2's then they are more likely to reach the high 3's, though most still don't.

MLB Pitchers They Profile Like

So both pitchers appear to profile like:

Matt Morris of 2003: 6.3 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 1.18 WHIP, 3.76 ERA
Jeff Weaver of 2005: 6.3 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 1.4 HR/9, 1.17 WHIP, 4.22 ERA
Sidney Ponson of 2002: 6.1 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 1.34 WHIP, 4.09 ERA
Esteban Loaiza of 2000: 6.2 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 1.43 WHIP, 4.56 ERA
Matt Clement of 2005: 6.9 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 1.36 WHIP, 4.57 ERA
Mark Gardner of 1998: 6.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 1.26 WHIP, 4.33 ERA

Conclusions

So, all these appear to point to Matsuzaka and Igawa to being low 4 ERA pitchers. The caveats here is that this is very small sampling and they are clearly better pitchers than the ones who came before them - Ishii, Irabu, and Nomo - particularly in the area of command (both BB/9 and K/BB are significantly better), so maybe they will be the tipping point where the pitchers coming from Japan will outdo the ones who came before. Boston just made a, potentially, $80-90M bet that Matsuzaka will outdo his compatriot emigrants.

I could not find many speculations on what Igawa might draw. I have seen one say $10M post and $3M per season salary and that he'll be a #3/#4 pitcher, which fits what I analyzed above. Rotoworld has a blurb listing a $5-10M post and $5M per season (which seems more reasonable to me, plus the $3M assumed a West Coast discount as Igawa said he wanted to pitch on the West Coast and thus might give a discount, plus he's aching to come to U.S. - he wanted to post last year - and thus might not demand as much).

But that was way before Boston bid $51.1M on Matsuzaka, who, based on his stats above, is only slightly better than Igawa. Given that estimates of Matsuzaka ranged from $20-30M initially, Igawa's posting bid could rise to the $15-20M range, if not higher, due to irrational bidding after the Matsuzaka $51.1M jackpot.

And if Boras gets Matsuzaka the $10M per season 4 year contract he is shooting for, Igawa might get something in the $7-9M range as well, but, of course, what Boras wants, isn't always what Boras gets.

How Much For Igawa? Why?

Based on all this info, admittedly a lot of speculations but tied to Boston's $51.1M bid for 'Zaka and the stats of countrymen who came ahead of him, Igawa seems to be fairly priced with the market for mid-rotation guys. I am assuming he signs a 4 year contract, and that his posting fee will probably add $3-6M per season to the cost of signing him. Salary looks to center around $6M but could range as high as $9M and as low as $3M. Looking at all this, his salary looks it will fall in the right zone, $6-10M, though he would be overpriced at the upper range of that and could go way above that if Matsuzaka gets the $10M per season Boras is angling for.

All in all, it sounds like Igawa is a middle of the rotation type of guy and that he will get paid like one, even though he hasn't proven that he can do that at the major league level. If you'd rather take that risk than get a proven mid-rotation mediocrity like Lilly, who is asking for $8-9M per season with no posting fee, or about the same, that's fine, but that's not a risk I would be willing to take.

Last comparison since I've read that Japan is like a AAAA minor league: Jerome Williams of 2002, 7.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, 1.18 WHIP, 3.59 ERA.

5 comments:

  1. Forgot to note, at that salary, I would rather get Greg Maddux for a year then hopefully Lincecum is ready to take a spot in the rotation in 2008.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting. Nice work, Martin. It gives us something to think about.

    ReplyDelete
  3. And to clarify, based on a comment made on MCC, I did not intend to make an endorsement of Lilly with my post, I was only noting that if you are going to risk all that money, spending it on Lilly would be a better risk.

    However, that does not mean that I want Lilly, he's overpriced as well, just relatively not if Igawa is looking to get about the same money. I would rather the Giants either go the el-cheapo route again with next season's version of the Jamey Wright Experiment or use someone internally, like Hennessey or Correia, if they are unable to sign someone like Maddux to the rotation, which looks likely with the market going crazy.

    ReplyDelete
  4. As usual, I agree with you Martin. I've been skeptical on MCC as well with regards to Igawa. It's a pretty risky, especially considering the track records of his "ancestors".

    I'm all for going with another Jamey Wright type player to round out the rotation, or even going with Hennessey/Correia. Those two routes will provide almost comparable performance as Lilly would, and save a lot more money. More importantly, it will help prevent the blockage of Lincecum if he becomes ready this season (or next).

    The one annoyance I have with many Igawa-supporters is the mantra: "I'm tired of known mediocrity". My argument against it is that a known quantity means you assume less risk. What if Igawa signs and does even worse than Irabu did? Then you'll have paid Lilly money for a pitcher who's not Lilly.

    As Martin notes: I'm not supporting a Lilly acquisition. I think he's overpaid and the Giants have no use for another lefty in their rotation (unless he is Zito-esq). Maddux could be an interesting option, but as with Lilly, he's going to be very overpriced (and far riskier).

    ReplyDelete

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