Hisashi Iwakuma is a 29-year-old (He will be 30 by the time baseball season begins, having a birthday in April) veteran pitcher who currently pitches for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, the NPB's first expansion team. With the Golden Eagles, Iwakuma was their first staff ace, and continued to hold that position until the present, when he was given permission to be posted.
Injuries plagued Iwakuma for a three-year period from 2005 until 2007, and cost him virtually the entire 2006 and 2007 seasons. His 2005 stats were bloated, and at the end of the season, Iwakuma revealed that he had been pitching with a weak shoulder for nearly the entire baseball season, all 182 innings that he pitched. Nippon Professional Baseball also changed certain rules governing two-stage motions (the motion that most Japanese pitchers have, where they come to a hitch, or a stop in the middle of their delivery) also threw off his mechanics, which, in turn, threw off his performance. Because of his shoulder problems, Iwakuma was out for more than half of the 2006 season, pitching only 38 innings. The 2007 season was more of the same, with Iwakuma succumbing to a left oblique strain, limiting him to 90 innings. He had arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow that October, and it did wonders.
Iwakuma's best season was 2008, when he won the Pacific League MVP Award, as well as the Eiji Sawamura Award. He took that good karma into the 2009 World Baseball Classic, where he pitched 19 innings of three-run baseball over the course of the tournament. The manager of Team Japan chose Iwakuma to pitch in the final game against Korea, and when everything was said and done, the right-handed possessed a sterling 1.35 ERA, was selected as a member of the All-Tournament Team, and was easily the best pitcher in the competition, edging out even Tournament MVP Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Here are his stats, thanks to NPBtracker.com:
Part I: Scouting Report
According to NPBtracker.com, Iwakuma possesses:
- A fastball that sits between 87 and 91 MPH.
- A shuuto that sits between 87 and 90 MPH.
- A forkball that hovers around 85 MPH.
- A cutter that hovers around 85 MPH.
- A slider that hovers around 80 MPH.
- A curveball thrown between 70 and 75 MPH.
Iwakuma is primarily a groundball pitcher, but his strikeouts per nine rate and walks per nine are extraordinarily high for a groundball pitcher- he has a career mark of 6.74 K/9 and 2.19 BB/9. It is important to keep in mind that, for three years, he had limited playing time, thereby artificially deflating the numbers he put up during those years, but even still, this shows the great deal of control and finesse that Iwakuma possesses.
His delivery can be seen here. Before 2005, his delivery was a bit more unique, with him letting his right arm hang at it's side while lifting his left leg, lowering it halfway, and then raising it again before lunging towards the plate. The NPB rule change, as well as his injuries, forced him to abandon it in favor of a more orthodox style of delivery.
Part II: Costs
Though he certainly has put up some sterling numbers in the NPB, there are many factors that, I think, would limit his posting/contractual value. His track record of injury, while it hasn't been a problem since 2007, is still something to keep in the back of ones mind. Iwakuma has never garnered massive amounts of attention in Japan, and thus, is not a media darling, like Daisuke Matsuzaka, or Yu Darvish. Though he is well established in Japan, like all other pitchers making the transition to the MLB, his ability to adapt to the MLB-regulation ball is something that also needs to be kept in mind.
At the same time, however, if Yu Darvish is posted this winter, Iwakuma's stock might rise exponentially because of it, much like how Kei Igawa's posting and contractual fees were extremely inflated, because he was hitting the market the same time that Dice-K was, and everyone wanted their own, new, shiny, "Japanese import". Should Darvish not be posted, however, I think that Iwakuma's posting fees and contractual demands will be much more in line with what was mentioned above.
Because he is turning 30, and is in the declining stage of his baseball career, factored in with the above-mentioned variables, I really can't foresee him signing with any team for an absurd amount of money, or for a very lengthy period of time. Brandon Siefken, and editor and writer at Japanball.com is reporting that the Japanese media is estimating his posting fee at $12 million dollars- a number that can very easily increase should a desperation-fueled bidding war erupts. I'd estimate that any contract that he signs will likely be for about three years or so, and would be in the neighborhood of $10 million dollars per year, or thereabouts. This is based on the deals that Kenshin Kawakami and Koji Uehara signed, with Iwakuma being both younger and closer to his glory days than either of the other two.
Part III: Conclusion
Personally, I would take a pass on Iwakuma. His pitching repertoire does not contain any one, single amazing pitch. That is to say, there is nothing about it that blows me away, and makes me feel that, as a pitcher in the MLB, he can blow away opposing batters. His fastballs top out at just over 90 MPH, his out-pitch, the forkball, could theoretically be taken away from him by an MLB pitching coach, over injury concerns, and the transition from NPB-regulation baseballs to MLB-regulation baseballs might negate the above-average control that he possesses, at least for some period of time, as he accustoms himself with the MLB-regulation ball. In the past, he has had numerous injuries, and while he seems to have put that all behind him, this team is the Mets, and as we all know, whatever wrong that can happen will happen. Of late, the team certainly has a way of bringing out all of injury woes in players. I would rather pick up a free agent on the market (such as fellow countryman Hiroki Kuroda) who has proven their worth in the Major Leagues already than take a gamble on Iwakuma- especially if his price becomes artificially inflated due to other, more highly coveted Japanese pitchers.