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International Free Agent Profile: Kazuhisa Makita

Kazuhisa Makita, bullpen stalwart of the Seibu Lions, will be available this offseason via the posting system.

World Baseball Classic - Pool E- Game 6 - Israel v Japan
Kazuhisa Makita
Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images

Born on November 10, 1984, in Yaizu, a port city in the Shizuoka Prefecture of Japan, Kazuhisa Makita got a very late start in professional baseball. Though he was selected to the Collegiate National Team and played in a Japan-USA Collegiate Baseball Championship when he was enrolled at Heisei Kokusai University, he went undrafted when his collegiate career ended. After graduating, he played for the Nippon Express, an industrial league team. A few years later, in 2010, the Seibu Lions used their second pick during the 2010 draft to select Makita.

The investment that the Lions made in the right-hander quickly paid dividends, as Makita posted a 2.61 ERA in 127.2 innings split as a starter and a reliever, saving 20 games. The 26-year-old rookie so impressed that he won the Pacific League Rookie of the Year Award, the first Seibu Lion to win the award since Daisuke Matsuzaka won it in 1999. Manager Hisanobu Watanabe elected to used Makita as a starter over the next few years, and the right-hander turned in year-after-year of solid performance. Between 2012 and 2014, Makita made 79 starts, averaging a 2.90 ERA and roughly 170 innings per year. His peripherals were generally unimpressive, but due to the type of pitcher he was, Makita relied more on weak contact and groundballs rather than strikeouts.

In 2015, Makita made Seibu’s opening day start due to an injury to Takayuki Kishi, but was moved out of the rotation and into the bullpen midseason. The move seemed more because the bullpen needed to be fortified rather than anything else, as the right-hander was enjoying another solid season prior to the move. The two months that he was in the bullpen was a failure, on both the part of Lions management and Makita himself. The 30-year-old fared poorly, but manager Norio Tanabe was slow in recognizing this and removing him from the closer role. Eventually, Mikata swapped with Chun-Lin Kuo, another Lions starter, and was inserted back into the Seibu starting rotation, but the right-hander was just not as effective as he had been for the rest of the season.

The team’s front office seemingly liked the idea of Makita being in the bullpen, as they moved him back into the bullpen in 2016 fulltime, where he would serve as a “bullpen ace” to pitch multiple innings, and set-up man. The right-hander responded, experiencing a late-career renaissance. In 2016, he posted a 1.72 ERA in 78.2 innings, and in 2017, he posted a 2.30 ERA in 62.2 innings.

In mid-October, Makita formally informed Seibu Lions management of his interest in being posted for MLB teams. Having earned his domestic free agent option, the right-hander was prepared to leverage it, to force the Lions’ hand: if they did not post him, he would exercise it, becoming a free agent. The team did not give the 32-year-old a hard time, and greenlighted his request to be posted.

What makes Makita effective is the fact that he is a submarine pitcher. Adding to this is the fact that the Seibu Lions supposedly doctor their mound to amplify Makita’s skills, as numerous players pitching at the Seibu Dome have complained about the mound being flatter and harder than the mounds in other stadiums across Japan. His fastball does not exceed the low-to-mid 80s, consistently one of the slowest in Japan, but because of the angle that it comes in at, batters are often left swinging weakly, inducing soft groundballs.

The submariner’s slider is his most effective secondary pitch. His repertoire is rounded out by a curveball and changeup, but neither pitch is thrown with any real regularity. In addition to being known for his extremely low arm angle, Makita is noted for being a very fast worker. In 2016, he averaged roughly eight seconds between pitches, which was the fastest in Nippon Professional Baseball.