Tag: Junichi Tazawa

Boston Red Sox Name Setup Man Junichi Tazawa Their New Closer

In the face of mounting injuries in their bullpen, the Boston Red Sox named setup man Junichi Tazawa as their new closer Tuesday.

The decision was announced by Boston manager John Farrell during an appearance on MLB Network Radio, according to MLB.com’s Jason Mastrodonato.

MLB Network Radio analyst Jim Duquette confirmed Tazawa’s new role via Twitter:

The switch to Tazawa, who had served as a setup man so far this season, was necessitated by the team losing two closers to the disabled list during the past two days.

Andrew Bailey, who leads Boston with five saves, was placed on the disabled list Monday with sore biceps.

Joel Hanrahan, who is second on the team with four saves, prematurely left Monday’s game against the Minnesota Twins because of arm discomfort. He was subsequently placed on the disabled list Tuesday with a right forearm strain.

A staff report by ESPN Boston quoted Farrell on his radio appearance talking about his closer plans while his two incumbents are on the mend:

I think what we’d love to do is close Tazawa. We’d keep Koji [Uehara] in that eighth-inning role that he’s been in. We just got [Craig] Breslow back to us yesterday and before the game we put Bailey on the disabled list who had done a great job in the closing role as well…

Tazawa has a little bit more fastball which, whether I’m siding to the traditional approach with a little bit more power late in the game, that’s there. So, right now that’s the initial approach that we’d take to closing things out.

The 26-year-old right-handed Tazawa is 2-1 with a 2.51 ERA in 16 relief appearances this season. He has struck out 18 batters and walked just three in 14.1 innings, without a save.

A starter earlier in his career, he converted to a reliever role following Tommy John surgery in 2010. He has one major league save in two career chances.

To complete the reshuffling of the pitching staff, the Red Sox also announced that left-hander Felix Doubront was being moved to the bullpen, and prospect Allen Webster was recalled to start Wednesday’s game:

It’s unknown how long Tazawa will remain the closer.

ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes reported that Bailey’s MRI showed only inflammation, which could make for a quick recovery. The right-hander is eligible to return as soon as May 14 if his arm bounces back as hoped.

A WEEI.com staff report indicated Hanrahan has inflammation and a strain in his forearm. He will need rest before being re-evaluated. Although it’s not believed he has structural damage, it’s unknown when he may be able to return.

This will be the veteran right-hander’s second trip to the disabled list already this season as he was just activated on April 30 following a stint caused by a hamstring strain.

Boston’s bullpen is experiencing a major overhaul, but sliding Tazawa so quickly into the closer role is evidence of the unit’s depth.

If the injured pitchers can bounce back quickly, this will likely be a temporary move for Tazawa. In the meantime, he has been thrust into the spotlight and given a chance to show he can handle the new responsibilities.


Statistics via Baseball-Reference 

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Junichi Tazawa Could Be the Boston Red Sox’s Closer of the Future

Right-handed pitcher Junichi Tazawa was a rare bright spot last season in the bullpen for the Boston Red Sox, giving every sign of being the team’s closer of the future.

Although Tazawa has only one major league save to his credit, there are a number of reasons why Boston should explore using him as their ninth inning man in 2014 and beyond.

WEEI’s Alex Speier wrote about the lengths a Red Sox scout went to in a remote Japanese mountain village in order to scout a then-nearly unknown Tazawa in 2007. Those efforts led to signing him in 2008 to a modest three-year, $3.3 million contract.

Boston was unsure of what they were getting when they signed the talented but raw Tazawa. However, after years of steady development and a major surgery, it appears he’s nearly ready to step into a major role for the team.

Tazawa was initially groomed to be a starter. In 2009, his first professional season, he posted a combined minor league ERA of 2.55 in 109.1 innings, which was good enough to earn him a month with the Red Sox after the All-Star break.

During spring training in 2010, Tazawa experienced tightness in his elbow. Just before the regular season started, it was discovered he needed Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the entire year and put his promising career on hold.

Tazawa was turned into a reliever and pitched sparingly upon his return in 2011, but really blossomed last season.

In 25 appearances at Triple-A, he had a 2.55 ERA and struck out 56 batters in 42.1 innings. He was even better during his time with the Red Sox, posting a 1.43 ERA and striking out 45 (while walking just five) in 44 innings.

Tazawa throws a fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. Amazingly, his stuff has improved since his surgery. FanGraphs.com shows that he reached a personal high in average fastball velocity last season at 92.2 mph.

Tazawa confirmed that he believes his stuff is better since the surgery, telling NESN.com’s Didier Morais through an interpreter:

It’s definitely at least where it was before and I actually feel stronger. I’m making the ball go where I want to. The fastball might be even better than it was before.

The Red Sox were horrible down the stretch last season, going 7-22 After August 31, and allowing an average of 5.55 runs per games during that time. That also coincided with Tazawa pitching his best ball of the year.

In his final 14 games with Boston in 2012, he allowed a microscopic 0.71 ERA with just three hits and one walk in 12.2 innings, while striking out 16. During the same period, team closer Andrew Bailey had a 9.90 ERA and allowed 17 hits and six walks in 10 innings.

With Bailey and new closer Joel Hanrahan on the roster, there’s no apparent need for Tazawa to pitch at the end of games. That will likely change after next season.

Hanrahan will be 33 and a free agent after 2013. There’s a good chance Boston will pass on re-signing him to look for an option that is younger and cheaper.

Bailey has two years left until he reaches free agency. However, even though he is currently slated as the team’s setup man, there’s no guarantee he will even finish out 2013 in a Boston uniform.

Teams seeking a closer could see Bailey as an option worth pursuing in a trade. Even before the Hanrahan deal, ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reported in a tweet that the Red Sox were open to trading Bailey.

So, there’s a good chance that Boston’s closer position could be wide open in 2014. Count The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn among those who believe Tazawa could be that pitcher.

Tazawa is just 26 and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2017. If he keeps pitching the way he did last season, he figures to be in Boston for quite a while.

While Tazawa will have to wait and see if he eventually gets a shot to close, he’ll be counted on to be an integral part of Boston’s bullpen in 2013. If he can build on the giant step forward he took last season, the sky could be the limit for his future.

Statistics via BaseballReference


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Fixing the 2011 Seattle Mariners: Yu Darvish

Though it appears that the Mariners will go into the 2011 season with a static or decreased payroll compared to 2010, there has been a widely-accepted theory that their budgetary constraints are less strict when it comes to signing Japanese players.

Some of this may have changed when Hiroshi Yamauchi sold his shares of the Mariners in 2004, as the team hasn’t gone to extravagant lengths to sign a Japanese player since signing Ichiro in 2001, and hasn’t signed a Japanese player at all since signing Kenji Johjima in 2006.

However, Yu Darvish is a different kind of talent, and ultimately a different kind of opportunity than signing Johjima was.

It’s not often that Major League clubs have a crack at signing top-level talent from Japan in their early-20s. Last year we saw Junichi Tazawa pitch with the Red Sox, but he was eligible for free agency after asking for, and ultimately receiving a pass from all the teams in the NPB in their amateur draft. In late 2008, he signed a three-year, $3 million deal with the Red Sox.

Tazawa had pitched in the Industrial league in Japan, something akin to the independent leagues in America, and at 22 years old he started his American professional baseball career pitching in Double-A.

At 22 years old (almost 23) Kazuhito Tadano signed with the Cleveland Indians in 2003. Tadano entered the American scene under extremely different circumstances than Tazawa. Rather than requesting that no Japanese team drafted him Tadano went undrafted against his will, with his participation in a pornographic video during his college years as the main culprit for his being overlooked.

Tadano signed for $67,000, with a shoulder injury and the aforementioned sex tape as the driving force behind the bargain price. Tadano is playing in Japan now, though he’s posted two ugly seasons for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Perhaps the best parallel for Darvish, unsurprisingly, is Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka  left Japan after his age 25 season, and after an enormous $51.1 million posting fee that the Red Sox paid to the Seibu Lions, they then inked Matsuzaka to a six-year, $52-60 million contract (the latter is with full incentives reached).

Matsuzaka had been utterly dominant in the four seasons that led to his posting, with ERA’s under three and more than a strikeout per inning.

Matsuzaka also impressed in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, pitching against many big leaguers along the way.

However, Matsuzaka’s career in the bigs has been tumultuous to say the least. After not averaging more than three walks per nine innings in the five seasons that led to his transfer stateside, Matsuzaka hasn’t averaged less than three walks per nine innings in a single season in the majors.

Despite no apparent decrease in fastball velocity or command (compared to league average), Matsuzaka has seen his strikeout rate decrease every season since signing with the Red Sox.

One of the problems that Matsuzaka has faced is the apparent variance in strike zone in the majors compared to the Japanese game. The consensus is that the strike zone in Japan is bigger than it is stateside, and that while Matsuzaka made a living pitching on the “corners” in Japan, many of the pitches he’d thrown for called strikes in Japan were called balls in the Major Leagues.

Matsuzaka’s variety of offspeed pitches and corner nibbling style have led to inflated pitch counts, deflated innings counts, and an overall deflated performance in the majors.

Darvish possesses a similar skill set: A low-90s fastball that can reach the mid-90s, several offspeed pitches, and precision command. However, this plot may tell a different story.

It appears that Darvish is willing to challenge hitters with his fastball in the strike zone, and gets groundball outs doing so. However, quite frequently, Darvish threw offspeed pitches for balls in early counts, a main contributor to Matsuzaka’s limited success.

So with this in mind, is there any reason to believe that Darvish will have any more success in the bigs than Matsuzaka?

Age works in Darvish’s favor, as he’ll be entering his age 24 season if he enters MLB next season. Also, Matsuzaka’s enormous price tag may have worked to drive the total asking price for Darvish way down.

While a struggling economy has driven overall free agent dollars down in recent years, many Japan-America transitions have been billed almost completely on past precedent. If teams are worried about a Matsuzaka-like decline after a transition stateside, Darvish may not be as highly sought after Matsuzaka was.

There is speculation that Darvish’s posting fee will be $25 million, and that he’ll seek a five-year deal in America.

More recently than Matsuzaka, Hiroki Kuroda was a top-level Japanese pitcher who brought his services stateside. He was a free agent after spending 10 seasons in Japan (nine seasons in Japan are required before outright free agency is granted). Kuroda signed a three-year, $35.3 million contract.

A $12 million salary over five years would put an expected total price tag of $85 million on Darvish. That would equal the $17 million per season, pre-incentive total for Matsuzaka. However, in some ways using Kuroda’s salary as a model for Darvish’s eventual price tag is a flawed endeavor.

Kuroda was a free agent, which meant that he could hold his own bidding war. While that likely drove his price up, he signed his contract with the Dodgers in 2007, a year before the major signs of economic recession set in.

Kuroda also never dominated NPB like Darvish has. Kuroda was a pitch-to-contact pitcher who had several productive seasons, but only one truly outstanding season (2006). And he was 32 years old when he entered the majors.

By contrast, Darvish is coming off his fourth straight season with an ERA under two, his third season in the last four where he struck out a batter per inning or more, and may be coming off his best season in NPB. He’ll be 24 years old for most of next season, and has been on prospect radar’s since he began his domination of the league in 2007, when he was 20 years old.

However, most heavily contrasting to Kuroda’s situation, Darvish will only be allowed to negotiate a contract with the team that wins the right by bidding highest on his posting.

The Mariners best shot at Darvish is if the bidding war for his posting becomes a battle of attrition. We recently saw Stephen Strasburg, perhaps the greatest pitching prospect of all time, see his contract expectations dip from an insane $50 million, and ultimately end up at a little over $15 million.

There’s no chance that the Mariners, or any other team for that matter, get Darvish for less than the $15 Million that Strasburg received. His posting fee alone, even if it comes in below the expected $25 million figure, will likely surpass Strasburg’s contract.

Also, Darvish made the equivalent to about $4 million in Japan this season, so in order to get Darvish into a Major League uniform, an MLB team would certainly have to give him a pretty hefty increase on that number.

But the increase comes with a sample set of over 1,000 innings of production against high-level competition to justify it.

In financially-cautious time for baseball, teams are even more likely to include the posting fee in total cost analysis of a player. So if we use $25 million as the posting fee, and an $8 million salary as a model, a five-year contract with the posting fee would come in at $65 million over five years.

In this scenario, the signing team would commit essentially $13 million per season to Darvish, and have an additional year of team control after the contract was completed, meaning they’d have a full year to negotiate a second contract or engineer a trade while Darvish played under his final year of arbitration. Darvish could hit free agency at age 30.

If we use Matsuzaka’s success in the majors as a midline, it’s pretty easy to justify $65 million for Darvish over five years. Despite his struggles, according to Fangraphs, Matsuzaka has been worth $42.9 million in four seasons in the big leagues. If we use his strike-throwing counterpart Kuroda as a moderate ceiling, things look even brighter, as Kuroda has been worth $42.4 million in three seasons.

If the price is right, Darvish is a special talent, and the second-best pitcher available this offseason (behind Cliff Lee, and excluding possible trades). However, if the price tag on Darvish reaches “Matsuzaka money,” the Mariners are better off spending their money elsewhere.

If the Mariners are truly a team that values long-term process over immediate results, then pursuing, and potentially signing Darvish is simply a matter of dollars and sense.

Other Fixing the 2011 Seattle Mariners profiles:

Ted LillyRamon HernandezMichael SaundersColby RasmusAdam DunnChone FigginsDustin AckleyFelipe LopezWilly Aybar, Jack/Josh Wilson

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