Tag: Koji Uehara

Koji Uehara to Cubs: Latest Contract Details, Comments, Reaction

After four years with the Boston Red Sox, veteran reliever Koji Uehara has found a new home with the Chicago Cubs

ESPN.com’s Jesse Rogers reported Wednesday that Uehara inked a one-year, $6 million deal with the defending World Series champs, and the Cubs later announced the news. 

Uehara is one of the most interesting relievers in Major League Baseball. He has performed at a high level for nearly a decade despite having a fastball that FanGraphs‘ stats show has never averaged more than 89.2 mph and dipped to a career-low 86.7 mph in 2016

The key to Uehara’s success is his split-finger fastball that drops off the table when he’s at his best, as Tim Britton of the Providence Journal wrote in 2014: “It was also the most effective his splitter has ever been, as opponents hit a beggarly .096 off the pitch in 2013. It induced a career-high whiff rate of 28 percent.”

Turning 41 last April, Uehara is starting to show signs he lacks the same type of dominance with that splitter. His 1.5 home runs allowed per nine innings tied the worst mark of his career (2011), per Baseball-Reference.com.

The veteran also posted his highest ERA since 2009 with a 3.45 mark last season, but he still baffled hitters overall with his seventh consecutive season posting a WHIP lower than 1.00 and more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings, so the sky is hardly falling for the right-hander. 

The concern for Uehara is there’s such a small margin for error with his declining fastball velocity that at some point hitters will be able to tee off on the pitch, negating the effectiveness of his splitter, as right-handed hitters gave him fits last season. 

Until that point comes, though, Uehara is still one of the most consistent relievers in baseball and a terrific value because his age didn’t force the Cubs to break the bank.

While Chicago was unable to keep closer Aroldis Chapman in free agency, it acquired Wade Davis via trade and now boasts a potentially dominant late-inning trio with Uehara joining both Davis and Hector Rondon.

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Koji Uehara Injury: Updates on Red Sox Pitcher’s Pectoral and Return

Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Koji Uehara suffered a strained pectoral muscle Tuesday night during the club’s game against the San Francisco Giants and has been placed on the disabled list. It’s unclear when he will return to the field.

Continue for updates.

Uehara Placed on DL

Wednesday, July 20

Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal reported the Red Sox recalled relief pitcher Noe Ramirez from Triple-A Pawtucket to replace Uehara on the active roster.

Uehara Provides Red Sox With Bullpen Stability

Uehara registered a 1.86 ERA and 72 saves across his first three seasons with the Red Sox. The team still couldn’t pass up the opportunity to add flamethrower Craig Kimbrel during the offseason, but his trip to the disabled list had pushed Uehara back into the closer role.

The 41-year-old reliever’s health has been an issue in recent seasons. He was limited to 43 appearances in 2015 before a wrist injury ended his season early. He also missed time during spring training this year while dealing with general soreness.

The Red Sox will probably use a wide-ranging committee approach to fill the high-leverage situations with Uehara out. Robbie Ross Jr. and the recently acquired Brad Ziegler figure to see the most work in those key spots for the time being.

Uehara should slide back into his usual spot in the pecking order once he’s back to full strength. The Red Sox will hope he can avoid further setbacks, because the bullpen loses valuable depth when he’s not available.


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Koji Uehara Injury: Updates on Red Sox Pitcher’s Wrist and Recovery

Boston Red Sox pitcher Koji Uehara will be on the disabled list for the remainder of the 2015 season with a fractured right wrist.

Continue for updates.

Uehara on DL for Rest of Season

Monday, August 10

The Red Sox announced that Uehara suffered a non-displaced distal radius fracture against the Detroit Tigers this past Friday.    

Uehara suffered the injury on a ball hit right back to him by Ian Kinsler in the ninth inning of Friday’s 7-2 win over the Tigers. The 40-year-old closer still tossed the ball to first with his throwing hand to record the last out.

The team also noted that it expects Uehara will fully recover, and it’s sensible for Boston to shelve him at this point anyway. Entering Monday’s games, the Red Sox had the worst winning percentage in the American League, far out of the wild-card race the rest of the AL East is still contending for.

With just one year remaining on his contract, Uehara will want to be as fit as possible for the 2016 campaign, when the Red Sox can hopefully bounce back. He ought to continue a high level of play if this year was any indication, as he converted 25 of 27 save chances with a 2.23 ERA and 0.92 WHIP.

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3 Things We Learned About the Red Sox in Spring Training

Spring training declarations are a difficult beast to tackle. Putting too much weight in March statistics would be misguided, as Jake Fox and his 10 Grapefruit League home runs in 2011 remind us. “Jake Who?” you ask? Precisely. 

At the same time, this is the first extended look at the 30 MLB clubs, and in some cases managers are determining roster spots based on performance. So these games aren’t entirely meaningless; they just have to be viewed through the proper lens. 

Are Xander Bogaerts‘ struggles (.222 average) really cause for concern, or is he merely a slow starter the way David Ortiz has been throughout his career (.227 career spring training average)? For a player of Bogaerts‘ pedigree I’d advise stepping away from the ledge and waiting for real games before inciting panic. His on-base percentage is more encouraging (.333), and he’s slugged a pair of home runs. A better start would have been welcomed after his roller-coaster 2014, but it’s too early to say anything definitive about the 22-year-old at this point. 

That said, there are some takeaways we can glean from what we’ve seen in Fort Myers so far. 

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Boston Red Sox Players Turning Heads Early at Spring Training

Let’s preface this by stating the obvious: It’s really early. This isn’t going to be a piece making outlandish declarations from a handful of spring training games. Instead, we’ll simply look at which Boston Red Sox players are making notable impressions in the early stages of baseball’s return. 

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Breaking Down the 1 Trade Deadline Deal the Boston Red Sox Have to Make

The July 31 MLB trade deadline is less than two weeks away.

For the 43-52 Boston Red Sox, who are currently sitting in fourth place in the American League East—and 9.5 games back from the first-place Baltimore Orioles—the time has come for them to determine whether they’ll be on the buying or selling side of the trade fence come deadline day.

We could have a lengthy debate about which direction the Red Sox should go. 

A 9.5-game deficit within the division is daunting, even with over two months remaining in the season. But we have seen crazier things happen before, and bottom-dwelling teams can light up at the right moment.

Perhaps this is exactly what Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is hoping for.

In a way, Boston hasn’t even decided about its future this season.

Manager John Farrell described this position further via Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe:

Time will tell. I’m not privy to every conversation Ben has. This is a busy time of year for the entire industry. So I’m sure there will be additional rumors continuing to grow, but until we know something concrete, our job is to maintain our focus on the field each and every day with the intent to win each and every night. … No one has given up anything. No one has conceded anything. But we also have been in the game long enough to know that over the next two weeks names are going to start getting bantered about.

This conundrum leaves Boston at the aforementioned crossroads.

What if there was a move, however, that would be beneficial to either direction? What if the Red Sox could execute a deal that would not hinder their chances of salvaging 2014, but would also serve as a bonus if Boston decides that its postseason prospects have waned?

There is such a deal—the kind that would make sense on either side of the fence.

In short, Boston needs to trade incumbent closer Koji Uehara.

Let’s get the numbers out of the way first. Uehara’s 2014 statistics aren’t indicative that his age is catching up with him.

Over the course of 42 games and 43.2 innings pitched, Uehara has posted a 1.65 ERA along with a 0.756 WHIP—and he’s 39 years old.

His strikeout-to-walk ratio is down slightly from last year—9.50 in comparison to 11.22—but all other signs point to Uehara being as effective as ever.

So why trade the most venerable member of the Red Sox bullpen?

First, there are contractual considerations—Uehara is set to become a free agent no matter how Boston’s season ends. Having signed a one-year contract for the 2013 season with an option for 2014 that vested last August, Boston will have to determine his future with the team sooner or later.

Given his age, it is hard to judge where Uehara sees himself a year from now, but the fact that he is still pitching effectively suggests that he will want to retain a prominent role next season.

The only real question is whether or not it will be with the Red Sox.

In 2014, their lineup of batters has gradually transformed from that of aging veterans toward a younger cast of characters, who should comprise the team for years to come.

Outfielder Mookie Betts and catcher Christian Vazquez are two examples of Boston’s young talent breaking into the big leagues.

Since the Red Sox also have a plethora of pitching prospects awaiting their eventual debuts, they should also consider applying this theory to the pitching staff in general.

Granted, finding an effective reliever to serve in Uehara’s stead would be tough. Few closers have equaled Uehara’s performance in his two seasons with the Red Sox.

There are those analysts—like ESPN’s David Schoenfield—that would argue the closer position is overrated. 

The point isn’t that a closer isn’t important; of course he is,” he writes. “The point is that a lot of guys can do that job—and that the job is extremely volatile.”

This isn’t to suggest that Uehara is overrated or that his contributions are no longer needed, but if one wants to strike a balance between a quick fix and a long-term solution, then dealing Uehara makes sense.

Contending teams are almost always looking for pitching help, and they become even more desperate as the trade deadline approaches. Adding serviceable relievers can often be the difference between success and failure in the playoffs.

And how many postseason games are decided in the later innings? This author has seen more than a few.

Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles (h/t Ben Shapiro of MassLive.com) pointed out a possible buyer in the relief-pitching market via Twitter, suggesting that the Los Angeles Dodgers might be pursuing added bullpen help—namely former Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. 

But Papelbon has a year remaining on his four-year, $50 million contract—with an option for 2016. While the cash-laden Dodgers have little concern over the price tag, a considerably cheaper move for Uehara seems much easier to pull off. 

The trade package would also appear more amenable from both parties’ standpoints.

As only a matter of speculation, a possible trade-chip commodity is Dodgers’ outfield prospect Joc Pederson.

With a loaded outfield consisting of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig, Pederson’s chances of making the Dodgers’ big league roster appear distant.

In an article on ESPN.com back in November, Saxon pointed out this dilemma even after listing Pederson as the No. 2 prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system.

The Red Sox need outfield help—we know that all too well. Los Angeles has an overload of outfielders, and they want relief pitching, according to Saxon.

This sounds like a plausible trade opportunity. Of course, Boston could be enticed by a possible exchange for veteran outfielder Ethier, who is another rumored target, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe (h/t Marc Normandin of SB Nation).

But why not go after a younger player with incredible upside?

Ethier is 32 years old, and his numbers have fallen considerably from the All-Star caliber stats he posted in 2010 and 2011.

The Dodgers, however, aren’t the lone entity when it comes to a potential trade partner. Other teams certainly come to mind when discussing the acquisition of relief help.

The Detroit Tigers are another contender with bullpen needs; Chris Iott of MLive.com suggests the Tigers will be aggressive when it comes to upgrading this component.

We might as well add Uehara to that discussion as well.

Additionally, teams like the St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Angels are other teams that could possibly be in the same boat.

Any plausible transaction like this begs two questions—will it actually happen and, if so, who will take over the closer’s job in Boston?

Let’s address the second question first.

Lefty Andrew Miller would be the best option to fill the void, in this author’s opinion. He has been as serviceable a reliever as the Red Sox could have hoped for over the past two-plus seasons. Both righties and lefties are batting under .200 against him this year.

Miller is a pending free agent, and the Red Sox would like to keep him into 2015, per Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe. Miller’s current contract is worth a little over $1.9 million, making him a much cheaper commodity than Uehara.

Why not preview what an increased role would do for Miller’s future in Boston?

The bigger question, of course, is whether or not the Red Sox would actually execute this idea. One could make the argument either way.

Cafardo reasons that Boston would like to retain Uehara for just one more season, based on the fact that Uehara has shown no signs of slowing down. Cafardo also points out the obvious—Uehara’s age alone could thwart a potential transaction, and the Red Sox would not be likely to get much in return.

We also know too well that teams get desperate as the playoffs draw closer. Exchanging highly touted prospects for two-month rentals is nothing new.

Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston shares this perspective—he suggests the Red Sox should trade Uehara if they can get something of value in return.

Edes’ statement is essentially our conclusion.

Boston won’t trade Uehara for some mid-range prospect or major league platoon player. The deal would have to be lucrative enough to convince Cherington that it’s the right one to be had.

As we have stated numerous times, however, teams in need of bullpen help at the deadline can be too aggressive—sometimes even overpaying for the talent they want.

From the Red Sox’s perspective, dealing Uehara would not mean conceding the 2014 season: As mentioned, Boston has bullpen options. More importantly, any upside addition to Boston’s beleaguered outfield would be nothing short of a bonus.

In addition, the Red Sox could secure at least something for Uehara if they decide that retaining him for 2015 is no longer worthwhile.

This is more speculation, of course. Trades can be a tricky thing to evaluate. While it is nice to play fantasy GM and swap excess components for the best players out there, the reality is that both teams involved need to come to a mutual agreement.

The complex nature of such agreements is nearly impossible to ascertain, which is why so many trade rumors never materialize.

Still, the Red Sox would be wise to shop Uehara. Given the fragile nature of the closer role, combined with Uehara’s age and contract status, we can deduce that the six-year veteran is not a part of Boston’s long-term plans.

From that vantage point, why not try to get something in return?


All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com—and contractual information via Cot’s Baseball Contractsunless otherwise indicated.

Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report covering the Boston Red Sox. Be sure to check out his entire archive for Red Sox news, insight and analysis. Follow him on Twitter @PeterMcShots.

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Andrew Miller Hinting at Future as Boston Red Sox Closer

The Boston Red Sox have had a very disappointing 2014 season.

Their offense, projected to be one of baseball’s best before the year began, ranks just 26th in the majors in runs scored with 354. Their rotation, which boasts veteran depth and promising rookie contributors, ranks at just 23rd in baseball, with a collective ERA of 4.11. And the Red Sox’s fielding—so good a year ago—has been noticeably poorer this year, as is evidenced by the 56 errors Boston has committed so far.

Yet amid all of the poor performances that have led to Boston’s 42-51 record, the back end of the bullpen has been phenomenal. All-Star closer Koji Uehara has been a huge part of that, of course, and has further solidified his reputation as one of the best relievers in baseball.

But left-handed setup man Andrew Miller is having just as impressive a year, and it’s Miller who could serve as the Red Sox’s closer of the future.

When you think of where Miller was just a few seasons ago, his transformation is fairly remarkable.

When the Red Sox acquired Miller before the 2011 season, they took him on as a major reclamation project and as a starting pitcher. Miller has always had phenomenal stuff, but a lack of command plagued him throughout his career as a starter.

After posting a 5.54 ERA for the Red Sox in 2011—a year in which he made 12 starts—Miller transitioned into a reliever role, where he’s been ever since.

Miller was good in relief in 2012 and 2013, striking out a ton of batters and posting a solid ERA, but he was still walking around five batters per nine innings. That prevented him from truly reaching the upper echelon of elite relievers in the game despite some eye-popping strikeout numbers (99 in 71 innings).

This year, however, Miller has dropped his walk rate to a career-low 2.78, and the effect that’s had on his stat line is dramatic. Take a look at how Miller stacks up to the average reliever this year:

Those numbers are why FanGraphs has Miller as the 10th-most valuable reliever in the game this year, tied with Pat Neshek, Uehara and Steve Cishek with a 1.3 fWAR and less than half a win behind FanGraphs‘ third-best reliever, Aroldis Chapman. Uehara earned the All-Star nod because he’s the closer, but Miller deserves to be there, too.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, both Uehara and Miller are free agents after the season. While you have to assume Boston would like to bring both back, one or both could be traded at the deadline this season, and retaining the services of both could prove quite expensive.

Yet as crazy as it sounds, while Miller and Uehara have been equally efficient this season, and while Uehara has been better for longer and on a brighter stage, there’s reason to prefer Miller moving forward.

Perhaps most obviously, Miller is just 29, while Uehara is 39 and generally not able to pitch back-to-back games. Uehara has a history of shoulder trouble, while Miller’s injuries generally haven’t been related to his arm. And while Miller walks more batters than Uehara, he also strikes out more batters and induces more ground balls.

It’s fair to argue that we don’t know that Miller will be able to hold down the ninth inning with regularity, but we also don’t know that he can’t. And while there’s some additional mental pressure that comes with closing out games, it’s not like Miller isn’t used to pitching in high-leverage situations with the game on the line regularly.

Bringing back Uehara and Miller for another run in 2015 is something the Red Sox would be wise to consider, but if they can truly only retain one, it would be perfectly reasonable for them to choose Miller over their standout closer. At best, Uehara probably has one or two seasons remaining, while Miller could pitch for the better part of the next decade.

While major contracts for relievers are rarely a good idea, a three-year contract for Miller could make sense for both sides. Miller hinted to Brian MacPherson of The Providence Journal that he’d like to return to Boston, but the two sides haven’t discussed a deal so far.

Perhaps Miller prefers to close and will seek that opportunity elsewhere. He’s certainly earned it with his performance over the past three years.

But the odds are decent that Miller will get that chance in Boston in fairly short order, too. And if Miller is to serve as the Red Sox closer in the future, the Red Sox will be in good hands.

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World Series 2013: Who Will Be Difference-Makers in Fall Classic?

With Major League Baseball’s 8-team and now 10-team playoff format, it’s actually become somewhat rare to see teams with the best regular season records reach the World Series. Fans of the 97-win St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox certainly aren’t complaining.

Both teams found a way to fend off opponents and reach the 2013 World Series, which will be a rematch of the 2004 Fall Classic. This time around the series will be decided by four names: David Ortiz, Koji Uehara, Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran. 

The clutch-performing role of David Ortiz hasn’t changed one iota since 2004. To take home the hardware, Ortiz will have to do more than his 2-for-22 line in the ALCS. Ortiz will be playing defense from the dugout as usual in Game 1 at Fenway, but the real challenge comes when the Sox travel to St. Louis. Ortiz will likely play first base.

Ortiz is an adequate first baseman, “I’ve seen Big Papi play a lot,” said Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes, via Danny Knobler, Baseball Insider for CBSSports.com “I mean, the guy can play first base. If you ask me, you can go #goldglove for Napoli, but Ortiz isn’t bad there.”

The main downfall is that the Red Sox will then have to pull Mike Napoli out of the lineup. Limiting his plate appearances, possibly disrupting his rhythm and removing protection in the batting order for Ortiz. Napoli has been a primary source of offense for the Red Sox hitting .300 with a pair of doubles and home runs in the ALCS.

Sitting Napoli is a hefty price to pay and that makes the production of Ortiz that much more important to the series. Farrell has left the door open saying Ortiz will get time over Napoli at first base, but not revealing the number of games he’ll start according to Alex Speier of WEEI 93.7.

Ortiz and his clutch hitting have been a constant for the Red Sox since 2004, but the role of clutch pitching has seen many names. The latest of said names is ALCS MVP Koji Uehara. The 38-year-old Uehara isn’t the typical overly animated gas-throwing closer, but he gets the job done with a fastball that sits around 90 mph.

To beat the Cardinals and the clutch hitting they always seem to find, Uehara will have to be the shutdown closer he was against Detroit. In the closer role one lapse or one bad pitch can lose a game making it a crucial position.

Uehara’s deception and control should continue to work in his favor. The Red Sox players certainly aren’t worried about Uehara, “Well, ‘invincible’ is not a word we use because we don’t ever like to take things for granted in this game, but you’ve got a lot of confidence in Koji, that’s for sure,” Red Sox Catcher David Ross said via Scott Lauber of The Boston Herald. “As a catcher, you’re just trying to get to the end of the game, and with a guy like that, you realize, if I can just get through the eighth with a lead, we’ve got it.”

One of the clutch hitters Uehara may have to face is Allen Craig, who sustained a foot injury on Sept. 4th. Before the injury Craig was the Cardinals’ primary clean-up hitter and he racked up a solid .315 AVG / 13 HR / 97 RBI line.  

Craig will likely be the DH in Boston and coming off the bench in St. Louis according to Anthony McCarron of New York Daily News. Craig does, however, boast a .454 clip with runners in scoring position. Production like that is sure to be a series changer. Luckily, Craig will have two games to prove his worth in Boston before moving back to St. Louis.


While Craig’s clutch regular season hitting and valiant return to the lineup earn him a mention Carlos Beltran needs no such validation. Beltran is in the debate as the greatest postseason hitter ever. A great performance in his first World Series would certainly help solidify that claim and fuel the existing conversation. Here’s what some analysts are already discussing:


To win a ring this year, Beltran will have to continue his clutch postseason hitting.

Thus far, Beltran has provided 12 RBI’s for the Cardinals, who have 42 runs in the 2013 postseason. For the Cardinals to be successful Beltran will have to continue receiving high fives after RBIs as he’s doing in the picture below.

If the Cardinals continue to rely on Beltran for over a quarter of their offense he’ll have to produce in a big way. The switch hitting Beltran may have a tough time in the series with Jon Lester taking the hill as the Red Sox starter.

Beltran was a much better hitter from the left side (.315 AVG / .509 SLG / .871 OPS) than from the right side (.252 AVG / .448 SLG / .729 OPS). Lefties Lester and Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow will likely force Beltran to take a good portion of his cuts from the right side.

 Beltran is, however 4-for-13 from the right side this postseason, but that’s a pretty small sample. Plus, both of his home runs have come hitting left-handed. No matter which side Beltran is taking his hacks from he will have to continue to be a primary source of offense for the Cardinals to revenge their 2004 World Series defeat.

One way or another these four players will decide how this series will be won. Will it be decided by brilliant pitching and a few clutch hits? Will both teams find their offense? Who will gain the edge? It all remains to be seen, but one way or another these four players are at the heart of which way the series goes.

Each of these four players will likely be at the crux of their teams victory or failure. Newcomers like Xander Bogaerts and Matt Adams might be the heroes. Or pitching performances from Michael Wacha or Jon Lester might steal the headlines. Ortiz, Uehara, Craig and Beltran are necessary pieces to their respective teams, will have opportunities to perform in the clutch and will be the deciding factors in the outcome of the 2013 World Series.



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Will Koji Uehara Maintain Insane Dominance Under Postseason Pressure?

Chances are 38-year-old middle relievers don’t usually become stars overnight, but due to injuries in the Boston Red Sox bullpen, Koji Uehara had the opportunity to become one this summer. After months of dominance, Boston and its new closer head to October as a candidate to reach the World Series. 

In the aftermath of Mariano Rivera’s farewell, baseball fans in New York, Boston and around the country can agree on the importance of having a relief pitcher capable of getting the biggest outs in October. In order for the Red Sox to thrive in the postseason, they’ll need the insanely dominant Uehara to maintain his amazing season under the pressure of the brightest lights in the sport.

Before finding a way to dissect if Uehara is ready for the challenge, let’s take a minute to reminisce about the season he just completed.

As the table below shows, the Red Sox closer has posted the third-best single-season SO/BB ratio in the history of relief pitchers with a minimum of 70 innings. When including ERA+ into the equation, it’s reasonable to make a case that the top three seasons in the history of relief pitching belong to Dennis Eckersley, Koji Uehara and Mariano Rivera.

That, folks, is amazing company.

Of course, as we’ve seen over the last two decades with closers like Mark Wohlers, Billy Wagner, Brad Lidge and Joe Nathan, regular-season success doesn’t always transition to postseason dominance.

With Uehara, however, expect his full body of work in America to translate into and through October. In other words, after examining body of work for the Japanese reliever, it’s clear that he’s not a one-hit wonder. The Red Sox have a dominant reliever set to give them a big weapon against the American League postseason field.

While all of Uehara’s numbers (72.1 IP, 99 SO, 9 BB, 1.12 ERA, 21 SV) are impressive, his ability to bear down when runners reach base gives an indication that he will be prepared to escape pressure-packed jams in the postseason.

For the season, Boston’s closer limited batters to a .149 batting average with runners in scoring position. That number dropped to .132 with any runners on base. The path to a 1.12 ERA was filled with stranding runners on the basepath.

Furthermore, Uehara excels, both in 2013 and for the full body of his career since 2009, at dominating hitters in high-leverage situations. While the term can be self-explanatory, we’ll let the folks at Baseball-Reference define what high leverage means in the context of each game.

As stated on B-R’s website, high-leverage is defined:

Within a game, there are plays that are more pivotal than others. We attempt to quantify these plays with a stat called leverage index (LI). LI looks at the possible changes in win probability in a give situation and situations where dramatic swings in win probability are possible (runner on second late in a tie game) have higher LI’s than situations where there can be no large change in win probability (late innings of a 12-run blowout).

Or, to put it simply, when the game is on the line and the outcome undecided, Uehara is at his best. In 2013, opposing batters posted a .124/.149/.206 slash line against the Red Sox reliever in those situations. For the entirety of his Major League Baseball career, the opposition has hit .193/.215/.320 in high-leverage spots against him. During those moments, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is an insane 11.56.

To put those numbers into perspective, when a game is hanging in the balance, Uehara has reduced the opposition to hitting like pitchers and had pinpoint control better than Curt Schilling in his prime.

Predicting the outcome of random October moments before they arrive is presumptuous, but if Red Sox fans are looking to have confidence in the biggest moments of an ALCS game against the Detroit Tigers, the career numbers of 2013’s best reliever don’t lie. 

Time will tell if Uehara steps up to become an October hero, but his entire body of work suggests he’s ready for the challenge of a Miguel Cabrera-Prince Fielder-Victor Martinez challenge in a one-run game next month.

Comment below, follow me on Twitter or “like” my Facebook page to talk all things baseball.

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For Boston Red Sox, It’s Case Closed with Koji Uehara

Smiles and high-fives have become commonplace around Fenway Park these days, but nobody has grinned wider and slapped hands more enthusiastically than the guy most often on the mound at game’s end.

Koji Uehara, the 38-year-old Japanese import acquired by Boston as a free agent in December, has been near-perfect during the past two months as a closer for the surprising Red Sox. He compiled a 0.00 ERA in both July and August, and after blowing a save against the Los Angeles Angels on July 6, he allowed just six hits in 23 innings over his next 20 appearances.

He now has 15 saves on the season and has been perfect in 13 of 15. He is so reliable and so economical with his pitches that last week he was twice called upon by Boston manager John Farrell in the eighth inning to register four-out saves.

He converting both perfectly.

As a result of his brilliant run, which came after three blown saves in his early days in the role, Uehara has lowered his season ERA to 1.17 and his WHIP to 0.630—numbers that along with his 82 strikeouts and nine walks over 60.1 innings compare favorably to Jonathan Papelbon’s stats during his All-Star career as Boston’s closer from 2005-2011.

In fact, Uehara‘s stretch of 20 scoreless games in relief is just one short of Papelbon’s best (21 in 2011) and five short of Daniel Bard’s club record, which was set the same year.

In contrast to Papelbon, who had a blazing fastball that neared 100 miles per hour in his heyday, Uehara relies primarily on a forkball and a four-seam heater that tops out around 90. Like Mariano Rivera’s cutter, batters know the forkball is usually coming but can do little with the knowledge. Batters swing and miss Uehara‘s offerings 17.2 percent of the time, which is the top mark in the league.  

Certainly nobody has as much fun finishing games as Uehara, who was primarily a starter during an excellent 10-year career in Japan. Each time he completes the final out of a contest, he pumps his fist, lets out a shout and then sprints over to his teammates to dole out high-fives. 

For those of us old enough to remember, he is a throwback to Mark “The Bird” Fidrychwho displayed similar mannerisms during his all-too-brief heyday with the Detroit Tigers in the late 1970s. But unlike Fidrych, who was a 21-year-old rookie when he emerged on the national scene, Uehara is grabbing the spotlight with his boyish energy at an age most pitchers are winding down.

Making his run even more impressive is that Ueharamore often a setup man during four previous big-league seasonswas Boston’s fourth choice as closer this season. Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey both suffered injuries, and fellow Japanese League veteran Junichi Tazawa struggled in the role.

Now that he’s gotten his chance to do his hand-slapping on the field at game’s end rather than primarily in the dugout after the seventh or eighth innings, Uehara would like to keep doing so for as long as possible.

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