Screw Yu Too Koji – How Another Japanese Hurler Got Away

Blue Jays fans will certainly remember the winter and offseason of 2011 when it was announced that Yu Darvish would in fact not be joining the Toronto Blue Jays.  Despite weeks of speculation and the death of one Jays “insider” on Twitter the Texas Rangers came away with Yu Darvish.

The rest as they say is history.

In 378 career MLB innings Darvish has a 3.38 ERA, 3.16 xFIP, 11.1 K/9, 1.16 WHIP and a .204 BAA.  He has been worth 9.4 wins over that same period and to quote the great Homer Simpson on the general feelings of losing out on him “DOHHH”.  Well fast forward to the winter and offseason of 2012 and another Japanese star pitcher slipped through our hands, though this time at the request of the player.

I was excited when I learned the Toronto Blue Jays had landed Japanese reliever Koji Uehara from the Texas Rangers.  I was consequently very disappointed when it was learned Koji would use his no-trade protection to block the move.

The Blue Jays bullpen in 2013 has been very solid and it is doubtful that Koji would’ve made any difference to our playoff chances (unless we landed both he and Darvish) but he is also having one of the greatest seasons a reliever has ever had.

His WHIP currently sits at a ridiculous 0.57 and ERA is 1.08.  Read that again, it is not a typo.  I ran a search at Fangraphs to see who has the best single-season WHIP for a relief pitcher since 1950 (50.0 minimum innings).

Season Player                 WHIP   ERA   FIP   ERA- 
2013 Koji Uehara 0.57 1.08 1.68 26
1989 Dennis Eckersley 0.61 1.56 2.19 43
1990 Dennis Eckersley 0.61 0.61 1.34 16
2012 Craig Kimbrel 0.65 1.01 0.78 26
2008 Mariano Rivera 0.67 1.40 2.03 32
2003 Eric Gagne 0.69 1.20 0.86 30

I know WHIP isn’t a trendy statistic but I really like it as a down and dirty number to see who is effective at keeping runners off base.  Koji Uehara is in some pretty insane company and his overall statistical line is just as impressive.

2013 ERA   WHIP   BAA   K/9   BB/9 K/BB  HR/9  xFIP  WAR 
Koji Uehara 1.08 0.57 .127 12.5 1.2 10.3 0.68 2.05 3.0

Given those insane strikeout numbers coupled with an eye-popping 18% swinging strike rate one would assume that Uehara is a flame-thrower however you would be mistaken.  His average fastball velocity in 2013 is 89.2 MPH and in fact he only throws the heater 46.3% of the time.  The major equalizer and perhaps one of the best pitches in baseball is his splitter, thrown 81.1 MPH and 47.7%.

I wanted to search again on that same list of top WHIP seasons to see if the lack of big time velocity for Koji was indeed an outlier among the top relievers.

Here are the results as per Fangraphs data:

Season Player WHIP FB% (Velo) K% SwStrk%
2013 Koji Uehara 0.57 46.3 (89.2) 39.1% 18.2%
2012 Craig Kimbrel 0.65 67.6 (96.8) 50.2% 19.2%
2008 Mariano Rivera 0.67 82.0 (92.8) 29.7% 12.0%
2010 Joaquin Benoit 0.68 65.0 (94.0) 34.6% 14.8%
2003 Eric Gagne 0.69 55.8 (95.2) 44.8% 22.3%
2007 JJ Putz 0.70 77.6 (94.7) 31.5% 13.3%

First off, I guess steroids can help pitching as much as hitting – look at those Eric Gagne numbers in the absolute prime steroid era.  That 22.3% swinging strike rate is crazy (only Brad Lidge in 2004 – 25.0% is better).

This list does not encompass the hundreds of amazing relief seasons but among the very best WHIP seasons of all-time it is clear that Uehara attacks hitters in a completely different manner.  Koji Uehara trails some of these flame throwers by 5-6 MPH on fastball velocity making his current 2013 campaign that much more special (for me anyway).

While he might not have helped the woeful Blue Jays in 2013 at the very least it would have been fun to see this relief samurai work day in and day out.  I think I can safely say that Koji Uehara would’ve been beloved by Blue Jays nation if only he would’ve given us a chance.

Oh well, at least some of our prospects are working out.   Check out Andrew Stoeten’s latest piece highlighting the Jays system might not be quite as bad as many believe.

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