A reliever worth targeting

Junichi Tazawa is an amateur reliever from Japan. He’s decided to skip Japanese professional baseball and come stateside.

Tazawa is younger than the typical Japanese import, because he’s not waiting the 9 years required for international free agency as a pro player. He’s 22 and features a low 90’s fastball, a 12-6 curve and a shuuto (kind of like a screwball it moves in on righties). That repertoire led to a a 56K:4BB ratio in 54 innings.

The advantage of pursuing Tazawa, is that he wouldn’t require any compensation beyond the contract. There’s no players to trade. There’s no draft picks floating away (like with Juan Cruz – is he worth a first round pick?). And he’s young.


  1. Eric Cioe

    September 11, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    First – I don’t understand anyone’s fascination with Juan Cruz. He’s Fernando Rodney without the changeup, plus a decent slider. Walks tons and strikes out tons. A fine option for middle relief, sure, but not exactly the savior to the Tigers pen.

    Second – Regarding Tazawa: Eddie seems to think that he throws a fastball, slider, and forkball, not a fastball, curve, and shuuto. Watching the video, here’s what I see, pitch by pitch:

    First inning of work, one strike already on batter before video starts
    1. 90 mph (144 km), straight (called strike)
    2. 91 mph (146 km), straight (called third strike, one out)

    3. 81 mph (130 km), downward movement, maybe down and in (called strike)
    4. 92 mph (149 km), straight (check swing strike)
    5. 81 mph (130 km), downward movement (ball)
    6. 92 mph (148 km), straight (foul)
    7. 78 mph (125 km), downward movement (groundball, two outs)

    8. 77 mph (124 km), downward movement (ball)
    9. 75 mph (121 km), downward movement (called strike)
    10. 77 mph (124 km), downward movement (swinging strike)

    11. 91 mph (147 km), straight (foul)
    12. no speed given, looks like the pitch in the 70s, downward movement, (called third strike) (three out)

    Second inning of work
    13. 74 mph (119 km), downward movement (called strike)
    14. 77 mph (125 km), downward movement (called strike)
    15. (Pitch not shown, third strike) (one out)

    16. 88 mph (142 km), straight (ball)
    17. no speed given, pitch in 70s, downward movement (ball)
    18. 89 mph (144 km), straight (called strike)
    19. 88 mph (142 km), straight (called strike)
    20. no speed given, pitch at 90 or so (called third strike) (two out)

    21. 75 mph (121 km), downward movement (called strike)
    22. 82 mph (132 km), down and in movement (swinging strike)
    23. 92 mph (148 km), straight (swinging third strike) (three out)

    Looks like 3 distinct pitches:
    1. Fastball from 88-92.
    2. Curveball, or possibly a forkball, from 74 to 78, the bread and butter pitch.
    3. A third pitch, possibly a changeup, possibly the shuuto, at 81 or so. He threw at least two of them (pitch 3 and pitch 22) and possibly a third (pitch 5, though it could just be a harder curve/forkball).

    A few thoughts:

    1. Lots of curveballs/forkballs. 10 Fastballs, 10 or 11 of the curve/fork, and 2 or 3 of the change/shuuto.
    2. Man, these hitters don’t swing at anything!

    I guess that’s it. Just thought I’d take 20 minutes and go through, pitch by pitch, and try to figure out what he’s throwing. I didn’t see a slider at all, so that’s wrong. Reports of mid 90s fastball might be exaggerated, or maybe this was a slow outing, but he seemed comfortable and effective at 90.

  2. Eddie

    September 11, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    I got the repertoire from a press release. It’s entirely possible I was wrong.

  3. Eric Cioe

    September 12, 2008 at 12:06 am

    Like I say, to me, it looks like a fastball from 89-92, a down breaking pitch in the mid 70s (curve or fork), and some sort of offspeed pitch with arm side run at 81 (change or shuuto). If you want to look at the video, you can tell me what you think about the two pitches I’m not sure about. It’d certainly be interesting to know.

    I did this because press reports usually greatly exaggerate fastball velocity. We saw that with Rick Porcello, for example – “he sits in the mid 90s and can rack it up when he needs.” Apparently he came to the Tigers and told his pitching coach, “I don’t throw like they say I do.” It’s like if a guy touches 95 once in an outing, the press reports “he sits at 95 and can touch 98.” It’s just silly. This Tazawa guy might be able to get to 95, but usually guys that sit at 95 don’t throw two very effective innings of relief with a 5 mph decline on his fastball. It’s like the media thinks that 90 isn’t good enough.

  4. ron

    September 12, 2008 at 2:14 am

    Eric, you should be our pitching coach.

  5. thefume

    September 12, 2008 at 10:05 am

    1st round pick? Tigers aren’t that good. It’s probably a 2nd rounder.

  6. Chris in Dallas

    September 12, 2008 at 11:26 am

    The review I read of the kid says he tops out at 97 on the gun, if that means anything.

  7. Eric Cioe

    September 12, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    How often have you seen a guy who normally throw 91 hit 97? Like I said, maybe this outing in the video is him on short rest or overworked, but if that’s the case, you have to wonder how he struck out 5 of the 6 batters faced. There are guys that can really ramp it up – Miller can throw 99 but sits at 94 or so. It happens. But usually over the course of 10 fastballs with those guys, you see lots of variance – 93, 96, 95, 98, etc. This guy Tazawa had variance – from 88 to 92, with 90-91 being the velocity that he “sat at.” How many times have you seen a guy who threw a very effective 88 throw 97 in the same year?

    It’s typical newspaper crap – throwing 92 and touching 95 once becomes “sitting at 95 with the ability to reach back and touch 98.” It’s crap. There’s no shame in having a very effective fastball that’s only at 90 or so. Very few pitchers can actually average a 95 mph fastball. Actually, looking at fangraphs, NONE of the starters this year in baseball are averaging 95. Jimenez and Hernandez are close at 94.9 and 94.7, but that’s it. Even among relievers, only 16 are averaging 95-96 (and two of those are Buchholz and Burnett, who were probably only throwing one relief inning, so the sample size is skewed) and 7 averaging from 96-98.5 (Morillo from the Rockies is at the top, and he hasn’t thrown many innings). Zumaya is second, in case anyone was wondering, at 97.5.

    Long story longer, velocity, especially among starters, is usually exaggerated.

  8. Chris in Dallas

    September 12, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    Velocity readings are always an interesting and controversial topic. They vary from ballpark to ballpark and the guns on TV and on the scoreboard are usually anywhere from 2-5 mph faster than the scouts in the stands. Anyhoo, take a guy like Felix Hernandez. I’ve watched a bunch of this guy and he’ll typically be 94-96 on most of his fastballs, gearing it up to 98-99 on about a half dozen pitches per outing. On the other hand, he’ll take a bit off sometimes to get some extra sink (dude gets a ton of ground balls) and “only” hit 90-91. Add it all up and he’s at 94.7 mph on average. The best (starting) pitchers add and subtract like that. Relievers can just air it out given the limited amount of pitches (see Zumaya’s freakish 98.6 mph average in ’06 – I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life).