Coming to America: Part II

In Part II, Jim Houle and Dave Clark take a look at the arms in the NPB that may be available to U.S. clubs in the coming years, including a few quality hurlers that could sign with MLB clubs this winter.

Links re-direct to NPB Statistics

Kei Igawa – SP (Posting Status Being Negotiated)
Team: Hanshin Tigers
DOB: 7-3-79 Exp: 8 yrs.
Ht: 6'1" Wt: 211 B/T: L/L
2005 Stats: 27 GS, 13-9, 3.86 ERA, 172.1 IP, 145K, 60 BB
Chance of signing in U.S. for '06: 50%
MLB Comp
Nate Robertson
High: Noah Lowry
Contract: 2+ years @ $3-5 mil per

After pitching over 200 innings each year for the past three years, Igawa cooled off in 2005. A Sawamura Award winner in 2003 when he pitched his way to 20 wins, including eight complete games. Despite a disappointing 2005, the ace of the Hanshin Tigers staff still finds himself among the top 10 pitchers in Japanese baseball. He led the league in strikeouts in both 2002 and 2004.

The lefty hurler leads with his fastball and his control is increasing over the past two years. Hanshin plays in a pitcher's park roughly equal to SafeCo Field. Igawa nearly begged to be posted last year, but his club wanted "one more shot" at the title. Though Hanshin made the Nippon Series, they got trounced losing the first three games by at least 9 runs. Igawa should ask to not be posted. Hanshin should also not post him as his poor year would earn them less money. If he is posted expect a team that is both saber- and NPB-savvy to make a run at Igawa.

Kiyoshi Toyoda – RP (Free Agent)
Team: Seibu Lions
DOB: 3-2-71 Exp: 13 yrs.
Ht: 5'11" Wt: 181 B/T: R/R
2005 Stats: 35 G, 3-1, 3.97 ERA, 34 IP, 31 K, 6 BB, 19 Sv.
Chance of signing in U.S. for '06: 15%
MLB Comp
Ben Webber
High: Shigetoshi Hasegawa
Contract: 2 years @ $1-2 mil per

"Mr. Control" won the Pacific League closer MVP award in 2002 and 2003, when he nailed down 38 saves in each year. Despite battling back pain 2004, Toyoda posted a 0.98 ERA in 36.2 innings in relief. Over the last four years (186 innings), he has struck out 190 batters while walking just 23.

Toyoda could put up Kazahiro Sasaki numbers as a Major Leaguer, but with less walks and fewer home runs. Let us all just think that over a bit. Sasaki was the Rookie of the Year, the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year, and set the Seattle Mariners franchise record for Saves. Toyoda is the definition of an Ace Reliever, but is aging. Expect a contract of only two years if he chooses to sign in MLB. Currently, Toyoda is being pursued by the Yomiuri Giants.

Hirotoshi Ishii – RP (Not Yet Posted)
Team: Yakult Swallows
DOB: 9-14-77 Exp: 10 yrs.
Ht: 6'1" Wt: 176 B/T: L/L
2005 Stats: 61 G, 4-3, 1.95 ERA, 73.2 IP, 91 K, 15 BB, 37 Sv.
Chance of signing in U.S. for ‘06: 15%
MLB Comp
Scott Sauerbeck
High: Arthur Rhodes
Contract: 2 years @ $3 mil per

In 2002, Ishii threw 89.2 innings, striking out 109 and walking only 12, on his way to his first middle reliever award. Injury took him out of the end of 2003 and start of 2004, but it looks like he is back now. In 2005 and in his first stint as Yakult's regular closer, this lefty held right-handed batters to a .181 BAA.

One Mariners blog calls Ishii the "Japanese Arthur Rhodes," and while that may a little bit of hyperbole, Ishii could be one of the top five left-handed bullpen guys in the Majors.

Koji Uehara – SP (Not Yet Posted)
Team: Yomiuri Giants
DOB: 4-3-75 Exp: 7 yrs.
Ht: 6'1" Wt: 187 B/T: R/R
2005 Stats: 27 GS, 9-12, 3.31 ERA, 187.1 IP, 145 K, 22 BB
Chance of signing in U.S. for '06: 10%
MLB Comp
Cory Lidle
High: Matt Morris
Contract: 3 years @ $4 mil per

In 2005, Uehara led NPB in games pitched without allowing a walk (4). Control specialist that he is, Uehara has walked 23 or fewer batters while striking out 145 or more the last four years. Arguably the Giants staff ace for the past six years, Uehara consistently ranks among the top five in the Central League in most major pitching categories. Central League Rookie of the Year in 1999, and two-time Sawamura Award (NPB's Cy Young) winner (1999 and 2002), Gold Gloves in 1999 and 2003.

Koji's control is obvious. Even in a sub par year for Uehara any fan of the Majors can see a guy who can contribute to the front-end of the rotation. If posted, he would intrigue any organization that understands that balls-in-play are more conducive to success than the free pass. He does have a slight propensity to give a home run up; having about a 1.2 HR/9 over the past three years, but this is where his anti-walk mentality is a benefit. The Giants' stadium is ever so slightly a hitter's park.

Higeki Noguchi - SP (Free Agent)
Team: Chunichi Dragons
DOB: 5-13-74 Exp: 13 yrs.
Ht: 5'10" Wt: 194 B/T: L/L
2005 Stats: 13 GS, 72 IP, 3-6, 4.00 ERA, 57 K, 26 BB
Potentially Interested MLB Teams: None for ‘05
Chance of signing in U.S for ‘06: Slim to none
MLB Comp
Steve Trachsel
High: Jeff Suppan
Contract: 2-3 years @ $1 mil per

Noguchi was the 1999 Central League MVP when he posted a 19-7 record in 29 starts (2.65 ERA) and led the Dragons to the Japan Series. Additionally, he posted league-best ERAs in 1998 (2.34 over 192.1 IP) and 2001 (2.46, 193.2 IP). He also racked up the most strikeouts (187) and won a gold glove in 2001. His performance over the last four years, however, suggest time may be catching up to him.

Noguchi would seem to be pursued by a Major League team willing to give a guy a chance. A once great pitcher, he would at best be a league average left-hander just past his peak. He would likely make much more money in Japan and therefore is unlikely to play in the Majors next year.

Daisuke Matsuzaka – SP (Declined by Seibu as of 11.01.05)
Team: Seibu Lions
DOB: 9-13-80 Exp: 7 yrs.
Ht: 6'0" Wt: 187 B/T: R/R
2005 Stats: 28 GS, 14-13, 2.30 ERA, 15 CG, 215 IP, 226 K, 49 BB
Potentially Interested MLB Teams: NYY, NYM, Seattle, Boston, Baltimore, LAA, LAD
Chance of signing in U.S. for '06: 25%
MLB Comp
Kelvim Escobar
High: Mike Mussina

Contract: 3+ years @ $6-8 mil per

First round draft pick in 1998, Pacific League Rookie of the Year in 1999, what can be said of Matsuzaka that you haven't heard already? Most wins 1999-2001; Most Ks 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2005; Most innings pitched 2001 and 2005; Sawamura Award in 2001; Gold Gloves from 1999-2001, and in 2003 and 2004.

The famous Gyroballer has an assortment of about five strikeout pitches. He is prone to having high pitch counts and going deep into games. His unconventional delivery combined with the high pitch counts worry some teams but he is by far and away the best pitcher in NPB. Daisuke was Japan's star in the 2004 Olympics. He could be even better than Hideo Nomo was in his first two years, or his arm could give out like the Mariners' Jorge Campillo. Daisuke is the most anticipated transfer ever, but the Lions will not let him go… yet.

Yusaku Iriki – SP (Not to be Posted in ‘05)
Team: Nippon Ham Fighters
DOB: 8-13-72 Exp: 9 yrs.
Ht: 5'9" Wt: 176 B/T: R/R
2005 Stats: 28 GS, 6-7, 150.2 IP, 3.35 ERA, 122 K, 65 BB
MLB Comp
Kip Wells
High: Livan Hernandez

First round draft pick in 1996, Iriki won 13 games in 2001. He was injured for almost all of 2003 and pitched in only 11 games in 2004. Time in the Mexican Winter League last January seems to have helped him regain his strength and pick up a two-seam fastball.

Iriki is obviously willing to jump the pond when he played in Mexico. Yusaku will not be posted and will have to wait before coming to the majors. Barring a long term contract he will be a Free Agent in the next off season.

Fumiya Nishiguchi - SP (Not to be posted in ‘05)
Team: Seibu Lions
DOB: 9-26-72 Exp: 11 yrs.
Ht: 6'0" Wt: 156 B/T: R/R
2005 Stats: 25 GS, 17-5, 2.77 ERA, 172 IP, 137 K, 34 BB
MLB Comp
Scott Elarton
High: Brandon Webb

League MVP and Sawamura Award winner in 1997, Nishiguchi continues to put up impressive numbers year after year. He followed in his own act in 1998 by again posting the most wins and strikeouts. In 2003 he was slowed by injury, but has fought back since the middle of 2004, leading into to his convincing 2005 season. Best Nine selections in 1997 and 1998; Gold Glove winner in 1997, 1998 and 2002

Fumiya is just short of a personal goal for strike outs and will be staying in Japan to achieve his target. It is unlikely that he will come over for the 2007 season as a Free Agent but seems willing to do so then. would like to thank Jim Houle (garstar) as well as ITP's own special assignments consultant Dave Clark (bedirthanaverage) for their extensive research on the NPB.

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