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2007 MLB Free Agents: Tomo Ohka

With seven teams seriously interested, it's time to take a closer look at free agent starter Tomo Ohka

Ohka made $4.53MM this year.  He turns 31 in March and is seeking a three-year commitment.  RotoWorld names the Nationals, Mariners, Red Sox, Diamondbacks, and Pirates as interested parties.  I've also heard the Cardinals mentioned; they seem to succeed with this type of pitcher.

Ohka is a guy who pitches to contact and typically shows good command.  He's a flyball pitcher who mostly throws fastballs and sliders.

Some past history on Tomokazu Ohka (source: RotoWire):

1998:
The Red Sox purchased the 22 year-old's contract from the Yokohama Baystars of Japan's Central League.  He'd worked mostly in relief in Japan.

1999:
He excelled at Double A and Triple A, going 15-0 across the two levels for the year.  A 5.7 K/BB ratio in Triple A inspired the Sox to call him up in July to face the Marlins.  He pitched poorly in two starts and later six relief appearances.  He earned the team's Minor League Pitcher of the Year honor.

2000:
Ohka didn't break camp with the Red Sox; he began the year at Pawtucket.  In June, he tossed a perfect game for the Triple A club.  A few weeks later, he earned a suspension for an off-field fight with South Korean Sun-Woo Kim.  Kim's still around, so perhaps they'll clash again. 

Trade rumors swirled about, but Ohka stayed put and eventually made 12 starts for the Sox with a 3.12 ERA.

2001:
He broke camp with the Sox, but was sent back down in May when David Cone temporarily healed.  Ohka bounced back and forth, filling in for Cone, Pedro Martinez, Frank Castillo, and Bret Saberhagen.  Ohka pitched poorly.  At the trading deadline,  he was sent to the Expos for Ugueth Urbina.  He posted a 4.77 ERA in 10 starts for Montreal.

2002:
This was Ohka's breakout season, as he won 13 games with a 3.18 ERA in 31 starts.  It was a strong Montreal staff, with Javier Vazquez, Bartolo Colon, Carl Pavano, Tony Armas, and Masato Yoshii contributing.  One note is that Ohka received a six-game suspension for throwing at Andruw Jones after Jones hit two home runs off him.  In November, Ohka pitched for an MLB All-Star team that played in Japan.

2003:
An uneventful but healthy season, as Ohka won ten games with a 4.16 ERA in 34 starts. Well, there was one event.

2004:
He began the season as the #3 guy behind Livan Hernandez and Zach Day. In June, a Carlos Beltran liner broke his right forearm; Will Carroll described it as a "particularly nasty fracture."  He was activated from the DL in September.  On the season, he posted a fine 3.40 ERA despite his weakest strikeout rate and a lot of baserunners.

2005:
With a metal plate and screws in his forearm, Ohka was not the same pitcher in April.  His velocity was down and he allowed more flyballs.  Frank Robinson moved him to the bullpen in May but he found his way back once John Patterson got hurt.

In June came Ohka's famous diss of Robinson - he turned his back on his manager when he came out to make a pitching change.  Robinson had to grab the ball out of his hand.  The Nats fined him and traded him five days later to the Brewers for Junior Spivey.  This despite his 3.33 ERA in nine starts on the season and a year and a half of service time left.  Upon joining the Brewers, Ohka posted a 4.35 ERA in 20 starts, including his first shutout.

2006:
Shoulder discomfort popped up on May 1st; Ohka was showing reduced velocity from a strained rotator cuff.  The partial tear led to a DL stint.  He returned from rehab in July; Will Carroll said his velocity looked good.  A hamstring injury in September ended his season.  The Brewers declined to offer him arbitration, and here we are.

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Comments

This is a very nice writeup. I have been suggesting to everyone I talk to that I'll think more highly of whichever GM signs this guy (assuming it's a modest price). He's completely un-flashy, but his career ERA is 4.04(!) His lack of pizazz (and probably his hot-headedness) should lead to teams under-rating his value. IMO, he's unquestionably a better pitcher (even considering the much higher injury risk) than Jason Marquis. To put it into perspective...

In 2006, the R/G rate of the 2nd-best (ranked by R/G rate) starters in the playoffs was 4.4 R/G.

3rd-best was 4.7 R/G.

Tomo Ohka is at 4.6 R/G for his career.

That's right, he's been (on average) about as effective as the 3rd-best starters on last year's playoff teams(!)

Oh, and when Bart pretends he's you, you know you're a star, right? :>

Leave it to Will Carroll, man of science and intellect, to use solid objectivity in his analysis of Japanese pitchers.

Ohka's velocity sucked after his return. In his four starts before injury, his average fastball (in radar gunned telecasts) was, 91, 89, 89, 88, in each of those games, respectively.

In the starts during his return his average fastballs were: 87, 85, 86, 85, 86, 86, 88, 87, 87, 85, 86, 87.

That's a loss of 2-3 mph on the fastball. The guy throws pus and is teetering on the edge of getting shelled just about every start. He pitches ass backwards, throwing more sliders than fastballs in a handful of starts, and hit 90 on the gun just twice in the season's last three months (probably a hot Jugs). Is he still throwing with a tear in his cuff or labrum? Who the hell knows.

I'm not saying he's worse than Jason Marquis, though.

Nice find koch.

Not trying to start a big debate about Ohka, because in general I agree with what you said, koch. BUT... I'd apply much of the same comments to Orlando Hernandez that you applied to Ohka. I've watched him pitch enough to believe that he "knows how to pitch." He's not as good as El Duque, but he is the sort of guy I don't expect to go all Glendon Rusch if he loses a couple MPH, either. We'll see - he seemed a lot more appealing as an FA signing before I read that seven teams were pursuing him... someone will probably give him some crazy contract now, anyway.

Compounding on Ohka's unsportsman-like behavior:
He ended Willy Taveras's hit streak this year. Taveras was HBP twice in the game- both by Ohka!

A little known fact about Ohka is that he's a Switchhitter. Also he can drop a weak Split Finger Curve if need be.

I've seen him at Brewers games about 4 times. When he has pitched a real good first few innings, he can get into the Zone. But he never really pitches more than 6 innings.

He's really superstitious. His number for the Brewers 55, was so because he couldn't have the second number on his jersey be higher than the first.

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