You may have enjoyed a recent MLBTR post called Ranking Japanese Pitchers, written by Aaron and Jackson of East Windup Chronicle. Now they’re back with summaries on four more Japanese pitchers who may come over to MLB for the 2008 season. Kazuo Fukumori, Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi, Yasuhiko Yabuta, and Yukinaga Maeda were pegged by Nikkan Sports as MLB possibilities. Summaries from Aaron and Jackson follow.
Kazuo Fukumori – Might have emerged as a top-flight closer on a better team, but best years may have been wasted playing for expansion Rakuten Golden Eagles. Still, saved 21 games and was an All-Star in ’06. ERA jumped nearly two runs in 2007, but still saved 17 and maintained a strikeout per inning ratio. Has a formidable slider that tails toward right handed batters. Could emerge as a nice sleeper considering the number of solid closers possibly headed to the U.S. Tampa Bay has been mentioned as being in hot pursuit. [Note: the Red Sox may be in on him as well.]
Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi – Lefty signed with agent Scott Boras in 2003, but nothing came of it. Had an off year in ’04, but in ’05, his 14th as a pro, had a career year going 15-3 with a 2.99 ERA. Has seen a decline in past two years in ERA, Ks, and wins, while BB/9 has jumped. But despite age has only averaged 95.5 innings per season and could be serviceable as a long reliever/spot starter in a new league. Throws a javelin in the offseason to maintain body/arm balance.
Yasuhiko Yabuta – Yabuta, the right-handed set up man for the Chiba Lotte Marines, is probably best known for striking out A-Rod, Derrek Lee, and Johnny Damon in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. The Chicago White Sox need a set-up man and are rumored to have a strong interest in Yabuta, who has racked up 86 holds and a sub 3.00 ERA over the last 3 years for the Marines despite not panning out as a starter. [Note: the Red Sox are said to have a working agreement with the Marines, also.]
Yukinaga Maeda – The 37 year old left-hander Maeda was given his release by the Yomiuri Giants recently and is planning on making his trip over to the majors. Despite posting dreadful stats over the last several years (ERA’s of 4.65, 7.23, and 5.06 in 2005-2007) and a career W-L record of 78-110, His ’07 season was marked by a series of call-ups and send-downs, and going on 38 years old, it’s hard to see this guy making a huge contribution.
Given the dearth of quality left-handed pitching, a team in need of a left-handed relief specialist might take a gamble on Maeda based on his performance from 1998-2004, split between the Giants and Chunichi Dragons. Then again lefties hit .318 against him in NPB, so I shudder to think what Ryan Howard will do to him given the chance. On that note, Hideki Okajima may soon become the hero for all mediocre Japanese pitchers who get signed to contracts based on the possibility of being the next Hideki Okajima.