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Scouting Report: Kei Igawa, LHP

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on November 11, 2006

Note: This report will not be nearly as extensive as the report on Daisuke Matsuzaka for many reasons. One, I’m reserved to use the opinions of two clubs’ international scouting directors, rather than a slew of scouts.

So, I’ll be adding in my own thoughts after spending the past several hours watching video of Igawa, from both 2005 and 2006.

Kei Igawa stands a shade over 6 feet tall and weighs in at about 190 pounds, but pitches much bigger and tougher than that. He’s fashioned himself a power pitcher, and though his fastball is more than a tick above Major League average, the 27-year-old reminds some of a current Seattle Mariners, as far as velocity goes.

“He does make me think of (Jarrod) Washburn,” says one NL Central scout who was assigned to Matsuzaka, and later Igawa by his employers, who were expected to be serious contenders for both pitchers this offseason. “He’s got a little swagger in him, more than Matsuzaka, at least demonstrably. He’ll sit right in the 90mph range until he needs a big strikeout and than he reaches back for added gas. But, like Washburn, he throws quite a few fastballs up in the zone and if he misses with it, it gets hit, and that will be big for him in the U.S,”

Igawa, however, who has 190 starts and nearly 1250 innings of work in parts of eight seasons, all with the Hanshin Tigers, has only allowed more than 17 home runs twice in his six full years, and allowed right at that number in 2006.

The southpaw isn’t as publicly touted as Matsuzaka, nor another left-handed starter to make the trip to the Western Hemisphere, Kazuhisa Ishii, who spent four seasons in the states before returning to Japan in 2006. But Igawa profiles somewhat similarly to Ishii, but the hopes are that he’s much more successful than his predecessor.

“Ishii was a disaster, but it may have been due to all the unknowns,” said the scout. “When you are evaluating a foreign player you have to take more than physical tools into consideration, and not many teams were doing that five, 10 years ago. Pretty much every club in the game has extended their homework these days. They can’t afford not to. With Igawa, he has more than just physical talents, as does Matsuzaka. They both know how to pitch, and should adjust enough to be solid to good major leaguers.”

So what does Igawa do well?

“He attacks hitters, and very aggressively,” said the scout. “It’s not a secret that he’s going to come after hitters, but as soon as the batter thinks he’s got it figured out, he gets a pretty good change thrown at him out of nowhere. Igawa is a pretty adept at mixing things up effectively, while doing a decent job of staying within himself. At times he’ll try and throw one 120 miles per hour or throw the greatest breaking ball ever, but he’s been able to fend off those urges, at least the past two years.”

So, what’s he got?

“He uses a four-seamer in the 88-91 mph range, with that 92+ capability on occasion, and an above-average change that I had in the 78-81 mph area. His breaking ball is a solid slider he’ll throw mostly to lefthanders, though he did use it to backdoor some right-handed bats.

“It looked like he was playing with a different heater in some starts, perhaps a two-seamer or a sinker of some sorts, but his command of that pitch was very ordinary. His overall control is above average and he’ll probably need to be aware of the base on balls in America.

“He gets most of his strikeouts on the change and the fastball up in the zone, and I suspect he’s going to continue that trend wherever he ends up. His ground ball tendencies aren’t heavy enough to think he can be considered even a mild version of a ground ball pitcher, and the best hitters in the world will get more lift on his pitches.”

What I saw of Igawa, mostly this year’s version, showed that he has no problem trying to bite off a righties’ toes with that slider, that sat in the 80-83 mph range. It also appears that he changes speeds – and planes – on it to give it more of a curve ball type appearance. The grades I have seen on the slider don’t match what I saw. I think his slider is a little bit better than he’s been given credit for, at least compared to what I have read and heard.

The scout is a 13-year veteran and has six years experience in Japan, Korea, China, some areas of Eastern Europe and has dabbled in the Latin Americas, too. His overall assessment of Igawa is very much along the the lines of what the Seattle Mariners need to be doing, and might very well be trying to execute.

“Kei is going to be a very good value to someone, and we have a lot of interest in him, too,” he said. “I know two other clubs in our division (NL Central) really think that way also, and the Dodgers, Mariners, Rangers and Angels have scouted him pretty extensively as well.

“He’s a fringe frontline guy, for me, somewhere between that innings eater at No. 4 and the occasional dominant start that good No. 3′s can display five or six times a year. Is he Mark Buehrle? He might be better, but that’s a decent comp. I liken him to guys like Wolf (Randy), Buehrle, or someone like Noah Lowry in style.

“I don’t expect his strikeout numbers to hold up, but I am going to recommend him as a legit No. 3/4, and I think if he’s paid that way it’s a solid get.”

Clubs vying for Igawa, as for Matsuzaka, do have to consider the posting fee when tabbing the talent’s value to their roster. For Seattle, is a $10 million posting fee and a three-year, $13 million contract a good investment on Kei Igawa? That’s three years and $23 million snaps, or nearly eight million smacks per season. That’s No. 2 starter money, and I was being fairly conservative on the above financials.

I say, if the Mariners, or any club can snag him for less than $10 mil posting and about $6 mil per season, it might be worth doing so. But that’s a big risk since he’s not the type of arm to lead your club to championships.

Looks like the Cubs, Orioles, Cardinals and Giants are all over him, too.

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29 Responses to “Scouting Report: Kei Igawa, LHP”

  1. Willmore said

    I’d take that. If Nintendo approves the 10 mil fee, and we’re only stuck with the salary for 3 years, it’s a worthy investment for a #4 guy. I also wouldn’t mind getting Randy Wolf on a 1 or 2 year deal with incentives; as a #5 with solid #4 potential. That will give us 3 competitive lefties for the bottom of the rotation (which will have to be #2-4 next year). This leaves room for an acquisition of a true TOR guy in the next 2 years to finish off the rotation and allows for a spot in the rotation to try out all the young whippersnappers we have in the minors from Fei to Blackley to Campillo and the rest. This also makes Washburn expendable in the eyes of Bavasi, which can’t hurt.

  2. marinerswinws said

    I hope we can get him and Schmit.

  3. I still haven’t heard a good arguement for getting Schmidt, which is why I changed my mind on him. Originally, I thought getting him on a three year deal where the club could front load the contract so it wouldn’t hurt as much if he crapped out in year three, that the team could benefit greatly in year one, possibly year two.

    But I just don’t have that much confidence in Schmidt, in the AL, at age 34, in year ONE.

  4. taro said

    Good stuff.

    I don’t like the Wasburn (who lives off an “unpredictable” cutting fastball that he’ll throw 80% of the time) or Buerhle (command pitcher) comps stylistically, but the raw scouting is pretty much spot on. Although Igawa is agressive (with very low BB rates in Japan) his command actually isn’t very good, and I feel it is likely that his BB/9 suffers more than his K/9 suffers (not that I expect 8+ K/9 rates from him in the MLB).

    “What I saw of Igawa, mostly this year’s version, showed that he has no problem trying to bite off a righties’ toes with that slider, that sat in the 80-83 mph range. It also appears that he changes speeds – and planes – on it to give it more of a curve ball type appearance. The grades I have seen on the slider don’t match what I saw. I think his slider is a little bit better than he’s been given credit for, at least compared to what I have read and heard.”

    Agreed. You can’t undersell the two power breaking pitches.

    Check out a second scouting report on Igawa:

    http://detectovision.com/?p=857

    Few more important factors covered in the POTD regarding Igawa:

    1) The early “novelty” factor with the changeup/fork
    2) His deception
    3) The shift from a power pitcher approach to a Zito like “keep them off balance” approach after losing some zip from his fastball a few years ago.
    4) The improvement Igawa’s breaking pitches are going to see in the transition from the NPB ball to the MLB ball (which is slicker and has higher seams). Especially look for improvement in the fork/change pitch.
    5) Igawa being most effective early on in his MLB career, especially in year one due mostly to 1-4 and then falling back to his true level once MLB hitters adjust to his attack patterns and the changeup.

  5. The posting process sucks, is unfair to all involved except the Japanese club, and should be abolished.

    Having said that, it is in place and therefore the M’s probably aren’t going to win the bid for Igawa either.

  6. Deanna said

    Well, if the MLB’s going to keep taking all the top talent out of the NPB, there’s got to be SOME way to compensate teams for it. The BlueWave posted Ichiro and ended up disappearing as a team four years later. Daiei opted to release Iguchi rather than post him, and ended up selling the team a year later. The current system may be broken, but if it weren’t in place, the NPB would collapse as their entire top half of talent ran off to the US, mostly to fill minor league benches.

    Anyway, this is a reasonably good evaluation of Igawa, as a #3-#4 starter. Of course, he probably doesn’t see himself that way, but whatever, maybe he wasn’t paying attention while he was being decimated by bottom-feeder teams this year either. On the other hand, if Hanshin only gets lowball bids, they might just say no to it… though to be fair, they might be one of the only teams in the NPB that *doesn’t* really need the money.

  7. Who gives a rats about the NPB? I don’t.

    Ok, I know YOU do, Deanna, and Japan does… and a lot of people follow it, but the system sucks ass and there is no other way to put it.

    The US teams get jacked around and it’s going to stop. 40 million? It’s insane and no, Seibu doesn’t DESERVE 40 mil for letting DM out of his deal a year before free agency. But the system dictates they can get that, so they will.

    If Japanese baseball is having financial issues, then they should take care of that on their own, rather than relying on SELLING their players to the United States’ clubs to help them operate.

    I already know MLB is not going to extend their agreement with NPB with the current process for at least a dozen reasons, and the unwritten reason is that it’s screwed up to begin with.

    The Japanese team should not lose all control by any means. But the bidding should not be sealed and once the NPB club has agreed to post the player, they should NOT have the right refuse the bid, which drives up the price.

    US players go to Japan all the time, and while it’s a little different because it’s never a superstar, but you don’t see some blind bidding system to net the M’s or Orioles or White Sox several million bucks to let Trot Nixon out of his contract.

    Lou Melendez, Moises Rodriguez and Bud Selig, among others, have already scratched out a list of changes they are going to insist on once the current agreement with the NPB is up after the 2008 season… and I wouldn’t be surprised if they took it up with the commissioner’s office in Japan before then.

    It’s bad for MLB baseball and ultimately it’s also bad for the NPB – they need posting fees to stay afloat? Really? Is that true in some cases? Ridiculous.

    I’m so glad the M’s didn’t bid on Matsuzaka, for more than the obvious reasons now.

    I really don’t care if pro Japanese baseball exists, because there will always be a talent pool over there and the US will always get their best, at some time or another.

  8. Haru said

    Jason, you wrote:

    “If Japanese baseball is having financial issues, then they should take care of that on their own, rather than relying on SELLING their players to the United States’ clubs to help them operate.”

    “US players go to Japan all the time, and while it’s a little different because it’s never a superstar, but you don’t see some blind bidding system to net the M’s or Orioles or White Sox several million bucks to let Trot Nixon out of his contract.”

    You are being a bit unfair to the NPB teams. My understanding is that when a NPB team acquires a US player, often the NPB team has to pay to the MLB team. I don’t know what the general rule is and don’t have the time to look for it, but take one case for an example.

    http://www.kevinmillar.net/

    “Kevin Millar played for the Marlins between 1998 and 2002, and was later sold to the Japanese Central League Chunichi Dragons. In order for the transaction to be completed, he first had to clear the waivers requested by the Marlins, but the Red Sox broke an unwritten rule and blocked the deal with a waiver claim. In an unprecedented deal brokered by MLB, the Marlins later repaid the money that the Dragons had paid for Millar, and the Sox also paid a similar sum to the Marlins in return for Millar.”

    According to a Japanese article (which I don’t cite here), Chunichi paid the Marlins $1.2 mil for Millar. So, it seems MLB teams sell their players to NPB teams and profit from them. And this doesn’t involve the blind bidding system. They can do that fully knowing which Japanese team is willing to pay how much. If it’s OK for MLB teams to make money this way, why shouldn’t a Japanese team be compensated unless the player is a FA? I do think that the posting system is flawed, but that doesn’t mean that NPB teams should let their non-FA players go to MLB teams without any return. They invest a lot of money to sign and develop these players.

  9. Jerry said

    Nice report Jason. It is good to get some information from solid sources. The projects that I have read on the internet previously had ranged between ridiculously optimistic to very very bleak.

    I like the idea of Igawa.

    He could be one of the rare good deals in this free agent pool.

    Get him signed, and it is one less thing to deal with this offseason.

  10. MtGrizzly said

    Meekly pointing out that given the inflationary nature of the market, $8 million/year may no longer be #2 starter money. Like it or not, veteran #3/4 guys are getting that now.

  11. Haro,
    The NPB team only pays a small amount to the US team to get a player under contract with a US team, and even though it’s usually fitting on a lower level talent, it’s NOT a blind bidding situation in order for the US team to get the big giant dollars.
    It’s quite different and incomparable.

  12. Oly Rainiers Fan said

    The NPB doesn’t want to be considered or treated as a minor league as compared to MLB. Whether that’s the case or not is besides the point; I’m talking about Japanese perception here. That’s why they have an agreement in the first place – so they don’t get raided continuously and left with zip. The Korean league has almost exactly the same type of agreement, involving the posting process.

    This posting process thing is some unholy combination of a trade (where the team that still owns the players contract dictates some of the terms, and the player dictates the rest of the terms on, essentially a contract extension) and a draft (where the player only gets to negotiate with ONE team – the team that won the bid – thereby allegedly diminishing the player’s ability to REALLY negotiate since his fallback is playing another year in the NPB).

    If Japan wants to be considered big league, then they should just trade. Trade just as if they were another team in MLB. Don’t do the blind posting crap, just shop your players around when they’re in the FA-1 walk year and see what the best deal you can get is. Yes, it may cut their posting fee a little for the big guys (since MLB teams have shown themselves to be insane when thrown into a blind auction situation) but it’d allow them to assert even more strongly that they are also a major league, and get needed revenue and/or even players in return for their investments in the player they’re sending over. Plus they wouldn’t be limited to this once per year restriction.

  13. Oly Rainiers Fan said

    One more thing.

    You can bitch about the Japanese agreement and/or the crazy free agent market all you want, but the bottom line is – it’s the MLB teams/owners/GMs that are doing the bidding in both. And it’s the bidding that drives the whole damn thing. If they could control themselves, neither thing would be as crazy as it is. Maybe THAT is what Selig should focus on, instead of just trying to attack the symptoms.

  14. Haru said

    Jason,

    You are missing the point. You may not care about some small market MLB teams (say Kansas City), but it would be unfair if the big market teams (say Yankees or Mets) could grab their best players (say Beltran several years ago) before the said players become free agents. Personally, I don’t care that much about NPB teams, just like I don’t care about Kansas City Royals. But, whether you intended or not, what you wrote sounded quite arrogant. It is just unfair. If that’s not what you intend, spelling someone’s name correctly may be a good start.

    Also, I wouldn’t call fees in the range of $1 million that NPB teams pay to MLB teams small amounts. Sure, that’s not camparable to what Orix got from Seattle for Ichiro or what Seibu will get for Matsuzaka. But that happens more regularly and MLB teams do make money out of it. How many Japanese teams have made profit outs of the posting system so far? And do you know how much Padres paid when Otsuka was posted? It was $300,000. The Matsuzaka story is getting crazy only because there are teams willing to pay big money.

    I’m not a fan of the posting system. But NPB teams should get something in return when their players go to MLB, just like MLB teams get something when they sell their players to NPB teams.

  15. Deanna said

    The fact is, the MLB destroying the NPB would pretty much be like them destroying the Negro Leagues. Now, while there’s a big difference here — NL fans could still go see their favorite local players play in the big league games (provided they felt like sitting in “special” seating sections) and it was a segregation within the same country, while NPB fans have to either fly to America or watch on TV at crazy hours to see their players — you’d be pretty much destroying a league with a history of over 70 years, which is a symbol of national pride for Japan. I can’t imagine what Tokyo would be like without Yomiuri Giants crap everywhere, or Osaka without the Hanshin Tigers. Just think what it’d be like if the MLB disappeared from America.

    The reason they don’t and can’t do direct trades is because there’s a limit to the number of foreigners on the roster. Why? Because people don’t want to go to the park to see a whole bunch of non-Japanese AAA rejects from the MLB, they go to the park to see Japanese players play. Hence, the reason why it’s somewhat comparable to the Negro Leagues, in that the talent pool isn’t as replenishable as you’d think.

    I’m pretty sure that destroying the NPB would be bad for the MLB and for Japan as a nation. If you disagree, I suggest going to a game in Japan and talking to some of the people, and then maybe you’ll understand.

  16. Willmore said

    Jason, while the system is tilted towards the NPB, it’s not because the posting system. The posting system is simply a sale of a player by one club to another, but with an intermediary in the MLB office. It’s a common practice in almost any sport outside the US to pay cash to teams and in return receive the right to negotiate with the player. Nothing wrong with that.

    What is wrong is that the NPB player is forcibly kept by his club without a chance to get out of a contract and move to a different place of employment. The players are controlled by the club for 10 yeas (or is it 8, I’m not sure) which is similar to the MLB’s 6 years of club control, but I don’t like it either. This system limits the choice of a player to choose his place of employment and is probably against some law or another. And don’t get me started on the baseball monopoly …

    Anyway, the system is fair under the current rules and regulations, because the team isn’t selling the player, it’s selling the right to his contract. If some stupid team decides to pay an exorbitant amount of money for it, it’s their fault.

  17. Oly Rainiers Fan said

    I read an article recently, by a law student in some law journal, talking about possible antitrust challenges to the posting system – and that the Japanese players’ organization would have the best chance to buck it, under Japanese law, since yes, as Willmore says, it is unfair to the player. IIRC, the student was saying that moves were starting to be made from the Japanese players. And I read some other articles recently that talked about how this posturing by Boras will impact the NPB. Currently they post in FA-1, Boras’s moves with regard to DM may start forcing them to post earlier, in FA-2, in order to try to get some return on their players, other than, their play of course.

    But, signing Japanese players for 8-10 years isn’t really any more or less unfair than the reserve system in MLB is (or rather, the reserve system as it still exists in the minor leagues). Minor leaguers are signed for 7 years. If they’re Latin American, it could be for as much as 10 years (since time spent in the DSL/VSL isn’t counted towards minor league service, so they can spend an extra 3 years under contract there).

  18. cujo said

    I wouldnt touch this guy for free.

  19. Just heard the M’s signed Rey Ordonez to a minor league deal? Any chance he makes the big league club as a utility player?

  20. Orlandu said

    So, is it true that the Mariners won’t be bidding for Igawa?

  21. Oly Rainiers Fan said

    One of the newspaper articles (I think the Times, but I already read the P-I and TNT so it could be those also) stated flat out that owner Yamauchi had let the front-office know he had zero interest in bidding on Igawa. The rest of the article was all about pursuing more pitchers the more traditional route…

    Of course, they’re gonna cost a fortune. The TNT had an article just telling us to do the math – that 28 of the 30 teams want starting pitching, most of them more than 1 starting pitcher. And they’re just not out there, so the ones that are will be extremely pricey. (It also reported the Dodgers are the current frontrunners for Schmidt).

    And in the saddest news I saw today: Pat Gillick signed scout Charley Kerfield to a 2 year deal in Philly. I hated when that guy left our organization, and sure would have loved to seen him back here.

  22. Willmore said

    The Matsuzaka signing is not the end of the world. It’s similar to transfer fees in football (soccer to the yanks). Take for example Chelsea, an English club owned by a Russian billionaire. Of the 11 starters, just one is a product of their farm system. The other 10 were transfered in. Transfers are like trades – they buy out contract rights, but then the player negotiates a new contract. The total transfer fee paid for the 10 starters is 133.45 million pounds or roughly 255 dollars. One player cost about 46 million dollars. That does not count the salary these guys are paid, which is often on par with MLB salaries.

    This system is probably the fairest towards the clubs and players. As not only does it reward teams for not holding down their players, it also allows players to be paid what they are worth. I bet T.O. wishes he was a footballer right about now.

    The Matsuzaka bid only seems unfair in that it was closed and in that it seems abnormal in the MLB environment, but in the wide scheme of things, it’s just a big trade, nothing more. If the trade was Matsuzaka for Sexson, no one would bat an eyebrow, yet Sexson is probably close to a 50 mil value to the club.

  23. Sneekes said

    #21 Both last year and this free agent pitchers reap the reward of their relative scarcity. So at what point does the current ‘inflated’ rate for starting pitchers become the norm?
    If all the other teams are prepared to pay $11m pa for a #3/4 starter – then that becomes the going rate – if the M’s refuse to accept it then how do they acquire starters? The Oakland way?
    I’m not saying we should just accept it and shell out for Lilly and Suppan – but I really don’t know what the answer is – doing nothing doesn’t get us in the playoffs.

    #22 Spot on Willmore. The problem with the football (soccer) transfer system though is that it reduces meaningful competition to 3 or 4 clubs. It is true that in the EPL any club can beat another on a given day – but it’s also true that there have only 3 different winners in the last 11 years, 4 in the last 14

  24. If you have two starters of equal proven ability (let’s call them Jake Woods and Ted Lilly) why would you sign one for 3/27 when you already have the other?

    Spend the money on more consistently performing talent (offense) and have a value biased rotation.

    Heck since Washburn has more value as the market explodes, deal him for prospects or offense.

    Washburn to Houston for Chris Burke and some low level pitchers.

    Sign JD Drew (4/44), Sign Nomar (2/20)

  25. Baseballistic said

    Good luck signing Nomar for 2yrs 20Mil. He’s worth a little more in the salary department in this market — just a little…

  26. fine, my point is that with a Felix and the Farm rotation you can afford as much offense as you want. Since the FA pitchers aren’t really that much better than the Farm, go with the bats who have a little less variation in performance.

  27. Bringback#24 said

    F.Hernandez ,J.Schmidt,J.Washburn,T.Ohka,C.Baek. Like it or not that is your 07 opening night rotation.

  28. DougD said

    Agree with the scouting report to a point. He is a strikeout lefty due to the two plus pitches, which is generally rare. On the other hand, he gives up way way way too many homers and that will not translate well to the US.

    I think a better comp is Eric Milton, only with all those miles on his arm already, perhaps a 30-year old Milton, rather than a 27-year old version. I’d expect the Yankees to end up disappointed for all that money that could have bought other options.

  29. Potrod said

    I guess I’m a bit late but might as well give my opinion anyway…

    90 MPH fastball, decent changeup, a decent slider and a comparison with Jarrod Washburn doesn’t sound too promising to me. He seems like he COULD be a decent 3/4 starter, but I get the feeling his transition is going to be a bit more rocky. He walks far fewer than the 2 big Japanese failures, Ishii and Irabu, but the claim that he had “very low BB rates” in Japan is very questionable; he averaged about 60 walks a season, which I estimate is about average, maybe a little better than average (that’s about what Washburn does in the states). Looking at mlb.com’s stats, 60 would put him at right about #50 for the most walks in the majors, which isn’t bad, but not David Wells-like control. The comparison to Jarrod Washburn is also worrying because Washburn pitches in the AL West, not the AL East.

    As for the posting system, even though it sucks for the American team and (to some extent) the player, it, or something like it, is definitely necessary. Most teams in the NPB are already supposedly heavily subsidized by their parent companies. While some of the problems they face can be taken care of internally, like the idiotic clustering of teams around 2 cities (which they already seem to be trying to fix with the Nippon-Ham Fighters moving to Hokkaido), taking away their top players without any compensation is a problem that could potentially devastate them, and would create a problem that they could NOT solve internally (other than by reinstating a posting system). People who hate the posting system have to look at the big picture. The promotion of baseball worldwide is key in advancing the game, and completely ignoring the needs of baseball abroad, and being unwilling to make some sacrifices to advance the game, is somewhat selfish in my opinion.

    And having a system where Japan freely traded with American teams is probably not feasible because I imagine a lot of American players would be unwilling to make the large culture shift to Japan. While I think I would welcome a stint in the NPB if I were a player (sounds like a nice little adventure), I can understand why a lot of players probably wouldn’t want to go across the entire globe to a totally foreign country to live half the year.

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