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.