Yankees Signing of Okajima Isn’t Flushing Money Down the Toilet

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, Uncategorized, World Series

Hideki Okajima is exactly the type of signing a team in the hunt for a lefty specialist should make.

The Yankees signed the former Red Sox lefty to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Okajima was a find for the Red Sox based on luck, but he turned out to be an excellent reliever—and not just a lefty specialist—from 2007 through 2010. His performance in 2010 was subpar, but he had several injuries that hindered him. He spent much of 2011 in the minor leagues.

The saga of Okajima and how he wound up with the Yankees is a cautionary tale that the Yankees have clearly learned something from.

The Red Sox signed Okajima because he was lefty and that he was their bigger name acquisition Daisuke Matsuzaka’s friend, but he became an important cog in their bullpen until last season.

On the other side of the equation, the Yankees spent $8 million on Pedro Feliciano to be their lefty specialist and Feliciano didn’t throw one pitch for the Yankees in 2011 because of a shoulder injury; he had rotator cuff surgery in September and is trying to come back in 2012, but his career is in jeopardy. If the Yankees get anything from Feliciano next year, they’ll be lucky.

Luck. Again.

The same sort of luck that brought Okajima to the Red Sox was evident on the opposite end of the spectrum with the Yankees and Feliciano.

For years, the Yankees had watched Feliciano function as an effective workhorse for the crosstown Mets and signed him based on the need to get out the likes of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Hamilton.

One of the main reasons the Yankees signed him was because of his known durability; that’s why it was so absurd that Yankees GM Brian Cashman, in an act of self-preservation and shifting of the blame for Flushing (see what I did there?) $8 million down the tubes, dropped Feliciano’s injury on the doorstep of Citi Field and the Mets by using the term “abused” in discussing the pitcher’s past workload.

Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen came out swinging at the allegation with the perfect reply: “They didn’t know that when they signed him?”

Warthen also added that the Mets monitored Feliciano and that the pitcher always wanted the ball; in fact, he wanted to pitch more.

It quieted down quickly.

This all could’ve been avoided had the Yankees decided that a cheaper alternative like Randy Choate would’ve been at least as effective as Feliciano and gone in that direction rather than overspending for a luxury item.

Or they could’ve just signed someone’s friend and gotten lucky.

That would work just as well.

The one issue I can see is if Okajima is ineffective or injured, the Yankees won’t be able to blame the Mets. But if that happens, they’re not going to be paying the pitcher $8 million for nothing, so it’s a wash. And a cheap one at that.

//

Advertisements

Get Yu Darvish

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

I had prepared to write about how pitchers from Japan have a small margin for error and terrible history, especially when the hype-machine is so stifling that no one could possibly succeed. That history with the likes of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Irabu should make clubs reticent about the astronomical posting bids for the right to even negotiate with them. In addition to that, the number of pitchers who arrived without the media exposure and did well—Hideo Nomo, Hideki Okajima—should give greater pause before going all in with cash and expectations.

Part of my argument was intended to be centered around the same teams that passed on Aroldis Chapman being after the latest hot commodity, Yu Darvish.

I still don’t know how Chapman wound up with the Reds and not the Yankees or Red Sox—he was the real deal before he signed and is the real deal now.

But after looking at video clips of Darvish, he’s going to be a dominating pitcher in the big leagues.

His motion combines the height and ball-hooking quirkiness of Rick Sutcliffe; the deception and charisma of Tim Lincecum; and the leg drive and finish of David Cone.

Watching Darvish in the video below, you see the similarities to Sutcliffe.

Sutcliffe was 6’7″, had a set of mechanics that no pitching coach in his right mind would teach, but were actually technically perfect in terms of balance and usage of both arms and intimidating size. The hooking of the wrist toward the forearm is said to be bad for the elbow, but that’s the way he threw; sometimes it does more damage to alter a natural motion that it would be to try and fix it; in some cases, it’s the oddity that makes them effective.

Darvish turns his back to the hitter similarly to Lincecum, he collapses he back leg to load up for the drive to the plate, and uses a leverage-based torque to generate power. The difference being he’s doing it at 6’5″ while Lincecum is (supposedly) 5’11”.

Cone was listed at 6’1″; was actually around 5’11” and threw everything at the hitter from a variety of arm angles; Darvish is said to throw a wide array of pitches including the conventional 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs; a wicked off-speed curve; a forkball; and a slider.

Here’s Cone as he’s just about to release:

And here’s Darvish:

I would totally ignore the results against against Japanese hitters—that’s a mistake that’s repeatedly made in trying to translate the success from Japan to North America. It’s happened not only with the above-mentioned pitchers who didn’t work out as hoped, but with hitters like Tsuyoshi Nishioka who was played up as a batting champion when he signed with the Twins and was a disaster.

With his unique heritage of an Iranian father and Japanese mother; a clear love of the spotlight; and the goods to back it up, Darvish is going to come to the big leagues and be a sensation.

The teams that miss out on him due to being gun-shy after prior errors are going to regret it. He’ll be a devastating force as a big league pitcher.

//

This…Is…Dice-K!!

Books, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

Toss out Eric Ortiz’s statement that Daisuke Matsuzaka might be the “best no. 5 starter ever” as the rantings of an overly-excited and delusional Red Sox fan who happens to have a forum on NESN.

Even disregard out those who call Dice-K “Dice-BBBB” because of his penchant for walking people.

His performances in his first two starts are not isolated incidents. This is what he is.

He pitched serviceably in his first start against the Indians; he was about as bad as bad gets last night against the Rays; it won’t be a surprise if he pitches a near no-hitter in his next start; then starts the consistently inconsistent process all over again.

Matsuzaka is proof that statistics alone don’t tell the story. Examining his numbers without knowing the whole story and you’d think, “Hey, why’s everyone rip this guy? His numbers—apart from the walks—are pretty good.”

He strikes out a good number of hitters; he doesn’t allow many hits in comparison to innings-pitched; doesn’t give up many homers.

But his control is all over the place; he racks up ridiculous pitch counts in the early innings and has benefited—record-wise—by pitching for one of the best teams in baseball.

He’s not good.

When he pitches well there’s a tendency to disbelieve it; to think that he’s three pitches away from giving up 8 runs, as physically impossible as that seems. This is it. It’s not going to get any better nor is it likely to get much worse.

Accept it.

I’m not versed in the amount of ancillary moneys the Matsuzaka signing has brought in to the Red Sox. It’s possible that the expansion into the Japanese market and acquisition of Hideki Okajima (who helped them greatly in winning the 2007 World Series) has offset the posting money, contract and aggravation Matsuzaka has caused, but don’t look at the numbers as a universal truth when assessing Matsuzaka. Look at the pitcher on the whole.

And on the whole, he’s not good.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

I’ve started a Facebook fan page. It’s a work in progress.

//