Braves Finish Rotation

Today was a day of finalizations for Atlanta as Kenshin Kawakami passed his physical and was announced and Derek Lowe‘s signing became sufficiently official. We’ve covered Derek Lowe in pretty substantial detail prior, so suffice to say that his reported 4-year, $60 million contract is right around market value. Not too bad for the Braves who, after losing Smoltz, needed to bring in another man for the rotation.

But who is Kenshin Kawakami? The Braves have the right-hander signed for his age 34-6 seasons at an apparent cost of about $24 million, meaning that as a starter, the Braves are valuing him as a roughly two-win pitcher, akin to about Oliver Perez‘s projection for the same time frame.

Kawakami throws a fastball around 88mph, relying on command of the outer part of the plate. He also has a big loopy overhand curveball that clocks in around the high 60s. A cut fastball around 85mph completes his repertoire. Kawakami’s throwing motion will remind some of Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s though without Daisuke’s trademark hip thrust during his pause when his hands are at their peak altitude.

It will be important to see how Kawakami’s curveball, a big weapon for him to change the hitter’s eye level and disrupt their timing, given the vast difference in speed from his fastballs, reacts to the slightly bigger baseball used in America. If he’s unable to make that transition smoothly, it could prevent him from being effective out of the rotation.

Combined with the breakout, but still speculative, Jorge Campillo, the emerging youngster Jair Jurrjens and the often under rated Javier Vazquez, the Braves have built themselves a rotation that could end up solid top to bottom or could flame out in several spots.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

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As it relates to Kawakami, may his impressive K/BB ratio (1328 to 321 over 1642 innings) be a product of a larger strike zone in Japan? I’m not an expert on the NPL, but to my eyes their strike zone looks quite spacious. It seems like for him that would be a pretty big deal, as his stuff doesn’t look to be more than league average at best.