Kawakami Deserves an MLB Roster Spot

Kenshin Kawakami began the season in the Braves rotation, but by July injuries and ineffectiveness left him by the wayside. On Saturday, the Braves officially removed him from their 40-man roster, outrighting the 35-year-old righthander to AA Mississippi. With Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor, and Kris Medlen all available, Kawakami didn’t appear to stand a chance of starting the season in the Braves’ rotation. Instead of using Kawakami out of the pen, the Braves will instead attempt to move him, most likely back to his homeland of Japan.

Kawakami is certainly capable of producing the kind of value that his $6.67 million contract calls for in the MLB. In nearly 250 MLB innings, Kawakami has struck out 164 batters (6 per 9) and walked 89 (3 per 9). He doesn’t have any particular struggles with hits (just over one per inning) or home runs (just over one per nine innings). Naturally, then, Kawakami has a roughly average 4.26 FIP and 2.5 WAR in his short Major League career. Despite the solid peripherals, though, Kawakami has had poor results. His ERA is only 4.32 but was an abysmal 5.15 in 2010, and in both seasons he just couldn’t rack up wins. 2009 saw a 7-12 record despite a sub-4.00 ERA, and not even a 5.15 ERA suggests a 1-10 record as happened in 2010.

As win-loss record is a team statistic, Kawakami shouldn’t be blamed for his poor marks in that ledger.┬ábut is there any reason for us to consider his ballooned 5.15 ERA as a warning sign? It doesn’t appear so, as his peripheral numbers were almost exactly the same. The main differences were typical signs of random variation: his BABIP increased and his LOB% percentage took a dive. Just from the numbers, there’s little reason to believe that Kawakami is a fundamentally different or worse pitcher. His fastball was down slightly but still hovered around 90 miles per hour, and his contact rates and batted ball rates were similar as well.

From the sounds of Mark Bowman’s report (linked in the first paragraph), the Japanese teams vying for Kawakami’s services are willing to take on some of the $6.67M owed by the Braves. That means that Kawakami won’t come free if a MLB team decides to jump in on the bidding. But there’s an exceeding chance that Kawakami will improve that team’s roster. CHONE projections suggest that Kawakami should be worth a win and a half above replacement. In that case, a team with exceptional need at SP or at a particularly critical point on the win curve should be willing to take on a large portion of Kawakami’s contract to add his talents to their roster.




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17 Responses to “Kawakami Deserves an MLB Roster Spot”

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  1. balagast says:

    While I generally agree Kawakami could still be a serviceable pitcher, there are some signs that would indicate his rise in ERA is slightly justified. One thing I notice is that his LD% increased from 18.8% to 22.3%. If he’s giving up more hard hit balls, the increase in BABIP makes some sense.

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  2. harpago17 says:

    As a Braves fan, I’d like to ask that the send a link of this article to the other 29 front offices in MLB. Make us an offer. Any offer.

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    • Mr. Sanchez says:

      But what makes no sense harpago is as the writer says. The guy has been solid. He’s not a winner apparently, but he is as good as most of the guys battling for spots at the end of a rotation for all but say the Giants, Rays, White Sox and a couple others. Considering the Braves appear very willing to accept minor league filler if anything, and send cash to cover his salary along with him, why haven’t more GMs taken a chance on him? He could work well in Safeco, and the M’s need help on the back end of their staff. He could certainly start for the Pirates, Royals, among others. So why is he getting blackballed by everyone?

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      • Raf says:

        I don’t know if he’s being blackballed, but it’s interesting the way this is being handled. The Yankees have also had interest in Kei Igawa, who hasn’t been on their 40 man roster for a couple of years now, but they haven’t moved him for whatever reason.

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  3. nobody says:

    “With Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor, and Kris Medlen all available…”

    Medlen will be recovering from Tommy John for most of the season.

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  4. Bronnt says:

    Honestly, the Braves have generally mismanaged Kawakami at every opportunity. They should be looking to him to fill an opening in the rotation at the beginning of the year so that they can send Minor back to AAA, whose velocity dipped in his last few starts while he adjusted to a first full season with a professional workload. Kawakami really should be a better option than Brandon Beachy, who throws a really flat fastball.

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    • Anon21 says:

      How is sending Minor back to AAA supposed to help with fatigue-related velocity problems from last season? He’s probably a better starter than Kawakami, and if he performs in spring training, he should get the #5 spot. I agree that the Braves have mismanaged Kawakami, but at this point he really is the 6th-best (healthy) starter in the organization.

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      • Bronnt says:

        Because in AAA, you can do a better job of regulating his workload and pitch count without it having an effect on the competitive level of the major league team. That’s why I would send Minor to the minors. It shouldn’t really require an explanation.

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      • Anon21 says:

        If it is fatigue-related, then the offseason should give him the chance to get back to form. And if he’s at his best, he’s probably better than Kawakami. Which means he should start the season with the major league club. If he should start to run out of steam again further into the season (hardly guaranteed, given that last year was his first full professional season), you can send him down then.

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  5. gdc says:

    Kawakawakawakami lemon, he comes and goes…

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  6. chuckb says:

    The only red flag I see is the relatively low ground ball rate. That might scare off potential suitors as it may be a harbinger of an increase in his home run rate. If he’s not striking batters out and he’s not getting ground balls, he’s going to give up some homers.

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  7. deadpool says:

    Exactly, the list if guys who are gonna be better next year that the Braves have available is a long one. They’ve got 4 better starters straight up, then Minir and Beachy, then Medlen when he comes back. Wasting a 40 man on Kawakami is counterproductive, but other teams no that, so they actually have the leverage. One way or another the league gets a shot at him (mostly cause I don’t bye the back to japan angle).

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  8. JoeS says:

    Honestly surprised the Cubs, Dodgers, and Orioles aren’t interested. Seems like he’d be a solid fit for any of them.

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    • Bronnt says:

      It would be good for them. The Braves have bottomed out KK’s trade value by basically refusing to utilize him after they sent him to the bullpen in July. Anyone willing to pay most of his contract should be able to get him for a fringe prospect.

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  9. blwfish says:

    Did any of you folks actually see him pitch this past summer? He wasn’t just ineffective, he was obviously ineffective and everybody knew what was coming. It can’t all be McCann’s fault – KK was the one throwing the pitches. KK was certainly a lot more effective than his 1-10 start reflected but that 5.15 ERA definitely reflects the confidence in him that the Braves management and fans have.

    I suspect that something else happened in the clubhouse, too. Bobby Cox was well known for sticking with his players through a season even when they were pretty obviously past the certainly effective point. (See for example Greg Norton in 2009, and there have been many others over the years.) So when Bobby Cox sent KK to the bullpen and just left him there, one has to wonder just what happened. Cox hadn’t let an MLB player sit on the roster for at least ten years that I can remember.

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  10. Jaik Jarrkjens says:

    If I remember correctly, the Braves attempted to assign Kawakami to the minors in order to keep him stretched out, so that he’d be available to fill in for an injured starter, but he refused the assignment for a while at first before eventually agreeing to go. He seemed to fall out of favor with Cox and the rest of the organization after that. I’m not sure if “A” necessarily led to “B,” here, but if the team really did sour on Kawakami because he refused to go down to the minors at first, then it sure seems petty and wasteful for the Braves to go so far as to pay another team to take their reasonably-priced, league-average starter, especially considering that with Medlen guaranteed to be out for most of the 2011 season, the team’s starting depth won’t be quite as strong as it was this past season.

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