According to Jon Paul Morosi, the Orioles have signed 30-year-old Japanese free agent Tsuyoshi Wada to a two-year, $8.15 million contract with an option for 2014. Though the left-handed Wada isn’t a well-known name or a young prospect, and he has flaws that may keep him from being a great starter in the American League, there are a few mitigating factors that make the deal interesting.
First, since he doesn’t have a player page, let’s represent his statistics here for your perusal. The ERA- numbers are thanks to league ERA supplied by Brian Cartwright, and the rest of the numbers are thanks to JapaneseBaseballPlayers.com.
It’s a good resume, but not great, especially if you ignore his 2011 numbers. And last season carried with it a rather larger asterisk. Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) switched to a new ball, and the league ERA plummeted to 3.01. Sure, his ERA- was also the best of his career, and the ball was meant to be more like the American ball (heavier and with wider seams), but it’s still folly to get too excited about that number when the entire league was adjusting to new equipment.
Thanks to Patrick Newman’s NPBTracker, we can take a look at his arsenal visually.
Not quite Yu Darvish. He didn’t once crack 90 MPH last year — that one rogue dot actually registered an 89.97 on the gun if we want to be sticklers about it. He doesn’t really have a ten MPH difference between his fastball and his changeup, and his curve seems to be erratic. The forkball might be effective, but he doesn’t seem to love it. He’s been described as mostly a fastball/slider/change guy that depends on movement and location to keep batters off balance.
All of this paints a picture of a guy without a great deal of stuff. Patrick Newman felt something similar: “He’s a bit of a nibbler.”
And you have to add in some questions about durability. The 5’10”, 170-pound Wada has had cartilage surgery on his left elbow and missed half of 2009 with issues in the same joint, and never went far into games to begin with. In 2010, he averaged about six and a half innings per start, and last year, that number was just above seven. If he’s going to be a starter in the American League, he might not last six innings most days, a sentiment Newman agreed with.
So the Orioles gave a roster spot and $8 million to a 30-year-old pitcher with less-than-exciting stuff and durability issues? What is there to like about the deal then.
For one, some of these faults may not be as bad as they seem. Even after he missed time in 2009 with his elbow problems, he came back to put up one of the best seasons of his career in 2010. And even though he’s older, he’s also managed to keep his pitch counts down. His lower innings totals can be seen as a sign that he’s not ready for 200 innings, or they can be seen as a sign that he doesn’t have as many miles on his arm.
Also, Wada is known to be a ‘student of the game’ type. He studies scouting reports before every game and perhaps that has helped him cut his home runs every year in the league (down to 11 in 2010 from 26 in his rookie year according to Randy Fuller on NPBTracker).
But most importantly, the number — $8.15 million over two years — means that there are all sorts of ways that Wada can be productive for the Orioles.
Even if he ends up a reliever, he has a chance to return more than a win and a half over the next two years. 63 relievers have managed that feat, including some relievers that are somewhere between spot starter, long reliever and LOOGY status like Phil Coke. In a market place that awarded 32-year-old two-pitch reliever Jeremy Affeldt with a $5 million contract for the next season, Wada’s deal can’t be seen as terrible. And Koji Uehara shows that a Japanese reliever with a sub-90 MPH fastball and some durability issues has an even higher ceiling (2.7 WAR since 2010) than that.
And then, of course, there’s the chance that he can be even a league-average starter for 150 innings a year. Of the 74 pitchers that have put in 300 innings since 2010, only two — Bronson Arroyo and Nick Blackburn — failed to put up a win and a half.
We haven’t quite figured out our translations for the Japanese league, and the new ball just put a wrench in that process. But when you spend $8.1 million over two years (with a team option to boot), and have a pitcher that could be anything from a LOOGY to a serviceable starter, you’ve covered your bases. This deal is more likely to be a boon than a bane in Baltimore.