Stop Sleeping on Hisashi Iwakuma

While he’s thrown over 1,000 innings in Japan and almost 350 in a two-year span here in the United States, Hisashi Iwakuma still seems to be one of the best kept secrets in both real and fantasy baseball. You could blame it on the lack of attention given to the small market that is the Pacific Northwest, but King Felix sure commands everyone’s attention and I’ve heard many a conversation about young, talented pitching that always seems to garner a Taijuan Walker reference. He’s done nothing but dominate hitters since joining the Mariners rotation midway through the 2012 season and despite finishing third in the American League in ERA amongst qualified starters, he seems to get passed over faster than your Aunt Susie’s Jell-O mold she brings to Christmas dinner every year. Is it a lack of knowledge by the masses? A lack of trust? Whatever the case may be, don’t fall in line with the lemmings. Sleeping on Iwakuma this year means that you’re going to blow a golden opportunity in your draft to steal high-end talent a a seriously discounted rate.

I’ve already done a number of mock drafts this season, many of which will be used by web sites and magazines for their 2014 draft kits. And while most experts will tell you to wait on pitching we always see a handful of them cherry-picking names like Kershaw, Darvish, Wainwright and Verlander throughout the first four or five rounds. Why? Because when you’re playing in a competitive league, everyone knows the depths of the starting pitching pool. Everyone knows that, not only can you wait for the later rounds to build your staff, but that most people will. Therefore, “stealing” an ace in the third or fourth round actually makes sense.

But in all of these mock drafts I’ve done, Iwakuma has never gone higher than the eighth round. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a 12-team league or a 15-team league, the eighth seems to be where he’s going. Now obviously, if a guy like Kershaw doesn’t go until the second and a guy like Darvish doesn’t go until the third, possibly even fourth, then the eighth probably doesn’t seem so low. However, when you see names like Shields, Greinke and Minor going ahead of him, it kind of makes you scratch your head and wonder what’s up.

If you get a chance to go back and read Michael Barr’s Iwakuma piece from back in June, you’d be scratching your head too. Barr does mention the shoulder issues that Iwakuma has had in the past, but so far now, through two years of MLB, there have been no signs of a problem. Worrying about Iwakuma’s shoulder right now seems to be no different than worrying about Wainwright’s arm. Or Stasburg’s. Or Sale’s. On a scale of one to Dravecky, my level of concern for Iwakuma hovers around a two or three.

But overall, what Barr’s piece tells you is that Iwakuma is an incredibly talented pitcher who not only has great stuff, but the intelligence and guile to out-think many of the hitters he is facing. Last season’s 7.58 K/9 was an improvement from the year before, but it doesn’t have the gusto of the rates of guys like Scherzer or Jose Fernandez. However, put it alongside his walk rate ad compare his K/BB to many of those other names and suddenly there are very few who outshine him. He has incredible command and he has it over four (almost five) very effective pitches he can throw. He gets ahead in the count often and once you fall behind, he gives you very little opportunity to get back into the at-bat.

And there are obviously plenty of other things to love about his game. His home park is a pitcher’s haven and concerns of traveling to hitters’ parks on the road are quietly assuaged by his high ground ball rates and last season’s 2.45 road ERA (2.86 at home). The Mariners have made some serious adjustments to the lineup so run support isn’t likely to be as big an issue as it was in the past, and their defense behind him should be improved as well. He’ll hit his bumps in the road that every starter runs into, but overall, the results should again be top-flight. And best  of all, again, the price on draft day should be more than right.

No need to jump too early as the marquee names will always fly off the board faster, but don’t wait too long because there are definitely going to be a few of your competitors champing at the bit, waiting to grab him. The eighth rounds seems to be where it’s at right now so grab him when the right opportunity presets itself. The third-round level of production you’ll get will make you happy you did.

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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site,, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at

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0 to dravecky. great line.