Hisashi Iwakuma Mixes and Matches

I’ll admit that I’m poorly versed in international baseball. I’ll also admit that I saw exactly zero of Korea or Japan’s first round games. Boxscores and second-hand reports were my only source of knowledge. Naturally, actually seeing and having data on these players has been one of the more rewarding parts of the tournament, at least for me, but imagine my surprise when ESPN flashed the Japan lineup and has a player named Hisashi Iwakuma playing second base instead of Akinori Iwamura, and yet Iwakuma had a Rays logo next to his name. Two thoughts came to mind:

“Wow, Andrew Friedman is sneaky.”
“Check the roster online, stupid.”

Now the Japan team did have a player named Iwakuma, but ESPN had incorrectly identified him for Iwamura since Iwakuma is a pitcher. After his game against Cuba, it’s safe to say he looks like a pretty good pitcher. Iwakuma started the game with a low-90’s fastball for a called strike and over the next nine Iwakuma threw a slider, curve, slider, change, change, fastball, fastball, fastball, and slider. That’s doing a good job of mixing pitches.

Iwakuma generated five swinging strikes and a 7:1 groundout to flyout ratio while cruising through 6 innings on 69 pitches. The most impressive thing remained how Iwakuma rotated through his pitches efficiently, using five pitches – each at least 10% of the time. 33% fastballs, 15% changes, 28% sliders, 13% curves, and 10% splitters. Iwakuma’s five swinging strikes came with these sequences:

Frederich Cepeda: first pitch change, next pitch fastball.

Ariel Pestano: second pitch splitter after a first pitch slider in the dirt, next pitch fastball.

Leslie Anderson: second, third, and seventh pitches, after a first pitch splitter, then a slider, then a change, next pitch was a fastball, then three consecutive splitters.

Iwakuma repeated pitches at least twice in a row only 21 times, three times in a row once, and four times in a row once. Either Iwakuma freestyles on the mound or his catcher, Kenji Johjima, loves mixing things up. Given Felix Hernandez obsession with his fastball, I’m going to start calling Iwakuma “Andre 3000”.

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13 years ago

Iwakuma has been the only Japanese Starter ive seen from Japan, besides DiceK and wow he was very impressive. He could easily step into a MLB starting rotation spot. Just the late sinking movement on his fastball alone would be enough to punish MLB hitters – not to mention, as you’ve pointed out, his excellent mixing and command of his different pitches. It’s easy to see how this guy won the Japanese Cy Young over Darvish.