On September 28, ESPN reported that Los Angeles Dodgers assistant general manager Logan White was in Japan to scout Softbank’s lefty starter, Tsuyoshi Wada. This makes the Dodgers the latest to have checked in on the impending free agent, a list that reportedly includes the Yankees, Cubs, Rays and Mariners. Wada’s free agent status should only help his market prospects; since he won’t have to go through the posting process, there won’t be the contract fiasco we saw with Daisuke Matsuzaka, or that we expect to see with Yu Darvish. Wada’s track record in NPB, the WBC, and the Olympics affords him a solid negotiating position.
Background & Pitching
Wada was an ace and strikeout machine through his career at the esteemed Waseda University. He signed as a pre-draft pick with the (then Daiei) Hawks, earned a spot in the starting rotation his rookie year, and hasn’t looked back. His strikeout abilities have translated to the professional level, and he’s consistently been a top-end starter throughout his NPB career. Wada depends mostly on his fastball and slider, but will also drop in a change up at times. While most strike out pitchers are flame throwers, Wada tends to work in the mid to high ‘80’s. He can reach back and get to the low ‘90’s when he needs to, but location, movement, and changing speeds are where he makes his money. Wada is also known as a diligent student of the game by tracking scouting reports on all of the teams and players he faces. To his detriment, Wada has built a reputation for the occasional mistake pitch that gets launched into the outfield bleachers. However, his home run totals have dropped every year from 26 in his rookie year of 2003, to 11 in 2010.
Get a look at Wada’s mechanics here.
Wada has strong statistical track record to recommend him. He’s shown to be a durable starter over the last 9 seasons who averages a little under one strike out and one hit per inning. In addition to that, despite his high strike out rate and 32 complete games through 2010, his pitch counts have remained relatively low for a frontline starter in Japan. He has also done a pretty good job staying healthy, only missing time twice in his career to this point. Most recently, his 2009 season was cut short to injury, but in 2010, he bounced back well enough to earn the Pacific League MVP award, and to help lead the Hawks to the best record in NPB in 2011.
On the negative side, there are reasonable concerns with are his velocity, reputation for giving up big hits and ability endurance. Although his home run total has dropped steadily, his ERA has tended to stay above 3.00 and has not dropped with his annual home run total. So although he’s keeping the ball in the yard, the runs are still coming in. With his fastball velocity living the 87-88 range, Wada will not have the margin for error that a pure power pitcher might. If he has trouble locating any of his pitches, he will not be able to blow anyone away with his heater. As a starter, he could find it difficult to get through tougher MLB lineups two or three times. Furthermore, as with any pitcher making the leap from NPB to MLB, the heavier workload will be a question mark. If he’s a starter in The States, can he handle pitching every 5th day instead of only once a week? Also, Wada has hovered around 160 innings per season with his highest total set during his rookie year at 189 innings. Having never approached a 200 inning season, can Wada increase his annual innings total and still remain effective?
Wada projects to be a solid 4th or 5th starter or (worst case) middle reliever in MLB, should he decide to make the jump. His studious tendencies should put him in position for a good transition, and his successful track record at every level he’s played suggests he’s got a shot at further success. It will ultimately be up to the team that signs him to figure out how to use him correctly. Given the success the Dodgers have had with Japanese pitchers, they just might be the right MLB home for him.