Unless you’re a Seattle Mariners’ fan or an avid player of fantasy baseball, chances are a large majority of people are unfamiliar with the name Hisashi Iwakuma. Let me fill you in for a second on exactly what’s special about Iwakuma.
For most fans, they would think I’m crazy to say he’s comparable to the current King Felix Hernandez, but Iwakuma is the real deal.
Despite being 32 years of age, Iwakuma looks like a pitcher well in his prime on the mound. Iwakuma pitched before in the professional Japanese leagues and did quite well, racking up 107 wins with an ERA of 3.26. Yet in coming over to America, like many of his predecessors before, Iwakuma would be put up to a test.
2012 was Iwakuma’s first taste of American baseball after pitching in Japan for the Orix Buffaloes and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The Mariners had a dynamite duo of King Felix and Jason Vargas in the starting rotation, so the hope was that Iwakuma would be able to add to that, and boy did he ever. Even though Iwakuma is a full fledged starter for the M’s now, that wasn’t always his role as in 2012, he pitched in 30 games, but only 16 were starts.
The righty saw success in 2012, though most of the credit to Japanese pitchers went to Yu Darvish, and remained largely under the microscope where he still finds himself. Iwakuma went 9-5 in 2012 with an ERA of 3.16 and a WHIP of 1.28. What was also impressive about Iwakuma was his ERA- of 83, which was 17 below the average of 100 and that folks in this case, is a great thing. Now granted Safeco Field ranked last year in nearly every category across the board for hitters, the Mariners started to pride themselves on their pitching from that fact.
Even to this day, where Iwakuma is 7-2 and has a brilliant ERA of 2.06 (lowest on the team) in 2013, he still goes unnoticed for the most part. Maybe it’s an overshadow from what Hernandez has done in Seattle, but Iwakuma’s name really is nowhere to be found. Also like his American West rival in the Texas Rangers’ Darvish, Iwakuma is starting to develop as a strikeout pitcher, but not exactly at the same level as the flamethrower Darvish. Last year Iwakuma had a K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) ratio of 7.25 and this year, those numbers have risen to 8.07.
Iwakuma doesn’t look like he’s going to just fall off and forget how to pitch. Aside from his outing last Sunday against the Oakland Athletics, he’s been strong in his outings and even had a span of 25.2 innings without giving up an earned run. Sure, Hernandez still sits a top of Seattle in his King’s Court, which believe me is completely justified, but Iwakuma may be making his own court someday if continues up the dominance. It may take awhile for Iwakuma to get the recognition that Hernandez and even Darvish get, but whether he gets it or not, he’s going to make Mariners’ fans happy for quite awhile.
Stats courtesy of FanGraphs.