Mar 16, 2007

The NPB strike zone

A lot of people in the Yankee blogosphere have been discussing Kei Igawa's lack of control this spring. Is it early season rust? Is Igawa used to a larger strike zone in NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball)?

As I wrote earlier, I believe his 7 walks in 7 innings is just early season rust. Let's look at the evidence -

Exhibit A. Igawa had superb control in Japan, walking just 2.2 per 9 ip last season, and 2.9 for his career (for comparison, Andy Pettitte's career average is 2.9 bb/9 ip);
Exhibit B. Daisuke Matsuzaka, who many say has pinpoint control, had a worse walk rate during his NPB career (3.2/9 ip), although admittedly had a miniscule 1.6/9 ip last year - but the point is that Igawa is no Hideki Irabu (3.9/9 ip for his NPB career);
Exhibit C. NPB's strike zone is comparable and perhaps even smaller than MLB's. Check out this video of Igawa from 2001. He didn't have a single borderline call go his way. And since the strike zone could not have changed much (if at all) since 2001, we don't have to worry about him adjusting to an unfamiliar strike zone.
Exhibit D. Igawa has pitched only 7 innings this spring, hardly enough to get a true feeling for a pitcher. If we went by spring stats, Jeff Karstens would be our opening day starter and ace.
Exhibit E. Igawa didn't pitch off a mound between November and mid-February. This could certainly explain the rust. And he's getting used to the MLB ball, which is 'smoother' than the NPB one.

A side note: I've seen enough of Igawa in Japan and Tampa to know that he likes to use the entire strike zone: up, down, inside and out. Perhaps the reason he throws a lot of high fastballs (at the mediocre speed of 90-91 MPH) is that they make his low off-speed pitches that much more effective - the whole 'changing planes' thing that Al Leiter always talks about on YES.

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