Oct 18, 2013, 1:13 PM EST
So, you probably know that this year Boston’s Koji Uehara proved to be harder to reach base against than any pitcher in the history of baseball. That’s a pretty good thing. Here’s the list of the Top 10 WHIPs in baseball history, pitching at least 50 innings:
1. Koji Uehara, 2013, 0.565
2. Dennis Eckersley, 1989, 0.607
3. Dennis Eckersley, 1990, 0.614
4. Craig Kimbrel, 2012, 0.654
5. Mariano Rivera, 2008, 0.665
6. Joaquin Benoit, 2010, 0.680
7. Eric Gagne, 2003, 0.692
8. J.J. Putz, 2007, 0.698
9. Cla Meredith, 2006, 0.711
10. Takashi Saito, 2007, 0.715
A couple of interesting tidbits — at No. 11 on the list in Uehara again in 2011. No. 12 on the list? Pedro. That was 2000, his WHIP was 0.737. And when you consider he threw three times the innings of the rest of these guys, when you consider that his strikeout-to-walk that year was 284-well, it’s no wonder many believe Pedro’s 2000 season was the best season in baseball history.
Anyway, you look at the Top 10 and you see … closers. Well, two of them — Benoit and Meredith — were setup men. But the rest were closers. The fact that eight of the Top 10 WHIPs of all time are closers might throw a little dagger at the myth that the ninth inning is the toughest inning to get outs. But that’s not our point today. No, we’re focusing on Koji Uehara.
Uehara began his career in Japan — he was the first pick in the Japanese amateur draft coming out of Osaka University. He won 20 games his first year, and was a good starter for the Yomiuri Giants and an excellent starter for the Japanese international team at the Olympics and World Baseball Classic and so on. In 2007, at age 32, he became a closer for Yomiuri and was pretty dominant. After the 2008 season, he signed with the Baltimore Orioles as a starter. He struggled. He got hurt. The next year, the Orioles put him in the bullpen. He showed amazing control (five walks in 44 innings) and actually closed a few games for Baltimore. But nobody was too excited about him.
Then in 2011, there was this amazing trade that nobody at all thought was amazing at the time.
The Orioles sent Uehara and some money to the Texas Rangers.
I guess what they say is true: You never know when a minor trade will yield a future 50-home run man and a pitcher who will set the record for lowest WHIP in a season. OK, I don’t know if that’s a saying. Uehara pitched well for the Rangers but could not stay healthy. His WHIP while in Texas was an astounding 0.685. He simply did not give up hits and did not give up walks. But he only threw 54 innings in a year and a half and, anyway, the only thing anyone really noticed was that he struggled in his three games in the 2011 postseason. Mostly it was one game. In a game against Tampa Bay in the 2011 Division Series, he came in with a 7-3 lead in the seventh. He promptly walked Desmond Jennings, gave up a line-drive single to B.J. Upton and gave up a home run to Evan Longoria. He was removed.
He also gave up run in his next two outings against Detroit in the ALCS, but I think it was that first outing that left the sour aftertaste. Uehara had not done anything to create an impression in the mind of American baseball fans — he was sort of a blank slate. After the Longoria disaster, everyone had their impression. The next year, he came into the wildcard game against Baltimore with the Rangers already down 3-1. He struck out trademate Chris Davis. He struck out Adam Jones. He struck out Matt Wieters. But it wasn’t a big moment, and it wasn’t memorable enough to erase Longoria from memory.
The Red Sox signed him to a one-year, $4.25 million deal, as minor a deal as they come (though it is now a two-year deal because the vesting option kicked in — much to Boston’s delight). Uehara was going to be the team’s sixth inning option — not their closer, not their setup man and not really their setup to the setup man. Their original closer was hard-throwing Joel Hanrahan — he blew out his elbow nine games in and had Tommy John Surgery.
So, everyone moved up one spot. That meant that Andrew Bailey was now the closer. Bailey had won the Rookie of the Year award in 2009 as the A’s closer, and he was dominant again the next year, but then he had all kinds of injuries and travails. He was the Red Sox closer for a little less than three months — then he hurt his shoulder. On June 26, the Red Sox made Uehara their closer.
I’m now going to give you Uehara’s numbers the rest of the season. Please hold your applause until the end.
Innings pitched: 44 1/3
Hits allowed: 14
Hits allowed (seriously): 14
Come on, how many hits did he allow?: 14
That’s ridiculous: I know.
Runs allowed: 3
Home runs allowed: 1
OK stop it right now: 2 walks. Look it up.
Batting average against: .097
On-base percentage: .108
Slugging percentage: .152
WHIP: You sure you’re ready for this?
Say it already: Ask nicely.
Thank you for coming ladies and gentleman. Please drive home safely.
How? OK, it’s only 44 1/3 innings, and small sample size, and closers only throw one inning at a time and … how?? Koji Uehara does not throw hard. Pitchf/x shows his average fastball to be 89.2 mph, right about where it has been ever since he came from Japan. His money pitch, the split-fingered fastball, goes about 81 mph. In a world of 102-mph fastballs, how in the world does Uehara prove to be the impossible to reach base against guy?
Of course, you begin with control. This was always one of the most underrated parts of Mariano Rivera’s brilliance — yes he broke all those bats, and he threw the same pitch again and again, but he almost never hurt himself with the walk. His best season as a closer was probably 2008. He walked six batters in 70 2/3 innings.
Uehara has always had crazy good control his entire big league career. He only pitched 36 innings for the Rangers on 2012, but he walked just three batters. We do fall in love with closers who throw the Kimbrel out of the ball. But there have been many good closers — starting with Dennis Eckersley, but including the great Dan Quisenberry and Doug Jones — who did not throw hard and instead succeeded with pinpoint control and a lot of deception. Uehara obviously has that.
The second thing is this: Uehara’s pitches — his two-seam fastball and splitter, in particular — move so much that major league hitters often fail to hit the ball even when it’s IN THE STRIKE ZONE. This is a big deal. Big league hitters tend to be pretty successful when swinging at balls in the strike zone. This year, hitters failed to make contact on 31.1% of the pitches they swung at in the strike zone. That was easily the highest percentage in baseball.
Top five pitchers at making hitters miss balls in the strike zone:
Now, the same top five with their average fastball speed:
1. Uehara, 89.2 mph
2. Frieri, 94.1 mph
3. Chapman, 98.4 mph
4. Holland, 96.1 mph
5. Jansen, 93.6 mph
So, yeah, you can see the difference. They blow it BY hitters’ bats. Uehara works above and below hitters’ bats. Uehara has two pitches that move in very different ways. His two-seam fastball seems to come crashing in on righties and pulls away from lefties — sort of the opposite of the Rivera cutter. And his split-fingered fastball tends to work as a change-up (it’s 8 mph slower than the fastball, which is close to the idea difference) AND it dives down late. From a hitter’s perspective, apparently, this is like walking out into a field and being unsure if you will be attacked by wasps or zombie arms coming out of the ground. Hitters do not know where to look.
And you KNOW he won’t walk you.
There’s really no escape for now with Uehara is at the top of his powers.
It’s a pretty remarkable array of talents, especially when you consider that Uehara is now 38 years old and the Red Sox tried two other guys before making him the closer. So far this postseason, Uehara has pitched in seven games. In one of them, he gave up the game-winning home run to Tampa Bay’s Jose Lobaton. In another, he gave up two Tigers hits before settling down and finishing the inning without giving up a run. Thursday, he pitched 1 2/3 perfect innings.
All in all in the postseason, he has pitched eight innings, given up four hits. His WHIP is 0.500. He has not walked a single batter.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:12 PM EST
Rollins waived his no-trade rights to facilitate a move after 15 seasons in Philadelphia.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
Acquiring every player so the other teams can’t get any players is the new inefficiency.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:31 AM EST
File this under “wild speculation” but it makes all kinds of sense.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:14 AM EST
Baldelli, who’s still just 33 years old, joins 37-year-old rookie manager Kevin Cash’s coaching staff.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
A third base hole filled in San Diego, a good defensive catcher goes to Boston.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:47 AM EST
Albers is headed back to MLB after a rough 2014 season in Korea.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
According to the team president, at least.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:43 AM EST
The Padres have gone crazy this week. The latest: acquiring Justin Upton and his big bat for a couple of prospects.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:05 AM EST
But one insider says the package the Rockies are asking for Tulo is “bats**t”
Vin Scully lost his 1988 World Series ring at Costco but got it back. And talks about how Costco is cool.
Dec 19, 2014, 8:30 AM EST
He doesn’t say so, but I have this feeling he’s a chicken bake man. Chicken bakes are pretty underrated.
Dec 19, 2014, 7:28 AM EST
Can someone justify this sort of golden parachute? Will anyone even bother to try?
Dec 19, 2014, 6:50 AM EST
The Giants haven’t gotten many of their sought-after targets this offseason, but they keep one of their starters.
Dec 18, 2014, 11:27 PM EST
It took long enough, but Matt Kemp has finally been traded to the Padres.
Dec 18, 2014, 11:00 PM EST
Get excited, I guess.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:30 PM EST
The Padres continue to overhaul their lineup while the A’s continue to unload.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:46 PM EST
Young, 29, batted .302 with seven home runs and .779 OPS (120 OPS+) over 255 plate appearances this past season.
Dec 18, 2014, 7:50 PM EST
Lowe began his career with Seattle and had his best season with the club in 2009.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:41 PM EST
Is this the beginning of the end for the Tampa Bay Rays?
Dec 18, 2014, 6:07 PM EST
Johnson missed the entire 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in late April.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:00 PM EST
Does Ichiro really have one more year left in him?
- Justin Upton traded to the Padres for three prospects 62
- Bud Selig will get a $6 million a year pension. Which is obscene. 93
- Jake Peavy agrees to a two-year, $24 million deal to stay with the San Francisco Giants 17
- Matt Kemp has officially been traded to the Padres 28
- Padres acquire catcher Derek Norris from Athletics 35
- St. Petersburg City Council votes down deal to allow Rays to look for new stadium site 89
- What will the future of Cuban players in MLB look like? 25
- Royals sign Edinson Volquez for two years, $20 million 29
- Baseball’s highest-ranking Hispanic woman employee sues for discrimination (163)
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba (144)
- Bud Selig will get a $6 million a year pension. Which is obscene. (112)
- Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Padres, Rangers, and Astros interested in Phillies’ Cole Hamels (111)
- Rays, Padres, Nationals agree to 11-player trade (97)