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 10, 2013, 7:08 PM EST
As first reported by MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, the Mets have re-signed right-hander Jeremy Hefner to a one-year contract. No word yet on the financials. Hefner was non-tendered by the Mets earlier this month after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery in late August. He’s likely to sit out for the entire 2014 season, so this deal…
Dec 10, 2013, 6:43 PM EST
Now that the Diamondbacks have found their coveted power bat in Mark Trumbo, the club’s offseason focus has shifted to starting pitching. David Price of the Rays, Chris Sale of the White Sox and Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs are some of the names that have been frequently suggested, but ESPN’s Buster Olney says the…
Dec 10, 2013, 6:19 PM EST
Pirates lefty Justin Wilson was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2013, posting a 2.08 ERA in 73 2/3 innings while holding left-handed batters to a .200/.266/.235 line. That performance has apparently caught the attention of the rest of the big leagues. FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi tweets that the Pirates “have been overwhelmed…
Dec 10, 2013, 5:46 PM EST
A lot of managers are great in press conferences. It doesn’t mean they’ll be great in the dugout. But given the P.R. week the Seattle Mariners have had, I think having Lloyd McClendon speak off-the-cuff in a funny, smart and engaging way is a good thing. Here were two of his quotes from the press…
Dec 10, 2013, 5:27 PM EST
With second base now off limits for a good decade or so, the Mariners have to be open to moving Dustin Ackley and/or Nick Franklin. According to CBS Sports.com’s Jon Heyman, the Mets, Padres and Yankees have already inquired about Ackley. Ackley, the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, has hit a modest .245/.315/.354…
Dec 10, 2013, 5:14 PM EST
Major League Baseball has apparently made it its mission to reduce the amount of money teams can spend on international and amateur talent. There are now hard caps and slots and it has made it much harder for teams to build on the cheap as opposed to going out into the free agent market. Because,…
Dec 10, 2013, 4:43 PM EST
All the Brett Anderson rumors can stop swirling now: Oakland has traded the left-hander to Colorado in exchange for left-hander Drew Pomeranz and right-hander Chris Jensen, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com. Anderson has been mostly injured since mid-2011, throwing just 80 innings during the past two seasons, but he’s still just 25 years old…
Dec 10, 2013, 4:36 PM EST
Bengie Molina left his position as Cardinals assistant hitting coach to take a job on the Rangers’ coaching staff and now Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that David Bell will replace him in St. Louis. Bell retired in 2006 after playing 12 seasons in the majors, including four years with the…
Dec 10, 2013, 4:15 PM EST
Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Rangers are interested in free agent right-hander Bartolo Colon, but that they’re not willing to go beyond a one-year deal. I’d be wary of Colon on anything more than a year-to-year basis too, but given that the Mets, Mariners, Orioles and Royals have all expressed some…
Dec 10, 2013, 4:02 PM EST
Making an already busy day for Arizona even busier, Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports that the Diamondbacks have offered former Yankees right-hander Joba Chamberlain a one-year, $3 million deal. Presumably the Diamondbacks would use Chamberlain as a reliever given that he hasn’t started a game since 2009. He had a 4.93 ERA in 42 innings…
Dec 10, 2013, 3:21 PM EST
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was a guest on MLB Network Radio from the winter meetings and dropped an interesting tidbit about the Robinson Cano negotiations, saying that Cano’s representatives made New York a counter-offer to re-sign for $235 million. Numerous reports throughout the offseason suggested that Cashman and the Yankees wouldn’t go beyond around…
Dec 10, 2013, 3:00 PM EST
3:00 p.m. EST update: A source told the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro that the deal is done. The Diamondbacks will get Trumbo and two players to be named, and they give outfielder Adam Eaton to the White Sox and left-hander Tyler Skaggs to the Angels. Left-hander Hector Santiago will go from Chicago to Anaheim. Trumbo…
Dec 10, 2013, 2:57 PM EST
LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — The thing about the Winter Meetings is that, if you have some silly idea, there are a lot of people around you drinking cocktails, convincing you that the idea is not silly. That, to the contrary, it’s important and vital and if you don’t follow through with that idea, you’re…
Dec 10, 2013, 2:44 PM EST
Pirates center fielder and NL MVP Andrew McCutchen is a guest on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show today, but first … Cutch gettin some diva work in today to prep for @TheEllenShow @TheCUTCH22 @Pirates pic.twitter.com/vd5zuGxR6r — John Fuller (@fullerjoh) December 10, 2013 Follow @AaronGleeman
Dec 10, 2013, 2:20 PM EST
There were two eye-opening bits of news here in this story about Mark Prior retiring. 1. I honestly thought he retired five years ago. 2. Mark Prior is still only 33 years old. The second of those bits is even more shocking than the first. He is STILL only 33? If Mark Prior had stayed…
Dec 10, 2013, 1:54 PM EST
4:32 p.m. EST update: FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Rockies are acquiring Anderson from the A’s in return for left-hander Drew Pomeranz and right-hander Chris Jensen. Anderson’s addition will likely leave Juan Nicasio and Jordan Lyles battling for one spot in Colorado’s rotation. The A’s still have six starters without him, a total…
Dec 10, 2013, 1:31 PM EST
Curtis Granderson was just formally introduced as the newest New York Met. And, having just left the employ of the New York Yankees, lobbed a bomb that you know the tabloids are going to run with like crazy: “A lot of people have told me real New Yorkers are Mets fans” Granderson is smart and…
Dec 10, 2013, 12:50 PM EST
At some point the Mariners will presumably want to add a high-priced closer to their increasingly expensive roster and Jon Morosi of FOXSports.com reports that Seattle is interested in former Rays closer Fernando Rodney. Morosi notes that Rodney knows new Mariners manager Llloyd McClendon from their time together with the Tigers, although back then Rodney…
Dec 10, 2013, 12:28 PM EST
Posted by his wife, Ashley, to twitter, with the caption “Awkward family photo.”
Dec 10, 2013, 12:10 PM EST
The Juan Uribe market is sizzling, it seems. Enrique Rojas reports that the Dodgers and White Sox are “pushing hard” for him. Ken Rosenthal reports that the Marlins are interested as well. And why not? Uribe is coming off a pretty darn good 2013, posting a .769 OPS in 426 plate appearances while playing an excellent…
- Rockies acquire Brett Anderson from A’s 8
- D’backs, Angels, White Sox agree to three-team Mark Trumbo deal 55
- Ranking MLB managers by . . . handsomeness 69
- Curtis Granderson: “A lot of people have told me real New Yorkers are Mets fans” 57
- The Phillies have told teams they’d trade Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels 53
- Robinson Cano agrees to $240 million deal with Mariners (260)
- Report: Mariners willing to offer Robinson Cano a 10-year, $240 million deal (143)
- Report: Yankees have agreed to a three-year deal with Carlos Beltran (125)
- Brett Gardner is drawing “significant” trade interest (112)
- Robinson Cano “didn’t want to play” for Joe Girardi (110)