Oct 18, 2013, 1:13 PM EDT
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.
Aug 20, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Watch as Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton pulls off a sensational double play Wednesday in St. Louis …
Aug 20, 2014, 7:39 PM EDT
A sudden torrential downpour Tuesday night in Chicago — and complications with applying the tarp — left Wrigley Field unplayable even after four hours of maintenance by the grounds crew, so the Cubs were awarded a 2-0 victory over the visiting Giants because that was the score when was play was halted after the top of the fifth inning. The Giants protested, and it actually worked …
Aug 20, 2014, 7:14 PM EDT
Padres center fielder Cameron Maybin has officially been reinstated from his 25-game amphetamine suspension.
Aug 20, 2014, 6:21 PM EDT
Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka was diagnosed in early July with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow — the injury that almost always leads to Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery — but he’s trying the rest and rehab route first and it’s actually going pretty smoothly so far.
Aug 20, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Wil Myers is off the disabled list after missing nearly three months with a fractured right wrist and the reigning Rookie of the Year winner is back in the Rays’ lineup.
Aug 20, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Over the weekend Carlos Beltran was cleared to play the outfield for the first time since May, but now his season-long elbow problems have returned and the 37-year-old has been scratched from the Yankees’ lineup.
Aug 20, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT
Swisher turns 34 years old in November and has two seasons remaining on his contract, at $15 million per year.
Aug 20, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
He’s going to have his pick of landing spots, and Boston is just one of a zillion teams who would like him.
Aug 20, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Gerrit Cole’s lengthy minor-league rehab assignment is over and the Pirates have activated the former No. 1 overall pick from the disabled list for tonight’s start against the Braves.
Aug 20, 2014, 2:58 PM EDT
Joe Posnanski says the Royals’ plan is finally falling into place and has their fans believing they can get back to the glory days of the 1970s.
Aug 20, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Derek Holland’s minor-league rehab assignment has been a mixed bag, but after allowing four runs in his latest outing the Rangers left-hander proclaimed himself ready to rejoin the rotation.
Aug 20, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
A nice gesture and some good customer service by the Cubs.
Aug 20, 2014, 1:31 PM EDT
Jenna and I talk about the tarp problem at Wrigley Field last night
Aug 20, 2014, 1:03 PM EDT
A long and rich tradition of giving up expensive things for a jersey number continues.
Aug 20, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT
No biggie, just two 42-year-old should-be Hall of Famers with a combined 20 All-Star game appearances and 1,023 career homers running into each other in the Des Moines, Iowa airport.
Aug 20, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
When the Rockies declined their $4.25 million option on Rafael Betancourt and re-signed him to a minor-league deal the assumption was that he wouldn’t be a factor this season following Tommy John elbow surgery last August.
Aug 20, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez underwent season-ending knee surgery Monday and now there’s some doubt whether he’ll be fully recovered for the beginning of spring training.
Aug 20, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
Sanchez’s rehab assignment was previously put on hold when he took a foul ball off the mask two weeks ago and that same thing happened Saturday at Triple-A.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
Milwaukee had already shut down Jim Henderson for the season with shoulder problems and now the Brewers announced that the 31-year-old reliever will undergo a “clean up” surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff.
Aug 20, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
If we all acted the way umps act
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