On Monday I wrote about the Orioles being interested in Joe Saunders and Edwin Jackson. Now according to MASN’s Roch Kubatko the O’s are also interested in Hisashi Iwakuma, formerly of the Japanese League. Go figure, they’ve already signed Tsuioshi Wada, also formerly of the Japanese League. So what do Saunders, and Wada all have in common? Survey says: they’re all southpaws.
No, this is not a gauche joke. If signings and potential signings are any indication, Dan Duquette appears to be putting an emphasis on lefties in the rotation. In 2011 opposing right-handed hitters hit .314 against Oriole lefty starters. (In fairness opposing left-hadned hitters only hit .232 against Oriole southpaws.) Part of this was due to the fact that Brian Matusz posted the highest ERA in league history for a starter with ten starts or more. However in general opposing teams have feasted on Oriole southpaws. For a team like the O’s that plays in a ballpark with a short right field porch, that has to change.
If even two southpaws find their way into the rotation, teams won’t have the opprotunity to stack their lineup with right-handed hitters when they play the Orioles. Granted this is easier said than done, however it’s something to watch. For the most part the Orioles need to concentrate on putting the best arms out there in the rotation on a daily basis regardless of whether they’re righties or lefties. However given the numbers, I think it’s also prudent that they look into upgrading with lefties if possible.
This is not to say that the O’s are going to have five lefties in the rotation in 2012, because that’s neither possible or prudent. Ultimately righty or lefty, I firmly believe that it boils down to what kind of “stuff” you have at the big league level. By that, I mean primarily how does your fastball locate? Former Oriole and current MASN analyst Dave Johnson said a few years back that if you can’t throw a big league fastball you’re not going to make it at this level. I don’t always see eye-to-eye with Johnson, however I wholeheartedly agree with that. (Having said that if you ever have the pleasure of meeting Dave Johnson you’ll never talk to a nicer guy.) Many pitchers’ best pitch may well be a slider, curver, sinker, etc. I feel that there’s most definitely a place for guys like that at this level, and you need to have one or two of them on your staff. However even the best sliderball pitcher needs to be able to throw a potent fastball, otherwise he just won’t make it. In a way it’s similar to mathematics in that you’re not going to make it as an engineer if you know calculus but you can’t rattle off the Pythagorean Theorum.
For the record, Iwakuma was a highly touted pitcher last year when Oakland paid $19.1 million as a posting fee but were unable to work out a deal. In his past five seasons in Japan, Iwakuma is 55-31 with a 2.67 ERA. He sounds like everything the Orioles need, doesn’t he?! The downside (yeah, the other shoe has to drop at some point) is that he’s been plaqued by shoulder and back problems, so there would be some risk involved in bringing him to Baltimore. However while he’s not a lefty, it may be worth the risk.
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