Sunday, January 09, 2005

Centerfield, Centerstage

Obviously, the biggest news of the weekend is the signing of Carlos Beltran. By paying him $120 million over 7 years, the Mets lured in the 27 year old switch-hitting centerfielder to Flushing. Showing remarkable improvement in all areas of his game, including walks, SLG, OBP, SecA, and OPS+, there is no questioning that Beltran is a player on the rise. He can hit, he can play defense, and he is arguably the best base-runner in major league history. All of these attributes make Beltran one of the most complete players in the league and according to SLWTs, one of the 10 best players in baseball. Did the Mets overpay? You bet. But when dealing with big-market clubs, I don't think thats the appropiate question. To me, the question one should be asking is, does the Beltran limit the Mets' from going out and sorrounding him with other above average players? Given all the money coming off the books next offseason and in 06, I don't think it does, and therefore, I think this is a good deal. I've exhausted pretty much all of other my comments on the Beltran subject on Primer, but you can always check the sidebard for better and more accurate analysis by the other Met bloggers.

Moving on, in a move that will no doubt receive less fanfare than the Beltran signing, the Mets announced they had come to terms with Korean left-handed pitcher Dae Sung Koo. Despite reports he was headed to the Yankees, the Mets signed Koo to a one-year Major League contract with a club option for the 2006 season that will pay him $400k if he makes the big league club, and a little over a million including incentives.
"Dae Sung is a versatile pitcher who can start or pitch out of the bullpen," said Mets General Manager Omar Minaya. "I was in Sydney for the Olympics in 2000 when he beat Japan to win the Bronze Medal for Korea. He's a veteran pitcher who can help our staff in a variety of ways."
As Minaya mentioned, Koo can be used both as a starter and a reliever. In his four years with the Buffalo Orix of the Japanese Pacific League, he started 63 games and entered the game as a reliever for 47 other. The most intriguing part of Koo's signing is not his versatility, but rather his unique pitching style:
The reason why the Yankees is interested in Koo is his unique pitching form and the nasty stuff that makes the ball very difficult for left-handed batters to hit. He hides the ball behind the glove until he starts a pitch, even after the wind-up, making it extremely difficult for left-handed hitters to beat.
So why I'm spending most of my time talking about a pitcher who might not be more than a LOOGY? The answer is Shingo Takatsu and Akinori Otsuka. Last offseason, in two basically minor moves, those two were signed by the White Sox and Padres, respectively and both moves paid off as those two were among the best relievers in baseball. So how does Koo compare to them?

180.2 ip 126 hits 18 HRs with 36/241 k/bb
12.05 k/9 6.69 k/bb 0.9 hr/9
Ridiculous stats. Wow.

170.2 ip 160 hits 20 HRs with 53/122 k/bb
6.43 k/9 2.30 k/bb 1.05 hr/9
Not great, but not bad.

503.0 ip 454 hits 73 HRs with 213/504 k/bb
9.01 k/9 2.36 k/bb 1.30 hr/9
Man, thats a lot of HRs

As you can probably tell, Otsuka was phenomenal in Japan so his season shouldnt have been a surprise. A 6.00 k/bb ratio is great anywhere, even in little league baseball. I saw Otsuka pitch early in the year when the Mets came into town, and he was untouchable. His unique windup where he hides the ball in his glove with his front foot lifted before striding to the plate even forced Art Howe to protest the game. Given the scouting reports I have to believe Koo's and Otsuka's deliveries are somewhat similar although considering the discrepancy between their Japanese stats its difficult to imagine him achieving the same level of success. Koo's HR rate is very worrisome, but both his K/9 and K/BB are solid and compare favorably to Takatsu's. The caveat in Koo's performance is that he achieved all of this as a starter, and not a reliever. This means he faced both right-handers and left-handers and also pitched a lot more than both Takatsu and Osuka presumably allowing hitters to get a better look at his delivery.

The Mets plan to use Koo as a specialist against left-handed hitters so we can expect a rise in his strikeouts per nine innings, and if we are to believe the scouting reports, even better results. Koo is by no means a sure thing, but given the low-risk involved in the transaction, I think its a good one. I mean, he can't be any worse than The Run Fairy, right?

For more information on Japanese relievers, you can check an article written by Thomas at the Batter's Box as well as


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