25 May 2013

At Last! A Look at Tsuyoshi Wada

Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen were Dan Duquette's major Far East signings in the 2011-2012 offseason. Wada, a successful veteran pitcher in the Japanese league, was the more highly-touted signing, but he was injured in spring training. He made a rehabilitation appearance for Norfolk in Gwinnett on April 19, and was ineffective - he gave up 6 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks in 2 2/3 innings. Immediately thereafter, he was diagnosed as needing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery and missed the rest of 2012.

Wada had signed a two-year contract with the Orioles, and continued his rehabilitation into 2013. He made his first rehabilitation appearance of 2013 on May 16 against Lehigh Valley. This was a weekday day game, and so I wasn't able to work the game. Wada pitched adequately for someone who hadn't pitched in a game in over a year; he gave up 4 runs (3 earned) in four innings, giving up three hits and two walks. He made his second start against Durham on May 21, and I worked that game for BIS, marking the first time I had seen Wada pitch since his signing.

Wada is not a big man. He's listed at 5'11'', 180 pounds, and he looks slighter than that. His fastball was consistently at 85 or 86 mph according to the Harbor Park radar gun, although he did reach 88 a couple of times. His curveball was generally recorded in the low 70's. Wada faced 21 batters in 4-plus innings; he left after facing three batters in the fifth. He was the losing pitcher in a 3-2 game, surrendering two runs on six hits, with two walks and one strikeout. Both runs scored after he left the game; he left with the bases loaded and no outs. Reliever Chris Jones allowed one inherited runner to score on a sacrifice fly and another on a pop-fly single; it's more fair to charge those runs to Wada than to blame Jones for letting the inherited runners score.

A look at his pitches:

Called Balls: 35
Called Strikes: 14
Swinging Strikes: 3
Fouls: 13
In Play: 17
Hit By Pitch: 1

And the number of pitches he threw with different counts:

0-0: 21
1-0: 12
0-1: 8
2-0: 6
1-1: 9
0-2: 4
3-0: 1
2-1: 9
1-2: 4
3-1: 4
2-2: 5
3-2: 0

At first glance, it looks like Wada might be struggling with his control upon return from injury. But there was a sequence that leads me to believe that Wada's apparent lack of control is a tactical decision. In the third inning, he hit the first batter and gave up a double to the second, putting runners on second and third with no out. The next batter fouled off two pitches and was called out on strikes on the third; the next batter fell behind 0-2 before hitting a soft liner to second. Then, with two outs, he reverted to his nibbling ways, retiring the batter on a 2-2 count.

This sequence tells me that when Wada has to, he is capable of throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters. The rest of the game, he wasn't throwing pitches all over the place; they were going where he wanted them to. As a result, I believe that Wada's approach is to get aggressive batters to chase pitches out of the strike zone, either inducing weak contact or swings-and-misses.

Tsuyoshi Wada would have been more effective twenty-five years ago, before working counts and plate discipline had become as important as they are now. Even today, he might be an effective #4 or #5 starter on a team that includes other overpowering pitchers and pitchers who can go deep into games. That's not the 2013 Orioles, and I don't have faith that Wada will be able to help the 2013 Orioles' starting rotation.

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