Of the free agents that might be posted by NPB clubs this offseason, Kei Igawa is far from the sexiest; however, he might be the best bargain.
Igawa, drafted out of high school by the Hanshin Tigers in 1998, is a 6’1″ left-handed starting pitcher who weighs about 210 pounds. He broke into the Tigers’ rotation in 2001 and put up a very nice season, although his won/loss record did not reflect that as the Tigers were bad. He’s been in the rotation ever since, excepting a brief demotion to the minors in 2005. 2008 [This used to be 2007, but has since been corrected. -SGR] is the final year of his contract with Hanshin; after the season ends, he becomes a free agent, and can sign with any team (NPB or MLB) he chooses. Therefore, Hanshin is likely to post him this season and earn a fee while they still can, much like MLB teams that trade impending free agents at the trading deadline every July.
Among the pitches in Igawa’s arsenal are a tailing fastball that sits in the high 80s and can be dialed up to the low 90s, a slider/slurve in the high 70s, and a diving change-up in the low 80s. His breaking ball is probably his most effective pitch.
Igawa’s delivery, unlike that of other Japanese pitchers like Hideo Nomo or Daisuke Matsuzaka, does not include a long pause during his windup. In the past, such pitchers’ novelty effect seems to wear off after a few trips around the league; maybe Igawa will be immune from this effect. He has a high 3/4 arm angle that he keeps mostly consistent from pitch to pitch. See the following YouTube video for game footage from this year:
Igawa does not profile to be the potential ace that his countryman Matsuzaka appears to be, but he looks like a perfect #3 starter – someone capable of a league-average ERA and 200 innings with consistency. Look for him to command a posting fee in the neighborhood of $5-$10 million, and an annual salary between $6m – $8m for a multi-year contract.
Igawa 2006 statistics:
W L ERA GP GS CG ShO Hld GF Sv IP H R ER HR BB SO 13 9 3.11 28 28 7 2 0 0 0 200.0 174 77 69 17 46 184