On Junichi Tazawa’s debuts


I have to say I’m really pleased with the first two appearances of Japanese phenom Junichi Tazawa. Yes, he gave up the game-winning bomb to Alex Rodriguez in that 15-inning game, but with the way the home plate ump was squeezing him, I was surprised it took that long for someone to jack one out. Let me tell you what I saw from watching him that night and in his first start on Tuesday:

Stuff

Tazawa’s velocity is nothing to write home about, but it’s adequate. He threw about 92-93 mph in relief, and about 88-89 mph in his start. I like the sinking motion on his two-seam fastball, and the movement on it reminds me a little bit of Derek Lowe. Taz should be able to get plenty of groundballs with that pitch. He does seem to vary the fastball a little bit, enough so that PITCHf/x assigns him a four-seam fastball, but I’m not convinced that it’s more than just a slight adjustment. His other impressive offering was his breaking ball, which is a pretty tight 75-77 mph curve. He complements this with a decent 82 mph changeup with good movement.

Command

Tazawa can throw at least three pitches for strikes (it looks like the changeup might be the weakest). Here’s one key that makes him effective – fastball command. He can place that sinker on the outside corner to righties; just look at how many of these were called balls in that extra innings game. Convert four of those green dots on the outside corner at the knees to strikes, and his strike percentage goes from 54% up to 71% for that game. He threw about 70% strikes with his fastballs in his start, so that seems consistent. Junichi also commands his curve well, keeping it down in the zone and throwing it for quite a few strikes as well. That “hanging curve” to A-Rod didn’t have the most break, but it was a decent pitch; Rodriguez just went down and got it.

Makeup

It’s pretty intense to start your Major League career at Yankee Stadium in the middle of a 0-0 deadlock in extra innings. Yet Tazawa handled it well. And when the home plate ump didn’t give him calls, he didn’t get flustered; he just made adjustments and kept pitching. He was able to get through quite a bit of the best lineup in baseball, and that’s impressive for a 23-year old. In his start, the beginning was rocky, thanks mainly to a botched double play early in the game. That’s caused many a young pitcher to blame his teammates and just melt down, but not Tazawa. He kept his cool and turned in a quality outing in my book.

They say that Tazawa has an advanced approach to pitching, and I have to agree. Consistent motion and release point, always in control of his body. He even lands square to home plate, which aids in making him a plus fielder. Look at his velocity chart for his start. He paced himself well over 99 pitches against the Tigers, and actually threw harder towards the end. This kind of discipline will serve him well in avoiding overthrowing and eating lots of innings.

So is he ready for a regular spot in this rotation? No, I wouldn’t say so. But I love what I have seen thus far, and I think he could be a great bullpen guy right now; if he develops his command over that changeup and adds one more show-me pitch, he could be ready to pitch regularly for the Sox in a year or two.

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One Response to On Junichi Tazawa’s debuts

  1. redsoxtalk says:

    Oh yeah, forgot to mention that the first batter he faced was Hideki Matsui, a legend in Japan. He did quite well.

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