Projecting Tsuyoshi Wada

With newly acquired Japanese left-handed pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada likely being penciled into the Orioles’ rotation for next year, it might not hurt to take a guess as to how he might do. Comparing NPB stats to Major League ones is tricky, but luckily Brian Cartwright (who does the Oliver projections) has looked into the issue:

“I started with a list of 33 Japanese pitchers who have come to MLB from 1995-2011. I’ll show their last 3 years in Japan, their projection, and their first 3 years in MLB… Last week I coded an adjustment for the new standardized ball in NPB in 2011… For a FIP estimate of a pitcher coming from NPB to MLB, increase HRs by 68%, increase BB by 11.6%, decrease SO by 9.6%.”

Handy!

So here are Wada’s stats for the last three years:

Year IP HR BB K “FIP”
2009 84.1 13 24 87 3.99
2010 169.1 11 55 169 3.02
2011 184.2 7 40 168 2.52

The “FIP” uses the standard major league FIP formula, not adjusted year-to-year.

Adjusting for the new NPB ball in 2011 using Cartwright’s Yu Darvish changes:

Year IP HR BB K “FIP”
2009 84.1 13 24 87 3.99
2010 169.1 11 55 169 3.02
2011 184.2 11 44 153 3.05

So it looks like much of the 2011 “improvement” was a mirage due to the new ball, though he did walk (and K) fewer batters.

Adjusting using the NPB to MLB conversion:

Year IP HR BB K “FIP”
2009 84.1 22 27 79 5.65
2010 169.1 18 61 153 3.90
2011 184.2 19 50 139 3.83

Those home runs in 2009… yikes. For ’10-’11 these numbers would compare not too unfavorably to John Danks, Matt Garza, and Jonathon Niese (all have a K/9 within 0.5 points, BB/9 within 0.25 points, and HR/9 within 0.1 point of Wada’s 7.4-2.8-0.9 for the two years). I’d wager that all three of those guys have better stuff than Wada does though.

A 3-2-1 weighting of more recent seasons would give Wada the following 2012 line:

Year IP HR BB K “FIP”
2012 163 19 50 133 4.01

This needs to be regressed, but I’m not sure what* to regress it to… lefties with fastballs under 90 mph perhaps (for ’10-’11, those with at least 200 IP total had an overall K/9 of 6.3, BB/9 of 2.8, and HR/9 of 0.9)?

* Normally it’s league average, I think, but looking at a specific player I can throw some “scouting” in there maybe.

Doing so at 50% gives:

Year IP HR BB K “FIP”
2012 163 18 50 123 4.03

Mostly it just decreased the K’s a bit, but also the home runs a touch which kept the FIP about the same. Not regressing the HR would put the FIP at 4.14.

Lastly, there’s some aging involved. A 5% decline in each category would leave:

Year IP HR BB K “FIP”
2012 155 19 53 117 4.27

Which makes Wada pretty much Ervin Santana circa 2010 (pro-rated to 155 IP; 19 homers, 51 walks, 118 K’s, 4.24 FIP). I’d be wary about such an optimistic projection (but it could happen!) – a 10% decline would instead give:

Year IP HR BB K “FIP”
2012 147 20 55 111 4.5

That I’m a little more comfortable with; 6.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9. If he can pitch almost 150 innings at that level, that’s still a good win and a half – enough to make his contract a small bargain (even taking into account further decline in 2013). If he manages to pitch to the penultimate line, it’s more like 2 wins, and Wada will earn his salary twice over.

It’ll be interesting to see how well Wada transitions to the big leagues, but it looks like Dan Duquette might have made a nice little move here.