Kenshin Kawakami, the ace of the NPB (Japan's equivalent to the major leagues) champion Chinuchi Dragons, has declared that he'd like to pitch for the Boston Red Sox. And two days ago, he went a step further, hiring American sports agent Tony Attanasio. Attanasio is best known for representing Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki.
Kawakami is Japans highest paid starter, earning $3 million a year. Japanese contracts are largely symbolical, and when the Chinuchi Dragons tried to give Kawakami a paycut after one of the best years of his career in 2007, they more-or-less sealed his fate. He's almost certain to head to the U.S. and cash in on our more expensive contracts.
The Red Sox, along with the Rays have expressed interest in the 33-year-old righty. And at least eight other major league teams had scouts at the Beijing Olympics, in which Kawakami pitched. But would Kawamaki be a good fit for the Red Sox?
Kawakami has a career ERA of 3.22 in 257 starts in Japan. There are concerns that he could be the next Kei Igawa, considering that he's been home run prone in Japan, and he typically throws in the high 80's. And this is a significant concern. Kawakami gave up nearly a home run every 9 innings in Japan, which was more frequent than even Igawa.
However, Kawakami's control is much bette than Igawa's. Over his career in Japan, Kawakami averaged 1.92 walks per 9 innings of work. That's signifcantly less than Igawa's average of 2.86 walks per 9 innings of work. Kawakami had a career WHIP of 1.16 in Japan compared to Igawa's 1.24.
Unlike Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kawakami is known for challenging hitters. His cutter has the reputation of being the best in Japan. He also features a very slow (think knuckleball slow) knee-buckling curve. He also features a forkball and a shuuto which is like a hard slider that breaks down and in to righties.
If Kawakami translates well to the majors, he could provide production similar to Curt Schilling on the end of his career. He has comparable gaudy K/BB ratios (6.30 K/BB in 2007). Both righties threw in their high 80's, and were home run prone. But still, but were known as crafty, big game pitchers.
But I think it's far more likley that Kawakami's production is similar to that of Hiroki Kuroda. If that's the case, he wouldn't have much use in the Red Sox rotation. But some have suggested that he could be used as a swing man, eating innings in the bullpen and providing insurance for the rotation.
Here are Kawakami's career stats, minus his 2.30 ERA in 117 innings this year. And here's a short video of him pitching. The amount of fastballs he's using is a bit concerning.