Yomiuri Giants' left-handed pitcher Tetsuya Utsumi has earned an international free agency option, meaning he is eligible, according to NPB rules, to sign with an MLB team, assuming he wants to and a team wants to sign him. However, he is currently on a 4 year deal with the Giants that may be hard to get out of and it seems that he doesn't have a lot of interest in the United States, or at least, this is what he is saying.*
Just in case things change, I thought it would be useful to take a look at the 31 year old pitcher, even if it is just something to read for English speaking NPB fans.
In 1481.2 innings since 2005, Utsumi has a 3.89 kwERA. Despite all of the ball change driven offensive environment swings in the NPB over the last several years, NPB kwERA has remained somewhat steady.
Here are the Central League league average kwERAs by season since 2005 for reference:
2013 (through August 5th): 4.33
AVG of all years: 4.14
This means that Utsumi has been worth about 26 runs more than an average NPB pitcher over the same amount of innings by kwERA. For reference, I have Masahiro Tanaka worth about 122 kwERA runs above average since 2007.**
The ball change of 2011 seems to have helped Utsima quite a bit. In 2010, despite good peripherals, Utsumi had an ERA of 4.38, but in 2011 and 2012 his ERAs were under 2. With the more offensive friendly ball this year (but at least according to runs per game, still not as friendly as 2010), his ERA has gone back up over 3, even though his strikeout rates from 2013 and this year are basically identical.
This year, Utsumi has had to face 300 righties versus just 82 lefties, so he has had to show that he can get right-handed batters out on a consistent basis. So statistically, there isn't much of a reason to believe that he should be limited to left-handed specialist roles if he moved to the Majors.
He starts his delivery by bringing his glove over his head, facing the batter with his entire body. He brings his glove all the way directly behind his head, hitting the glove on the low part of his neck.
He has a pretty normal 3/4ths arm angle, but his body movements to the plate suggest that he is going to come sidearm. So when he goes 3/4ths, he appears to crossfire, giving him some deception and awkwardness in his delivery, almost like he is twisting.
Utsumi ends up bringing his arm pretty far back before going forward and eventually releasing the ball. With runners on base, most of the quirkiness in his delivery goes away. His delivery becomes rather traditional, other than he tries to sling the ball all the way back and brings his chest a little closer to second base than a normal delivery.
When watching Utsumi, the first thing that stands out is that he is not a hard thrower. Out of the 500 NPB starts (10 of them his) I logged in a study last year, Utsumi averaged anywhere from about 84.5 MPH on his fastball to about 86 MPH on average. 7 of his 10 starts was in the 300 to 400th hardest average fastball velocity range, while the other three were in the bottom 100 of the 500 starts by average velocity.
Utsumi gets on top of the ball well, and locates well low in the zone when I've seen him. According to the data linked to above, he was more likely to throw low than high, working in the middle height a lot, but on the edges. He seems to work more arm side than glove side, which is obviously not unusual.
The change could actually get glove side or stay arm side. It had some pretty good drop at times, and he could get some whiffs or grounders with it.
His curve isn't a pure vertical curve, moving slow, but almost slurvy. Can throw it for strikes, but I am not sure he can get it down consistently. He can get really curve happy, especially against right-handed batters.
Since Utsumi started on the 6th, I logged his Yahoo data, both his pitch classifications and his velocities to see if I could get an accurate picture of what he is currently throwing. According to Yahoo, what I called his changeup is a forkball, and his slurvy curveball is called a slider. The data also broke up his fastballs into 2-seamers and 4-seamers. The data also insisted he threw a few regular changeups as well, though the forkball was featured more prominently.
This is what his stuff looked like on the 6th according to Yahoo's data (using average MPH) sorted by usage:
4-seam: 85.11 MPH
Slider: 71.92 MPH
2-seamer: 84.94 MPH
Changeup: 76.38 MPH
Forkball: 82.3 MPH
So he doesn't always have a lot of speed differential on his pitches. In the 4th inning of his game on Tuesday, Utsumi had one at-bat where he threw a 83 MPH fastball, followed by an 82 MPH forkball, and then an 84 MPH 2-seam fastball. Speed differential is overrated anyway, and he clearly has success without it, as he showed by throwing 7 scoreless innings against the Baystars on the 6th.
Even with his success in the NPB, it would be hard for an MLB team to justify spending money on Utsumi with such a below average fastball. Utsumi is one of those pitchers whose value in the NPB so outweighs his value in the MLB that he is going to make more money in Japan. From best I can tell, he is making roughly the equivalent of 4 million dollars this season in Japan. No MLB team is going to pay that much for a pitcher on the wrong side of 30 with a mid 80's fastball. He is best suited to stay in Japan and continuing to be a good pitcher there.
* Thanks to Gen Sueyoshi (@gwynar) and Jason Coskrey (@Jcoskrey) for explaining his contract situation and his comments, which were obviously in Japanese, to me.
** None of these stats include Utsumi's start on August the 6th, where the data includes. I also had Tanaka worth a little over 100 runs above average according to ERA when I calculated it about a week ago.