Friday, February 1, 2013

Hiroyuki Kobayashi Scouting Report

The LA Angels have signed Japanese pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi to a minor league contract. Kobayashi is a 34 year old right-hander who has been a reliever since 2010. He pitched for Chiba Lotte from 1998 to 2010, mainly as a starter with a solid 3.68 kwERA in that time. In 2011, he pitched with the Hanshin Tigers, throwing in 42 outings for a total of 39 innings. Again, he was solid, with a 3.68 kwERA. However, Kobayashi didn't pitch in the NPB in 2012, spending the entire year in the Ni-Gun. There, he threw 52.1 innings and had a 87 kwERA- against a combination of young prospects, washed up veterans, and border line NPB players (think of basically AAA for the MLB, as there is a combination of all the groups). While I have written about the Ni-Gun in the past, it is hard to nail down exactly just the level of competition there. Of course, nailing down the level of competition the NPB provides isn't easy either, as myself, and others that are much smarter than me have been trying to do.

So how about a scouting report? As we do with all NPB pitchers, the first step is to look at their NPB Tracker data. Even as a reliever, his fastball is well below average, averaging just 87.79 MPH in 2010. Here is a complete list of MLB right-handed relievers that threw at least 20 innings with fastballs worse than Kobayashi's: Livan Hernandez, Shawn Camp. Camp had a surprisingly good 2012 despite being originally cut out of Spring Training. Livan was terrible and his career looks over. Even sidearmers like Cody Eppley and Darren O'Day threw harder than Kobayashi. Kobayashi isn't a sidearmer, and instead has what you would call a pretty standard NPB delivery. He has a slight hesitation (though not quite a pause. He never really stops, he just glitches for a split second) along with a high leg kick before swinging it forward and coming over the top, getting some extension and using his 6-0 175 frame. Here is a great show motion YouTube video that I found of his delivery:

Other than the glove tuck, which seems a little odd and counter intuitive to me, this is a really standard NPB delivery. He seems to have ditched the curve and become more of a changeup heavy pitcher (still throwing his fastball at least half the time), along with some forkballs and sliders that average about 80 MPH each. The slider used to be his put away pitch, as he could get it up to 83 to 84 MPH and it had some sharp downward movement. It is not quite a traditional slider (there is very little to no horizontal movement, it usually just darts down on the glove side of the plate), and it appears that, since he has lost the velocity on it, he is going to it less. The change stays more arm side, and at least was (though data suggests not so much anymore) is a little softer. Other than that, there isn't a lot of difference in break.

While we have seen some pitchers from Japan, especially out of the pen, come to the States and succeed with below average velocity, Kobayashi has a lot to overcome. The loss of velocity across the board is concerning when it comes to his breaking pitches, especially since they don't break like traditional MLB breaking pitches anyway. It is really hard to see him making an impact for the Angels, or even deserving a 25 man roster spot (which I guess is the definition of a minor league contract anyway).


  1. For me the problem with Kobayashi at this point is that he doesn't have a single pitch that seems MLB average or better. Most of the Japanese relievers that do well in MLB have at least one identifiable strength. Then again, Keiichi Yabu managed spend two full years on MLB rosters, so there's always hope.

  2. Patrick,

    Yeah I agree. Obviously we have seen NPB pitchers with below MLB average fastballs come and have success, but they usually have great split fingers or some other quirk. Maybe a few years ago, when the change and slider still had the velocity, we could have seen Kobayashi have success, but for me, he will probably be a command specialist reliever in the PCL that is homer prone.