Monday, November 4, 2013

Shunsuke Watanabe Scouting Report

According to recent media reports out of Japan, Shunsuke Watanabe of the Chiba Lotte Marines in the NPB will be headed to the United States to try to make it in the Majors. Watanabe is a 37 year old (turning 38 next August) right-handed pitcher listed at just 5-10 155, very small for a professional pitcher.

Watanabe is a strange candidate for the Majors because of his lack of any kind of recent success. He has had an ERA of over 4 in the NPB in 5 of the last 6 seasons, with 2011 being the exception, with a 3.68 ERA when league average ERA was just under 3. In 2013, he made a grand total of 6 appearances, all starts, in the Ichi-gun, striking out as many batters as he walked. Watanabe hasn't had a season of at least a 2 to 1 K/BB since 2008.

Furthermore, Watanabe is known for his Submarine delivery, something that rules him out as a starter in the Majors. Yet, that is what he has been his entire NPB career (240 of his 255 Ichi-Gun appearances have been as a starter, no relief appearances since 2010). So statistically, he isn't even very interesting , but as I mentioned the delivery, let's take more of a look of it below (you can see his delivery and the rest of the deliveries of the 2013 Chiba Lotte Marines here).

Here is a GIF of Watanabe's delivery from behind:

As you can see, it is a clear and classic submarine delivery. He really starts with a pause, coming down very slowly before coming forward very quickly. This is show even better from the side in this look:

  There is no real jerk or violent movement in his delivery, and his head seems to stay very straight. His leg movement provides a little more deception and a little less continuity, but his landing point seems to be very calm. Here is a look from the top/front

The glove hides slighty behind his leg as he prevents the hitter from seeing where his arm comes from. If you are a hitter, you really don't see the ball until he is about to release it, and he seems to get the arm out (perhaps what you might call "extension") further than you would expect.

While this pitching motion is rare, it isn't exactly unique, as there have been American pitchers with similar motions. Below, look for comparisons to the two right-handed pitchers with the lowest release points in the Pitch F/X era (per my leaderboards, which need to be updated).

In Chad Bradford, we see the same sort of pause, leg kick, and ability to hide the ball. At least in the look below, Watanabe might actually be a tad lower when he releases the ball. Watanabe might have a little bit better landing point as well.

Brad Ziegler releases the ball higher, and has a lot more jerking motion in his delivery, with a much higher leg kick and while the actual landing point seems fine, he has a lot of momentum throwing him forward. Bradford is a closer comparison.

Of course, this doesn't include stuff, and pitch selection. Watanabe does not throw hard, even compared to other submarine pitchers, averaging less than 75 MPH on his fastball and sinker since 2010, and under 74 MPH in 2012.

Watanabe's most used pitch is the sinker, like most sidearmers or submarine pitchers.

This is a pitch that can break back armside and get low in the zone, getting him the grounders that most submarine/sidearm pitchers covet

He will throw what looks like a 4-seam fastball at times, usually more straight and higher in the zone

The velocity makes the term "fastball" lose all meaning, but he has to change the eye level of hitters at least occasionally.

The curve is where Watanabe gets really slow, but also a little tricky, as it can be hard to differentiate when it is a curve and when it is a slider. We are talking about pitches getting down below 60 MPH now

This slider is a little easier to pick out thanks to its horizontal movement, really fading away from the hitter. The break is so slow, that it is hard to see the pitch itself actually fooling a hitter, though perhaps it works with his deception, as hitters don't pick up the ball as early as they normally do, and the ball breaks away by the time they do.

For Watanabe, the main question when it comes to whether or not he can pitch in the Majors is: Can the method of slow, slow, and slower work in the Majors, even in a heavily specialized and platooned role?  We''ve seen one Japanese Sidearm/Submarine pitcher have success in the Majors (against right-handers that is) and dominate AAA in Yoshinori Tateyama. However, Tateyama throws quite a bit harder, and wasn't valued highly by the Texas Rangers after coming over, spending a lot of time in AAA before he was let go. Despite dominating AAA, the Yankees never decided to bring him up. We've seen guys like Pat Neshek and Cody Eppley bounce around, not really valued highly by most teams, even with the good numbers against righties and good AAA numbers. So it is really hard to see Watanabe get any kind of guaranteed deal at the Major League level. Most likely, I think he is a guy that is brought to spring training on a minor league deal, so a team can get a look at how his stuff plays against MLB hitters, and most likely stashed in AAA where he will have to prove himself until there is an opening in the bullpen. When given the chance, it is impossible for me to say whether or not he will actually have MLB success, because we just don't have a lot of comparable data to go on for guys that throw this slow. 

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