2011 Analysis: Ryota Igarashi
Recently, the Mets declined their option to bring Ryota Igarashi back for the 2012 season, thus ending yet another Japanese import gone bad.
Of course, the Mets’ experience with transplanted Asian ballplayers hasn’t been all bad; Tsuyoshi Shinjo was a usable asset and fan favorite. But the failures have been glaring, punctuated by the experiments with Kaz Matsui and now Igarashi.
“Rocket Boy” left Japan in a tone that had commonality with Matsui’s exit. Not with nearly the same excitement, of course, but there was an edge of brazenness and zeal from the Japanese press and Igarashi himself that made many of us shudder with the thought, “dude, sshhh …. do something on the field in New York before you go shooting your mouth off about singing God Bless America“.
We’re used to the over-hype applied to Japanese players who cross the Pacific, so the expectations of many Mets fans were lowered by cynicism upon Igarashi’s arrival. Still, the Mets committed enough money and years to make many people believe that Iggy would be a significant member of the bullpen.
Purportedly, Igarashi’s velocity hung in the upper 90s, teasing triple digits, and his well-framed repertoire included a 12-6 curve, biting slider, and drop-dead forkball – or at least, that’s what the scouting report said. In reality, Iggy’s fastball did reach the mid-90s, but without much movement and usually in the upper half of the strike zone, and the rest of his pitches were unreliable. The Mets might have taken away Iggy’s best pitch – the curveball – upon his arrival, and the forkball that was so deadly in Japan scared no one in the USA. Interestingly, before he even threw a pitch in this country, we here at MetsToday wondered whether the size of the baseball might prove to be a difficult adjustment for Igarashi. Granted, there were likely other factors contributing to his underwhelming performance, but it’s a detail that can’t be completely discounted whenever a pitcher makes the trip across the Pacific.
For what it’s worth, this was my initial assessment when Igarashi was signed:
… he might turn out to be somewhere between Fernando Rodney and Jorge Julio. I’m going to keep my expectations low, with the hopes of being pleasantly surprised. If he’s as good as the reports say, this is a good signing for the Mets, who need all the relief help they can find.
In the end, that thought was closer to Julio than Rodney, as Igarashi proved to be a frustrating enigma. He often flashed the explosive fastball but rarely was able to place it effectively, and the only other pitch that supported his heat was a darting slider that worked in spurts, but not consistently. Iggy’s brief periods of effectiveness, followed by bouts of wildness and obvious lack of confidence were maddening, and made it difficult for Mets fans to rally behind him. In different circumstances – perhaps in a smaller market – Igarashi might have been able to find something resembling his former glory. But in New York, it didn’t, and wasn’t going to, happen.
As mentioned in the opening, the Mets did not exercise their option on Igarashi, and it’s presumed that he will not return to Flushing. Though he may return to Japan, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him hook on with another MLB club next year and provide some kind of value. He seemed to really struggle with his confidence, and you have to wonder how much of that was due to the pressures of playing in New York, the size of his salary, and the fanfare of his entrance to the USA. Maybe a change of scenery and dose of humility will be the antidote to Igarashi’s struggles.