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.

2012 Projection

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.

2010 Evaluation of Ryota Igarashi

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Timo November 4, 2011 at 11:28 am
    Another Wilponeze Asian fetish bust. I don’t have any problems with Asian players in MLB just ones that come to the Mets. The best hitter in baseball is Ichiro, I would have LOVED if he was a Met. We usually get all the bad ones and ALWAYS pay them the big bucks. Glad he’s gone. I couldn’t watch another year with him coming out of the bullpen.
  2. Rob November 4, 2011 at 1:29 pm
    Joe: This is not responsive to your blog on Igarashi, but I had to ask this question. I just read an article in the NYPost by Joel Sherman quoting various “Mets officials” who have “opined” that the Mets have zero shot of signing Reyes. Why?! Why would a person presumably employed by the Mets (which is what I assume “Mets official” means) provide any kind of quote on the team’s chances of signing a key player, particularly when negotiations are just underway? I’ve never understood this tactic. The Mets seem particulary filled with traitors within the organization, always willing to give up some information or provide a key quote that would seemingly give away a position in the media, rather than keep it all close to the vest for negotiating purposes. If Reyes reads this, what is he supposed to think? I don’t get it and I don’t understand why the organization doesn’t just put a gag order on their employees. Unless the “Mets official” being quoted is a popcorn salesperson or the guy that sells beer in section 4. Do you have any insights?

    Thanks and keep up the great work!


    • Joe Janish November 7, 2011 at 12:51 am
      Here’s my thought: the source inside the organization is someone who does not agree with the decision to let Reyes walk, and it eats him alive inside. Likely, it’s a scout or someone involved in player development who is a “leftover” from the previous regime. Think about it: in every company, there’s always someone unhappy with the decisions made by those at “the top”, and it’s no different in an MLB organization. What IS different is that people working for a baseball team can speak to members of the media and voice their frustration.

      It’s true that the Mets — historically — seem to have a number of “moles” speaking out against the powers-that-be. Why? First, because the team has been losing, and when teams lose, there always is someone inside willing to vent — there’s no story if the team is winning. Second, everything starts at the top. Consider Mets ownership since Doubleday left. I’ll leave you to your own imagination from there.

      • Rob November 7, 2011 at 1:18 am
        Thanks, Joe. I guess that makes as much sense as any.

        By the way, one of the ESPN analysts is advocating trading Wright over the winter. Suuuure….let’s just get rid of anyone that has any popularity with the fans…all in the name of rebuilding the franchise with future prospects. I give up. Words couldn’t express my frustration enough if the Mets lose Reyes and trade Wright in the same season. If that happens (and of course, I have my doubts that it would), I wouldn’t watch the Mets again until the Wilpons sold the team to someone who can afford to keep them in NY.

        Just venting. Thanks again, Joe!