Wednesday, January 7, 2009

O's Sign Uehara, Close to Finalizing Deal

The Baltimore Sun is reporting that the Orioles have agreed to terms with Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara.

Baltimore's rotation is a glaring weakness and the signing helps in two respects.

1) We need competent pitching of all kinds.
2) It gives an early return on the Orioles casting a wider net overseas when searching for talent.

So regardless of how this thing works out, it's a good development for the short and long term.

I know nothing about Uehara so I'll rely on ESPN's Keith Law:

Uehara has, of course, incredible control, and misses bats with a good forkball. It's tough to say how well that pitch will translate here, as American hitters might struggle with a pitch they rarely see, but may also learn to lay off a pitch that often finishes out of the zone. He mixes up his fastball between two-seamers and cutters, but neither pitch has any sink, so while he commands everything to the corners, he's very prone to the home run when he gets too much of the plate.

In an ideal environment -- National League, non-hitters' park -- he could be a midrotation innings-eater because he'll allow so few baserunners. In the American League, he'd be more of a fourth starter, but would have to have some luck keeping the ball in the park to keep his ERA under 4.00.

Two comments: Any pitcher's ideal environment is a National League pitcher's park and if he turns out to be 4th starter caliber, that's still an improvement over what we have right now. We let our other 4th starter caliber pitcher walk and sign with the Nationals.

From NPB Tracker, a blog that follows Japanese baseball:

I actually think that Uehara will be susceptible to baserunners because he’ll be around the plate so much. More troubling is that the HR ball was unquestionably his weakness in Japan, and he’s going to the most HR-friendly park in MLB. On the other hand, he’ll have two good outfielders behind him in Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, which suit his flyball tendencies.

Well, yeah, Camden Yards was the most homerun friendly park in baseball last year but looking at a three year average (usually a better indicator) OPACY is right around 5th or 6th in the majors for giving up homeruns. I'm not downplaying the HR factor but it tends to be overstated at times. Oriole Park is not Wrigley Field or Coors Field, two parks who consistently rank in the top two of HR rates.

And yes, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis help. But Luke Scott doesn't!

I don't have a lot to go on as far as predicting how much better he would be than Daniel Cabrera, but even if he can't keep his ERA under 4.00, even if he has a league average ERA (4.53 last year) I'll take that any day for the reported $5 million a year. I'm going to say that he is a good bet to exceed Daniel Cabrera's production and that alone makes him a fair improvement at a good price.

An encouraging move by The Warehouse. I can't wait to see how it works out.

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