Saturday, January 28, 2012

Giving Kenshin Kawakami His Due

Word is former Braves starter Kenshin Kawakami is headed back to Japan. I for one would like to give the Braves' first and only Japanese signing his due.

Kawakami's 3.86 ERA in his rookie season of 2009 wasn't quite the best indication of his talent, as his 4.21 FIP and 4.55 xFIP showed. He didn't have any one strength; he didn't strike out a ton of batters, his walk rate was middle ground, and his home run rate was average at best.

But that is what made Kawakami who he was. He was an average starter for a National League team, and you could count on independent numbers to be anywhere from 4 to 4.5. Livan Hernandez made a career out of it. Barry Zito is making a ton of money right now doing it. For some reason, Aaron Harang was the leader of a rotation with numbers like that.

It wasn't Kawakami's fault he made $6 million a year to put up average numbers. He took the contract the Braves offered, and it's Atlanta's fault for offering so much to a pitcher with only average stuff. However, he was basically termed an outcast for it, getting placed in the bullpen and not seeing the light of day for weeks at the time. And it finally got bad enough to send him not to Triple-A Gwinnett, but Double-A Mississippi, where he toiled in obscurity. His numbers there make me believe he gave up after struggling from injury, and I wouldn't have blamed him one bit.

Kawakami had every right to blast the front office for how he was treated, but he never did. He did what he does, tossing average stuff and producing average numbers, and continued to do so in his second season despite an inflated ERA. But the Braves apparently wanted nothing to do with him despite no changes from his rookie year except the ERA, and they used it as an excuse to put him in a hole until his contract expired.

For the Braves' credit, it seems like they did make the effort to trade him and give him another opportunity. Several Japanese teams reportedly had interest in him, but the contract proved to be a wall in negotiations. I don't see this as an excuse to bury him in the organization, though.

If Kawakami was looking at only returning to Japan and not seeking another Major League job via free agency this winter, I wouldn't blame him. He probably wouldn't get more than a spring invite, and you know he doesn't want to return to the minors.

So as a Braves fan, I would like to say thanks to KK for what he gave the team in his limited time in Atlanta. May he find more success back in Japan.

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