Koji Uehara: one of the 20 best relief seasons ever?

phrenile

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Savin Hillbilly said:
That's the funny part--it seemed like we signed him almost as an afterthought, a quality veteran for the middle innings, a depth guy. And we just happened to stumble on one of the best relievers of all time. It's like finding out that some dicey-looking guy you met in a pub is the King of Middle-Earth.
Savin Hillbilly said:
I love Uehara, but he fills a hole we really didn't have, so to me the signing suggests a deal impending with somebody like Bard involved.
sackamano said:
Among pitchers with at least 200 career innings, Uehara's 7.97 career K/BB ratio is the best in baseball history.
Well, for some. ;)
 

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Is his crazy good season being talked about anywhere else? I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere but SOSH, and this is certainly worth people talking about.
 

Smiling Joe Hesketh

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Eck, in the broadcast last night, called him the Kimbrel of the AL. And actually that's not a bad comparison for 2013:
 
Kimbrel: 57.2 IP, 5.0 H/9, 0.5 HR/9, 13 K/9, 4.88 K/BB  . 0.850 WHIP
Uehara: 62.1 IP, 4.2 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 12.3 K/9, 9.44 K/BB  0.610 WHIP
 
Both guys are having sick seasons. Kimbrel of course has been the closer all year, so he's got 44 saves while Uehara has 17. But still, not a bad comparison at all.
 

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My favorite Uehara moment was before he got on his otherworldly streak.
 
The date was May 19, and the team was in Minnesota. (This was the game that was stopped in the top of the 7th for a 3+ hour rain delay.)
 
I was at this game, and the when the rain delay ended, the fans who remained (only a few hundred fans) came down and clustered by the dugouts.  The stadium itself was so quiet you could hear just about everything being said.
 
In the 8th, Uehara came in to protect a 3-1 lead.  He was sloppy, giving up a couple of hits and walking a batter to load the bases.  But he ended up striking out the side to wiggle out of the mess.  The last strikeout came when Uehara got Joe Mauer to chase a tailing fastball (at 90 mph) high and away on a full count after a long at bat to end the inning. 
 
The scene was very hard to describe, but the setting was so intimate - 400 or so fans in the first few rows behind the dugouts while the rest of the stadium was empty - that you could almost feel the tension mounting in the players that half inning.  And when the inning ended and the tension broke, Middlebrooks and Pedroia reacted by screaming profanities (Pedroia must have said "That's the fuckin' way to get it done Koji!"about 10 times) while Uehara rushed to Salty and did this:
 
 

 
 
One of the great moments of the season.  And Koji has been nails pretty much from this point on.
 

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For years we've talked of Rivera's dominance due to the cutter, and more specifically due to the very late breaking action on his cutter. Baseball physics notes that there's a "blind spot" for batters where they can't really track the ball over its last 5 feet of travel or so, so potches that move that late are fiendishly difficult to hit due to that blind spot.
 
Koji's splitter seems to my untrained eye to move very late in its action, which may account for his success this year. It amazes me, watching live, to see how many swings and misses he gets on pitches that look nowhere near the zone, until on replay it's clear that it's due to his ball's very late break.
 
He's been really really good his entire major league career. Why is Baltimore trade this guy to Texas in the first place? He was outstanding there. He was very good in Texas. And this year he's been ri-goddamn-diculous.
 

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Well, when Baltimore traded him, they were terrible, and their best hitter and (arguably) best reliever for this year were the return in that trade.
 

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Smiling Joe Hesketh said:
 
 
He's been really really good his entire major league career. Why is Baltimore trade this guy to Texas in the first place? He was outstanding there. He was very good in Texas. And this year he's been ri-goddamn-diculous.
  
Tommy Hunter has an ERA+ of 153 in 72.2 relief innings, and Chris Davis is doing all right for them.  I don't think Baltimore has any regrets.
 

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moondog80 said:
  
Tommy Hunter has an ERA+ of 153 in 72.2 relief innings, and Chris Davis is doing all right for them.  I don't think Baltimore has any regrets.
 
The Rangers, on the other hand, could sure use a do-over.
 
Edit-I should add that even though Koji was effective in Texas, he was terrible in the 2011 ALDS and ALCS and then was left off of the World Series roster. That surely makes the emergence of Davis sting a little bit more.
 

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Yes, good points. Still tough for me to think that they dealt him at all, especially seeing that Davis had an OPS of 704 when they acquired him. It's not like they were getting the 2012-13 versions of Davis with that deal.
 

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As I just posted in the "are you watching" thread, between his dominance and his exuberance, watching Koji pitch has become a real pleasure.
 
The ballpark is getting that special buzz, especially when he gets to two strikes.
 
It is starting to resemble the feeling and buzz another pitcher who dominated for the Red Sox, whose name is still whispered here in reverent tones.  Be clear that I am not going as far as to compare the two - Koji has a loooong way to go before he gets into that rarefied air - just saying that the feeling that I got from Koji at the end of that 2-1 game with the Tigers - which felt like a playoff game -  is a pleasant stirring that I haven't felt in quite a while.
 
Hell, we're even using the guy's first name - that should tell you something.
 

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Smiling Joe Hesketh said:
Yes, good points. Still tough for me to think that they dealt him at all, especially seeing that Davis had an OPS of 704 when they acquired him. It's not like they were getting the 2012-13 versions of Davis with that deal.
 
He certainly had the potential as he hit .333/.386/.643 at AA/AAA in a half-season as a 22 year old in 2008, then got called up to the majors and hit .285/.331/.549 in the other half.  The next two years he kind of treaded water while the Rangers tried to figure out who they were going to keep as they were loaded with 1B prospects (Davis, Smoak, Moreland all saw time there in 2010 with Hamilton and Cruz in the OF corners and Vlad at DH).  Then Smoak went in the Lee deal at the deadline and it was down to Davis and Moreland in 2011 and they decided they liked Moreland more - oops!
 

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I think the only thing to hope for at this point isn't that he keeps up his current pace, per se, but he keeps pitching through November. He's currently 2 2/3 IP away from his career high in relief innings pitched, and three appearances shy of his career high in appearances. Workman developing into a solid middle reliever, and Buchholz' eventual return should allow them to shift Dempster to a role similar to what Aceves did in 2011-2012, and take a lot of stress of the pen. If they can take tonight's game, and win the next two series, I think they can exhale a bit and try to give Uehara and Tazawa some more rest heading into the playoffs.
 

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Smiling Joe Hesketh said:
Yes, good points. Still tough for me to think that they dealt him at all, especially seeing that Davis had an OPS of 704 when they acquired him. It's not like they were getting the 2012-13 versions of Davis with that deal.
You could say something similar about Uehara. While he'd been quite good up to the point of that deal, 2013 is far and away the best season of his career, and he had some fairly serious gopher ball issues in 2011 (1.52 HR/9). Add in the facts that Uehara was 36 at the time and had less than 2 years of team control left (Davis and Hunter each came with 5 years of control, and were 25 and 24, respectively), and that Baltimore was going nowhere that year, and it's a no-brainer for the Orioles.
 

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It was a no brainer for the Orioles at the time. It's even more of a no-brainer knowing what we know now.

Texas letting Uehara go, however? That's a different story.
 

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mt8thsw9th said:
I think the only thing to hope for at this point isn't that he keeps up his current pace, per se, but he keeps pitching through November. He's currently 2 2/3 IP away from his career high in relief innings pitched, and three appearances shy of his career high in appearances. Workman developing into a solid middle reliever, and Buchholz' eventual return should allow them to shift Dempster to a role similar to what Aceves did in 2011-2012, and take a lot of stress of the pen. If they can take tonight's game, and win the next two series, I think they can exhale a bit and try to give Uehara and Tazawa some more rest heading into the playoffs.
I forget where I saw it a few weeks abo but it talked about Farrell's practice and ability to not get guys up and down repeatedly without going in the game. You never see with Farrell one guy getting up 3-4 times a game in the pen then going in. Warming up and cooling down repeatedly puts a lot of stress on the bullpen arms.
 

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NortheasternPJ said:
I forget where I saw it a few weeks abo but it talked about Farrell's practice and ability to not get guys up and down repeatedly without going in the game. You never see with Farrell one guy getting up 3-4 times a game in the pen then going in. Warming up and cooling down repeatedly puts a lot of stress on the bullpen arms.
 
Farrell has also been very clear that he's as concerned with the psyche as the arm; he does all he can to regularize their expectations about their usage.
 

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mt8thsw9th said:
I think the only thing to hope for at this point isn't that he keeps up his current pace, per se, but he keeps pitching through November. He's currently 2 2/3 IP away from his career high in relief innings pitched, and three appearances shy of his career high in appearances. Workman developing into a solid middle reliever, and Buchholz' eventual return should allow them to shift Dempster to a role similar to what Aceves did in 2011-2012, and take a lot of stress of the pen. If they can take tonight's game, and win the next two series, I think they can exhale a bit and try to give Uehara and Tazawa some more rest heading into the playoffs.
 
WS game 7 is scheduled for October 31st.  Although we have seen postseason games go into extra innings, so getting into November is possible, pitching *through* November is quite unlikely.
 
;)
 

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Yeah, although blown saves are sort of a weird statistic, as it isn't just the guys actually trying to close out the games.   For example, Oakland has 17 blown saves, but Balfour, who has 36 of their 40 saves on the year, has blown only 2.
Yeah, if you blow a lead in the 7th or 8th it's a blown save, even if your team comes back to win.
 

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I just think it's great that a reliever came here and did well, as opposed to one that didn't do well, we trade them, and they dominate for a time.
 
See: Cla Meredith, Mark Melancon, etc.
 

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Well, that's true in the 9th inning as well.  I think what you probably meant to say is that the guys who aren't the closers and blow leads in the 7th or 8th get blown saves but basically have no chance to get saves.  So those Oakland guys who aren't Balfour have 4 saves against 15 blown saves, which looks terrible, but isn't really because they have no chance of getting a save.  Comparing blown saves to saves for a non-closer is kind of unfair, because they can't actually get saves, given their usage.
 

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djhb20 said:
Well, that's true in the 9th inning as well.  I think what you probably meant to say is that the guys who aren't the closers and blow leads in the 7th or 8th get blown saves but basically have no chance to get saves.  So those Oakland guys who aren't Balfour have 4 saves against 15 blown saves, which looks terrible, but isn't really because they have no chance of getting a save.  Comparing blown saves to saves for a non-closer is kind of unfair, because they can't actually get saves, given their usage.
 
Blown saves for non-closers (or at least pitchers not actually pitching in save situations in the 9th inning or beyond) should be categorized as blown holds.  After all, when a pitcher enters the game in the 7th or 8th inning in a situation that would qualify as a save were it in the 9th, and that pitcher records at least one out without relinquishing the lead, he gets credit with a hold, not a save.
 
It would go a long way toward clarifying the situation.
 

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Spelunker said:
Is his crazy good season being talked about anywhere else? I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere but SOSH, and this is certainly worth people talking about.
They talk about him all the time on MLBN. They are impressed, to say the least.
 

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Lose Remerswaal said:
 
WS game 7 is scheduled for October 31st.  Although we have seen postseason games go into extra innings, so getting into November is possible, pitching *through* November is quite unlikely.
 
;)
 
I worded that poorly. I meant through the month of October and doesn't stop being able to pitch until it's November. I don't mind if he sits out that month with fatigue. Perhaps I had the former 8:30+ start times on the brain, with most of the 2004 and 2007 WS games going past midnight, so I assumed he'd be pitching in that hypothetical Game 7 past midnight without the help of extras.
 

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Latest stanza in the Ballad of Unhittium:
 
Koji has now retired 24 batters in a row, going back to August 17 vs. the Yanks. It has been 13 innings since his last walk, and 26 innings since he was last scored on (July 6). Over those 26 innings his K/BB is 34 and his opponents' OPS is .182.
 

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Savin Hillbilly said:
Latest stanza in the Ballad of Unhittium:
 
Koji has now retired 24 batters in a row, going back to August 17 vs. the Yanks. It has been 13 innings since his last walk, and 26 innings since he was last scored on (July 6). Over those 26 innings his K/BB is 34 and his opponents' OPS is .182.
 
Last night felt like he was laboring (Overbay really battled him), but he STILL got the side 1-2-3 with two punchouts.  So right now, him struggling is like, not getting the side in less than 10 pitches.
 

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InsideTheParker said:
They talk about him all the time on MLBN. They are impressed, to say the least.
 
Are they impressed? Yes. But, MLBN still refers to him as "perhaps the best closer in the AL" and "maybe the third best closer in baseball." When there is legitimate discussion on this board that he may be having one of the 20 best relief seasons (and climbing) of all time, he is still vastly underrated by the media, including MLBN.
 

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Stitch01 said:
5 straight appearances with 1 run leads.
 
16 up 16 down.
 
Pants off!
 
Edit:  I tried looking up the record for consecutive saves with one run leads, but couldn't find anything.  Is that tracked anywhere?  BB-Ref's Play Index seems to be down.
 

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From today's NY Times
 
 
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/06/sports/baseball/theres-rivera-and-theres-everyone-else.html?ref=sports&_r=0
For his success on the field and humanity off it, Mariano Rivera deserves the praise, gifts and money he has earned as the greatest closer in major league history. Yet as Rivera prepares to leave the stage, it is time to let the secret out: the importance of a proven closer is a myth...
 
“I don’t want to take away anything from what I did,” Dennis Eckersley, a Hall of Fame closer, said Thursday before the game. “But it’s not as tough as you think.”...
 
As a broadcaster for the Red Sox, the leaders in the American League East, Eckersley has seen up close the folly of a heavy investment in pitchers with a lot of career saves. Boston’s closer, Koji Uehara, was the team’s third choice for the role this season. He has not allowed an earned run since June, a streak that continued when he shut down theYankees in the bottom of the 10th.
 
“His numbers are sick,” Eckersley said. “That’s not normal.”
 
 

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Maybe it's not worth noting, but it's interesting to me that Uehara, like Okajima or even Shiggy Hasegawa, doesn't have that hitch in his delivery that some of the other Japanese pitchers seem to have had, like Dice K or Nomo. Maybe it's a starting vs. relieving technique for them, but I do find it interesting.
 

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Just for fun, let me update the comparisons from the initial post in this thread (dated Aug 10, 2013):
 
Papelbon in 2006: 68.1 IP, 40 H, 15 BB, 75 K, 3 HR, 0.776 WHIP, ERA+ 517

Eckersley in 1990:  73.1 IP, 41 H, 5 BB, 73 K, 2 HR, 0.614 WHIP, ERA+ 603
 
Uehara in 2013:    63.1 IP,  29 H, 9 BB, 87 K, 5 HR, 0.600 WHIP, ERA+ 369
 
 
  Over the past month or so, his WHIP has dropped by 0.107.  That's impressive.  What's even more impressive
is that if you compare this post to my initial one, you'll see that Uehara has given up -2* walks over this
span.  How many pitchers can retroactively erase runners from the basepaths, huh?
 
(*) Or maybe I typed in the wrong value earlier.  But I like the "retroactive erasure"** explanation better.
 
(**) which would be an awesome name for a band.
 

KillerBs

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More fun with Uehara's game logs:
 
since June 10, he's faced 130 batters, given up 8 singles, 3 doubles, a HR ((!!) to Bautista), walked 3 and struck out 53. 
 
.087/.108/.134 for 242 OPS against.
 
And he's been a bit better of late.
 

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riboflav said:
 
Are they impressed? Yes. But, MLBN still refers to him as "perhaps the best closer in the AL" and "maybe the third best closer in baseball." When there is legitimate discussion on this board that he may be having one of the 20 best relief seasons (and climbing) of all time, he is still vastly underrated by the media, including MLBN.
Might be a bit of a stretch to call the top 20 thing a "legitimate discussion", and--talking about not only 2013, but absolute talent level--I'm not sure that Koji is clearly better than Greg Holland or Craig Kimbrel. I think he's firmly in the conversation for best reliever in baseball, so maybe the media is understating how good he has been a tiny bit (I'd say he's definitely, not maybe, been a top 3 closer in MLB this year, for one thing), but "vastly underrated" is an overstatement.
 

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ivanvamp said:
Last night felt like he was laboring (Overbay really battled him), but he STILL got the side 1-2-3 with two punchouts.  So right now, him struggling is like, not getting the side in less than 10 pitches.
I would echo this. Koji really didn't have a splitter last night and he still was able to work his way through the lineup. He must have thrown 6 or 7 splitters to Overbay and none of them had their usual bite. At least not by his own standards .. If he has his usual stuff Overbay was done after 3 or 4 pitches.
 

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Beyond the Box Score chimes in:
 
 
For his career as a reliever, Koji Uehara has a 10.31 strikeout to walk ratio.
 
Literally speaking, that's the article! If you'd like to keep reading though, we can put some context behind that number...

Uehara trails just Craig Kimbrel in career ERA at 2.00, and right in front of Mo at 2.06. His 0.72 WHIP is number one all-time...
His 2.42 FIP is seventh among qualifiers...
So how do you register ten times any many strikeouts as walks?...his 41.0% O-Swing percentage again ranks first all-time among relievers...it's not a huge surprise that Uehara's Swinging Strike percentage is fourth all-time [Gagne, Smoltz, Lidge, Uehara, Kimbrel]...
 
 
 
The whole article is worth a read.
 

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Savin Hillbilly said:
Koji has now retired 24 batters in a row, going back to August 17 vs. the Yanks.
This made me think back to an article and subsequent follow up on Baseball Prospectus from, shit, almost 10 years ago. More pitchers have had hidden perfect games since, but it's still a remarkably rare achievement, especially since removing the 9 inning complete game constraint opens up so many more chances for it to happen. Pretty cool that Uehara has an opportunity to add his name.

Of course, now that I've posted this, I'm probably going to get banned if he doesn't make it.
 

j44thor

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SumnerH said:
Beyond the Box Score chimes in:
 
 
 
 
The whole article is worth a read.
 
What I find most interesting is that while it tries to answer the question of how is he doing this it ends up saying it is prob best to ask a MLB hitter how.
 
It really is crazy what he is doing with the stuff he has. He doesn't appear to have a deceptive delivery and really relies on a below average FB, average Split (velocity and movement) and outstanding command of both.  He reminds me of Foulke in that regard (below avg velocity, 2 pitches) and while Foulke is a legend for 04 he never came close to these peripherals.  
 
The one thing I wonder is if perhaps he has a unique command of the split since that is typically a pitch that is supposed to look like a strike yet almost always ends up a ball.  He seems to throw it for a strike more than normal which perhaps leads batters to chase it more often.
 

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I'm not sure I'd describe Koji's splitter as average.  It's different than a normal splitter, but it's still incredibly effective.  For example, Iwakuma has an excellent splitter that averages -8.04 horizontal movement, -1.07 vertical, and the velocity sits at 86.33.  Uehara's splitter has -6.86 horiznontal movement and 4.90 vertical while averaging 81.72 mph.  It has an almost change up like quality, at least in terms of separation from his fastball.
 
It almost profiles like a change up in how it moves.  Cole Hamels throws one of the best change ups in the game and his horizontal movement is 8.31 this year, with 6.50 vertical movement and an average of 83.98 mph.
 
I'm also curious about the drop in both vertical and horizontal movement on the pitch for Koji.  There is difference of 0.93 horizontal movement and 0.62 vertical from last year.  Is that what is giving him the ability to spot it for strikes so much more often?
 

It's an odd pitch, but I wouldn't be so quick to assume it's average, even if you are removing command from the equation.
 

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Snodgrass'Muff said:
I'm not sure I'd describe Koji's splitter as average.  It's different than a normal splitter, but it's still incredibly effective.  For example, Iwakuma has an excellent splitter that averages -8.04 horizontal movement, -1.07 vertical, and the velocity sits at 86.33.  Uehara's splitter has -6.86 horiznontal movement and 4.90 vertical while averaging 81.72 mph.  It has an almost change up like quality, at least in terms of separation from his fastball.
 
It almost profiles like a change up in how it moves.  Cole Hamels throws one of the best change ups in the game and his horizontal movement is 8.31 this year, with 6.50 vertical movement and an average of 83.98 mph.
 

 
Exactly. I've always thought the name "split-finger fastball" was a misnomer. Any pitch you choke back in your hand and use the same arm motion to throw is, essentially, a change-up. Some pitchers' splits act more change-uppy than other pitchers' splits, and Koji fits in that category. He gets separation and great vertical movement. 
 
My guess is that this season he had moved the ball a little more forward in his split-finger grip, which results in less movement but better control. 
 

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KillerBs said:
More fun with Uehara's game logs:
 
since June 10, he's faced 130 batters, given up 8 singles, 3 doubles, a HR ((!!) to Bautista), walked 3 and struck out 53. 
 
.087/.108/.134 for 242 OPS against.
 
And he's been a bit better of late.
 
 
I think his splits in the 9th inning or later are fun to look at too -- same story.  38 2/3 innings, with the only ER being the Bautista HR.  ERA of .233, WHIP .310, K/BA 26.00, 15 total bases against 127 PAs.  His extra inning numbers are 8.1 IP with one total base allowed.  11Ks against 0 BB, facing exactly 25 batters (because he got a CS to balance the hit, I believe).  
 
I can't remember exactly when it was, but it seems like his dominance really has picked up considerably ever since he pummeled Victornio with a high five.  My takeaway from this season -- good things happen when Victorino takes a knock.  What doesn't kill him makes us stronger.
 

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Apparently, Uehara just  matched the longest streak of batters (31 straight or 10.1 innings) retired by any Red Sox pitcher ever. He ties another native of Japan- Hideo Nomo.
It also seems that Koji's outing tonight brings him to second (passing Jason Motte )all time for consecutive perfect innings by a reliever.
As of 2011 (http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/13581,, the only reference I can find for such streaks) the record was held  by Bobby Jenks (13 innings in 2007).
The MLB record for all pitchers is 15 innings by Mark Buehrle in 2009.
 

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j44thor said:
 
What I find most interesting is that while it tries to answer the question of how is he doing this it ends up saying it is prob best to ask a MLB hitter how.
 
It really is crazy what he is doing with the stuff he has. He doesn't appear to have a deceptive delivery and really relies on a below average FB, average Split (velocity and movement) and outstanding command of both.  He reminds me of Foulke in that regard (below avg velocity, 2 pitches) and while Foulke is a legend for 04 he never came close to these peripherals.  
 
The one thing I wonder is if perhaps he has a unique command of the split since that is typically a pitch that is supposed to look like a strike yet almost always ends up a ball.  He seems to throw it for a strike more than normal which perhaps leads batters to chase it more often.
 
Yeah, I mean I am not a MLB hitter, so no idea really,  Both pitches when in the zone look hittable to the armchair observer, especially  if you were sitting on either one, which is why the articles author was surprised at his low Z Contact rate.   Maybe the problem is MLB hitters tend to look FB, and adjust to the offspeed stuff, especially for pitchers they don't face often, which is pretty much any reliever.  This approach gets hitters in between, making the FB look like 98 and unhittable, and they still look foolish when he throws the splitter.
 
It would be interesting if some reporter asked  opponent hitters their thoughts on what makes him so tough.
 

ji oh

lurker
Mar 18, 2003
271
kazuneko said:
Apparently, Uehara just  matched the longest streak of batters (31 straight or 10.1 innings) retired by any Red Sox pitcher ever. He ties another native of Japan- Hideo Nomo.
It also seems that Koji's outing tonight brings him to second (passing Jason Motte )all time for consecutive perfect innings by a reliever.
As of 2011 (http://www.baseball-reference.com/blog/archives/13581,, the only reference I can find for such streaks) the record was held  by Bobby Jenks (13 innings in 2007).
The MLB record for all pitchers is 15 innings by Mark Buehrle in 2009.
 
 
 
I think some of those stats include only whole innings, not the consecutive batters in the previous or next partial innings.

According to http://www.baseballp...?articleid=2814 (great discussion of hidden perfect games by the great Keith Wollner of the Bosox list)
and http://www.baseballp...?articleid=2910 (followup),
In 2004 the record was 41 batters, which this http://en.wikipedia....ki/Mark_Buehrle says Jenks tied (i.e. 13 2/3 innings)
 
Buehrle did get to 15 innings even, i.e. 45 batters.
 
 

Sam Ray Not

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 19, 2005
5,630
NYC
Hasn't allowed an earned run since June 30 (29 appearances).
 
Composite Jul/Aug/Sep line:
 
31.2 IP, 8 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 42 K
 
0.32 WHIP, 21.0 K:BB
 
:love: