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

MonstahsInLeft

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Castig and DOB got Pedro talking about Ue on the broadcast last night and he seemed to go along with many of the working theories on Ue effectiveness. 
 
He attributed it to 1) Identical arm speed/motion on the FB and split 2) Hiding the ball well until very late in the delivery and 3) Painting the corners.
 
Great listening to Pedro for that inning.  They were barely calling the game while he was in there because they were hanging on every word.
 

The Allented Mr Ripley

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Grantland's Jonah Keri is on board:

 
Though his value is inherently limited because he’s a relief pitcher, Koji Uehara’s numbers smack one in the face in a way that Victorino’s and Napoli’s simply don’t. That’s because Uehara is having one of the best per-inning seasons of any reliever in MLB history.
 
Uehara had his own share of detractors when the Sox signed him to a one-year, $4.25 million deal with a vesting option to double the years and money. There was no doubting Uehara’s ability coming off a season in which he posted a 1.75 ERA and 2.40 FIP, and certainly not given his career eight-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio, the highest in major league history for a pitcher with as many innings pitched. The doubt came because those innings were always limited by injuries. Boston penciled in Uehara as someone who could pitch one strong inning at a time but go no more than three times or so per week, with the hope that Uehara could last longer in 2013 than he had in the past. Those durability concerns led Farrell to choose not one, not two, but three other pitchers to close games earlier this season. When Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey both suffered season-ending injuries and a plan to use Junichi Tazawa in the ninth failed to ever really get going, Uehara became the team’s reluctant fourth choice.
 
Here’s what he’s done since:
 
• Since the beginning of July, Uehara has struck out 42 batters, walked two, allowed eight hits, and posted a 0.00 ERA in 31⅔ innings pitched.
• He’s retired the last 31 batters he’s faced, the equivalent of a perfect game with another 1.1 innings thrown in for good measure.
• Per Rotowire’s Jason Collette, Uehara has faced 383 right-handed batters since the start of the 2010 season. He's walked six of them while recording twice as many strikeouts (129) as hits allowed (64).
 
Pitching as regularly as a typical closer has not been a problem. Even going on consecutive days has worked out great. Thanks largely to his unhittable splitter, Uehara is on pace to post a 0.58 WHIP, which would be the lowest mark ever for a pitcher with 60-plus innings pitched in a season. Even granting that WHIP is more useful as a fantasy stat than an analytical stat, and that WHIP’s hit component is subject to defense- and luck-related influences, any time we can use the word “ever” to describe a pitcher’s dominance, it’s probably a really good sign.
 
 

Sam Ray Not

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ItOnceWasMyLife said:
Shouldn't we be changing the title to one of the 10 best seasons ever?
Probably worth re-comparing him to Eckersley 1990, since that was presented at the start of the thread (on 10 August) as the gold standard for great relief seasons (with the disclaimer "I'd say that Uehara can't match that record"):
 
Eck 1990: 73.1 IP, 41 H, 5 BB, 73 K, 0.614 WHIP, ERA 0.61, ERA+ 603
Ue 2013:  65.2 IP, 29 H, 9 BB, 91 K, 0.579 WHIP, ERA 1.10, ERA+ 380
 
Not far off.
 
M

MentalDisabldLst

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Uehara's 5 HR allowed in those 65IP (vs Eckersley's 2 HR in those 73IP) are basically the whole difference between his 9 ER allowed to date and Eck's 5 ER allowed all season.  Plus Eck had 4 unearned runs allowed to Koji's 1.  Basically, on top of both of them being otherworldly (Pedroesque, I think is appropriate), Eck got lucky too.  Hard to make up the difference there.
 

OilCanShotTupac

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MonstahsInLeft said:
Castig and DOB got Pedro talking about Ue on the broadcast last night and he seemed to go along with many of the working theories on Ue effectiveness. 
 
He attributed it to 1) Identical arm speed/motion on the FB and split 2) Hiding the ball well until very late in the delivery and 3) Painting the corners.
 
Great listening to Pedro for that inning.  They were barely calling the game while he was in there because they were hanging on every word.
 
I wish Pedro had his own show somewhere.  He gives master classes in pitching.  I love listening to him talk.  I don't know of a player who teaches me as much as he does.
 

Return of the Dewey

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OilCanShotTupac said:
 
I wish Pedro had his own show somewhere.  He gives master classes in pitching.  I love listening to him talk.  I don't know of a player who teaches me as much as he does.
 
Yeah, totally off topic, but last night on radio he was describing that, in the last Yankee game, he saw that the wind was affecting where Workman's pitches were going, and how and why a pitcher has to account for wind changes.
 

trekfan55

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Return of the Dewey said:
Yeah, totally off topic, but last night on radio he was describing that, in the last Yankee game, he saw that the wind was affecting where Workman's pitches were going, and how and why a pitcher has to account for wind changes.
And again off topic, but Pedro as a pitching coach would be the best thing that could ever happen to the Sox.
 

Al Zarilla

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trekfan55 said:
And again off topic, but Pedro as a pitching coach would be the best thing that could ever happen to the Sox.
I don't know, superstars have never been known to become good managers or coaches. The old saw is that they can't take mediocrity and after a while have to walk away. Maybe Pedro has more patience though? Who knows?
 

Mr. Wednesday

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Al Zarilla said:
I don't know, superstars have never been known to become good managers or coaches. The old saw is that they can't take mediocrity and after a while have to walk away. Maybe Pedro has more patience though? Who knows?
 
I've always thought that the issues tend more toward the superstars having everything come naturally to them, so they tend to have less need for (or understanding of) detailed technical instruction.  That is, whereas an average player needs to be told, "Accomplish X by adding Y and changing Z", the superstar just needs to be told, "Accomplish X" (and may not even know that they accomplish it by adding Y and changing Z).  My own experience is fairly limited, so this might not apply as broadly as I think.
 

MyDaughterLovesTomGordon

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mabrowndog said:
 
It's amazing how that sentence can seem so damned incongruous now.
 
This, too:
 
He hasn't allowed a run over the last 28 1/3 innings, constituting the longest such streak in the big leagues this season. That streak has covered the last 25 games, tying him with Daniel Bard for the longest consecutive outing streak in team history.
 
 
And, actually, he broke that record last night. 
 

joe dokes

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mabrowndog said:
 
It's amazing how that sentence can seem so damned incongruous now.
 
That Jenks and Bard hold these records from not that long ago may be the best illustration of the fickle nature of relief pitching, the unadvisability of long term commitments to relievers, the fact that the best relievers may already be on your roster/in your organization, and that past results are less of a guarantee of future performance than in any other area of baseball.
 

j44thor

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Thought this exchange with Eck and an MLB player sums it up nicely:
 
 a hitter told me you don't see (the ball) until it's on you, at the last second. It doesn't look funky. Most (Japanese) pitchers have a sort of a pause; he doesn't have that. It's (expletive) magic, isn't it?"
 
 

Al Zarilla

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Savin Hillbilly said:
Has now gone 30.1 innings since an opponent last scored on him (earned or not). In that two-month-plus span he has allowed an .063/.073/.084 slash line and a 41:1 K/BB.
No way. No, I believe you, just had to say it. No way.
 

Jordu

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Has now gone 30.1 innings since an opponent last scored on him (earned or not). In that two-month-plus span he has allowed an .063/.073/.084 slash line and a 41:1 K/BB.


I would not believe it possible if I hadn't seen it.
 

riboflav

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The Best Catch in 100 Years said:
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.
 
Forget the top-20 thing. You're right. We're looking at one of the best (top-5) closer seasons ever. And, he is unquestionably the best closer this year. It's not just the records and the streaks; it's his efficiency. His innings are over in a flash. I can't even grab another beer in time.
 

Ed Hillel

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I know this is destined to jinx it, but Koji is exactly three perfect outings (assuming they are 3-out save opportunities) from the Major League record for most consecutive batters retired.
 

Sampo Gida

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riboflav said:
 
Forget the top-20 thing. You're right. We're looking at one of the best (top-5) closer seasons ever. And, he is unquestionably the best closer this year. It's not just the records and the streaks; it's his efficiency. His innings are over in a flash. I can't even grab another beer in time.
 
Since being made closer going into tonights/last nights game he had a 0.25 ERA and 51/2 K/.BB ratio and opponents had a 225 OPS against him. That's beyond sick
 
What hurts him a bit in the vote is he only has 18 SV and a 90% save percentage.  The save percentage is very good, but not exactly top 5 material  In an average year the save percentage leader is 95-100% and has over 40 saves.   Obviously, the low saves totals is not his fault, he has not been closer for the entire year and he plays on a team that scores a ton of runs limiting save opportunities.
 
Still has my vote since there is no other closer I would rather have in the 9th at this point, and he is arguably the MVP of the team,.
 

kazuneko

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Ed Hillel said:
I know this is destined to jinx it, but Koji is exactly three perfect outings (assuming they are 3-out save opportunities) from the Major League record for most consecutive batters retired.
Or one 4 out save from tying Jenks' reliever's record...
 

Byrdbrain

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Sampo Gida said:
 
Since being made closer going into tonights/last nights game he had a 0.25 ERA and 51/2 K/.BB ratio and opponents had a 225 OPS against him. That's beyond sick
 
What hurts him a bit in the vote is he only has 18 SV and a 90% save percentage.  The save percentage is very good, but not exactly top 5 material  In an average year the save percentage leader is 95-100% and has over 40 saves.   Obviously, the low saves totals is not his fault, he has not been closer for the entire year and he plays on a team that scores a ton of runs limiting save opportunities.
 
Still has my vote since there is no other closer I would rather have in the 9th at this point, and he is arguably the MVP of the team,.
Well save % is also deceiving for a guy who wasn't closer for a good chunk of the year. Some of his early 7th and 8th inning appearances he had the chance to "blow" the save without the corresponding chance to pick one up.
 

h8mfy

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Did anyone catch the graphic they showed on the MLB network broadcast last night that showed Uehara's 2013 stats with Mo's career best season in various categories? Like the innings themselves it flashed by too quickly to digest but it seemed like his numbers this season were better than Riveras best.

How a fly ball on that trajectory didn't scrape the wall is beyond me.
 

Smiling Joe Hesketh

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86spike said:
The streak is dead, long live the streak.
 
That was some seriously awful pitch calling by Salty, calling for another fastball when they had Valencia 0-2. That's the time for the split. Victornio didn't help him out either by overrunning that ball, but that ball was hit hard because of poor location by Uehara and poor pitch selection by Salty.
 
Bad time to give up a run.
 

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Harry Hooper said:
 
Yeah, but a good time if it's his last of the season.
Right. Reminds me of that interception streak Brady had going into the 2010 playoffs, only to throw a pick on the opening drive of the game.
 
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MentalDisabldLst

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I may never see another more-dominant streak.  What a summer and early fall that man has had.
 

glennhoffmania

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terrisus said:
 
Far better time than if it was during the playoffs.
Hopefully he runs off another 30+ consecutive streak again now.
NM, I thought you meant innings.
 

Vegas Sox Fan

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joe dokes said:
 
Great article, thanks for posting. This is just silly.
 
 
Uehara has gone to 3-0 counts three times this year. Three times! You’re excited by this fun fact but the fun fact has not begun; I am merely establishing setting and character. The fun fact starts now: Of those three 3-0 counts, two were intentional walks. Uehara struck out the third batter.
 

The Derek Lowe Face

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Last night, Koji notched his 100th strikeout. He has walked 9 on the year. I had trouble verifying this on B-Ref, but according to Alex Speier he is the first major league pitcher ever to record 100 strikeouts with fewer than 10 walks. I know this is a silly little bit of trivia, but I think it may be the coolest feat of his amazing season.
 

rodderick

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The Derek Lowe Face said:
Last night, Koji notched his 100th strikeout. He has walked 9 on the year. I had trouble verifying this on B-Ref, but according to Alex Speier he is the first major league pitcher ever to record 100 strikeouts with fewer than 10 walks. I know this is a silly little bit of trivia, but I think it may be the coolest feat of his amazing season.
 
Nothing silly about it, it's an absolutely amazing statistic. 
 

WayBackVazquez

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The Derek Lowe Face said:
Last night, Koji notched his 100th strikeout. He has walked 9 on the year. I had trouble verifying this on B-Ref, but according to Alex Speier he is the first major league pitcher ever to record 100 strikeouts with fewer than 10 walks. I know this is a silly little bit of trivia, but I think it may be the coolest feat of his amazing season.
Nah, that's not true. It may be that if he finishes the season that way, he'll be the first to do so, but for example, Schilling started 2002 with 131 Ks to 8 BB.
 

rodderick

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WayBackVazquez said:
Nah, that's not true. It may be that if he finishes the season that way, he'll be the first to do so, but for example, Schilling started 2002 with 131 Ks to 8 BB.
 
The way I read it, it just means that he'll be the first pitcher to finish the season with 100 strikeouts and <10 walks, not the first to have a stretch of 100 strikeouts and <10 walks.
 

WayBackVazquez

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Okay. not sure how could you read it that way when the season's not over, and he's walked 9 guys.

EDIT: ah, read the original blog post. He "has a shot at becoming..." True enough.