The Mariners have always been looking for talent internationally. Not only have they been one of the biggest spenders in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, they have also got players from rather strange places (such as Italy and South Africa). Perhaps most famously (and most logically, since the majority owner lives in Japan), the Mariners have been relevant in Japan, most notably with Ichiro.
Gen Sueyoshi (@gwynar) pointed to an article (the link is in Japanese, you can run it through an online translator, but those don’t pick up Japanese very well in my experience) in which the Mariners had scouts in Japan to scout players, most likely Kyuji Fujikawa and Takashi Toritani, both of whom should be eligible for free agency at the end of the season (Fujikama is already eligible).
Fujikawa is a right-handed reliever who has been downright dominant in the NPB with a 1.38 ERA and 5.61 K/BB since 2007. According to the NPB Tracker’s pitch F/X data, he has 5 different pitches: A 4-seamer averaging 91.35 MPH, a curveball averaging 74.90 MPH, a slider averaging 83.09 MPH, a cutter averaging 88.35, a 2-seamer at 88.44, and a fork-ball at 84.51 MPH. One concerning thing is that the 32 year old is losing velocity:
His walk rate has remained steady and he hadn’t seen a strikeout decrease until this year. At 10.9 K/9IP it is the lowest it has been for Fujikawa since 2004. For many NPB players, Ichiro and Yu Darvish obviously exceptions, they are no longer in their prime by the time they come to the United States. Fujikawa really hasn’t been more hittable this season though, with a 1.52 ERA and 1.011 WHIP. In the World Baseball Classic in 2009, Fujikawa threw 4 scoreless innings.
Here is what Josh Kalk of Hardball Times wrote about Fujikawa after watching him in the WBC:
“Fujikawa’s fastball averaged 92 mph during the WBC, which is lower than what he reportedly throws during the season. The interesting thing about his fastball is the huge vertical movement it possesses, more than a foot compared to a ball thrown without spin. Few major league pitchers get so much “rise” with their fastballs, though it is a bit uncertain how much benefit that actually provides. In any case, with a fastball with so much “rise” to it, it appears that Fujikawa works up in the zone with that pitch a lot and, unlike Iwakuma, relies heavily on his fastball to get hitters out. While he’s been dominant in Japan, there are serious questions how that would play in the states. I’d like the pitch a lot more at 94 mph than 92.
Fujikawa also throws a splitter, his out pitch. Fujikawa’s speed differential is almost 10 mph from his fastball and it doesn’t hide quite as well in his fastball as does Iwakuma’s, but it is a plus pitch. Like Iwakuma, he isn’t afraid to throw that pitch to right-handed batters and it likely is very effective against them.
I am lukewarm on Fujikawa’s curve. The five he threw were all over the map with movement. The three that are clustered near zero horizontal movement were rather 12 to 6, but without a lot of actual vertical movement. The pitch was 20 mph slower than his fastball, so I would describe it as more looping than a harder hammer you see from most 12 to 6 guys. The other two had almost no vertical drop; I would describe them as sweeping. I don’t think the sweeping curve would be very effective in the States. The looping curve might be okay, but what I would like to see from Fujikawa is a nice hard hammer.
Because he is throwing up in the zone a lot with his fastball, a hard 12 to 6 curve would be hidden well. With a pitch like that, I think Fujikawa could be very effective in the States, but without it I don’t think he would be a top-flight closer.”
Takashi Toritani is a 31 year old shortstop for the Hanshin Tigers, a teammate of Fujikawa. So far this year, he is hitting .260/.377/.363. For comparison, Munenori Kawasaki hit .267/.310/.327 last year, so Toritani hits for more power and walks more. Takashi has a good mix of contact and patience, walking more than he struck out in 2011 (for comparison, Kawasaki struck out nearly 3 times as much as he walked in 2011). While this may not mean a whole lot, Toritani had a better fielding percentage and range factor than Kawasaki last year. The left handed hitter provides some speed with an 82 speed rating by the Baseball Cube (91 patience and 74 contact) along with a hint of power (64 rating out of 100). So one would think he would cost more than Kawasaki, he will be better than Kawasaki (who has been terrible, a -.2 bWAR and .468 OPS this season) and could provide the Mariners good middle infield depth and work as a utility player. He went 1 for 4 when the Tigers played the Mariners in March (Fujikawa threw 1 inning and gave up a solo homer and also struck a hitter out).
Again, this is just a report (the scouts may even have written bad reports, making the team have no interest in the players), and we will have to see what happens once free agency happens, but the Mariners are in Japan scouting players.