Koji Uehara is as polarizing a figure as a slight, Japanese-import reliever can be, and it s likely the Rangers are going to trade him between now and the start of the season. I m not going to tell you I ll celebrate his departure (as some will), but in the end, I think trading Koji soon is the best move to take.
We can all agree that on the whole, Koji did not perform well after coming over to the Rangers last year.
When you look at his peripherals, you see a pitcher who could have been very, very good here, absent one extraordinary outlier - his rate of home runs per flyball, which was an astounding 25 percent (The average for his career is 9 percent, which means roughly one out of every 11 fly balls hit off Koji, over his career, went out for home run. During his time with Texas, one out of every four left the yard.).
Some advanced statistics neutralize the effect of home run rates by subbing in the league average for the individual s rate. XFIP (eXpected Fielding Independent Pitching
) is one of the best, and it has Koji at 2.03 during his time as a Ranger. Given that xFIP is designed to (roughly) scale to ERA, that portends that given time, the issue with home runs would correct itself and Koji would go back to being one of the best relievers in the game.
However, what xFIP does not include is the effects aging (Koji turns 37 in April) or moving to a new home (he loved Baltimore and kept his family there), new stadium (do pitchers like pitching in RBiA? I m not sure. No one has ever expressed an opinion that RBiA is hard to pitch in*), and new team, or performing under pennant-chase pressure (which never settled on Koji during his Baltimore stint) have on an individual. And there s simply no way to know for a concrete fact that any combination of the above did not, and would not, have a strong adverse affect on his performance going forward.
* This is sarcasm.
This next season is also going to be extraordinarily stressful on the Japanese imports on this team, as the addition of Yu Darvish will lead to very, very close Japanese media attention on the Rangers throughout 2012. If Koji allows his performance to be affected by externalities like that, then it s wise to move him now before bad performance degrades his value further.
There also exists a very real question of how Koji fits into the 2012 version of the bullpen. We know that Joe Nathan will handle closing (and offered a reverse view of Koji s performance, suffering early in the year before closing strong during the latter half), Mike Adams will handle setup duties, Alexi Ogando will either provide the bridge from starters to the Adams/Nathan late-inning tandem or revisit his ALCS role of high-leverage/multi-inning fireman, and Yoshinori Tateyama will be there to neutralize righties along the way.
With those roles solidified, the best fit for Koji, given his talents and the composition of the pen around him, is as a specialist against left-handed hitters. Given Wash s and Maddux s preference towards traditional roles and using lefty-on-lefty/righty-on-righty when given the chance, it seems remote that Koji would actually be deployed in that role (and very questionable as to whether he would be better against lefties than Joe Beimel, Michael Kirkman, or any other waiver-wire-type lefty specialist). Additionally, moving Koji s salary would create payroll space for Mike Gonazalez, who would provide the bullpen with a true anti-lefty weapon.
Given all that, Koji could be a very expensive and ill-fitting piece of the roster, with a high chance of underperforming given the circumstances; however, the possibility exists that another team still views him as a high-value late inning option, even a closer. Late-inning relief has a very good trade value, generally, for contending teams, which means there s a likelihood that general manager Jon Daniels can convert Uehara to a valuable (if far away) prospect. Couple that fact with the Rangers proven ability to scout for talent before it truly presents itself to the market, and the possibility of a very nice piece returning is very real.
It s very possible that Koji Uehara has a very strong showing in 2012, and it s even possible that he has a strong showing for the Texas Rangers in 2012. But given all the available data right now, trading Koji may be the smartest and safest move- and I trust this front office to make the smart moves**.
**This is absolutely not sarcasm.
Joseph Ursery just completed a 700+ word article in favor of trading Koji Uehara without using any derivation of the phrase I want players who want to be here. He deserves some commendation for that. You can tweet him at @thejoeursery if you want to provide that commendation or general scorn.
Agree with Joe? Agree with Sam? Let them know in the comments!
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