Koji Uehara: Our No. 2 Starter?

Not sure how many of you have heard about this guy. He's a player out of Japan currently playing for the Yomiuri Giants. They've been using him as a closer this year, but he's truely a starter and has started for the previous 8 years of his career. Word is that he's looking to break into the MLB in 2008 as he's a free agent after this season. I'm sure some other teams will be after him this year, but he's worth a look, in my opinion.

I hadn't heard the name Koji Uehara until a few days ago, so I started doing some research and I like what I see so far. I expect the pitching market to be pretty thin again this year so why not look to Japan? Everyone else is. Here's a little excerpt from Uehara Watch that tells us a little bit about this guy:
"Uehara is a right handed pitcher, standing 6 foot 2 inches and weighing in at 190 pounds. He features a 88-90 mph fastball, a nice cutter, two kinds of forkball, and an outstanding slider. His pitches are all thrown with tremendous accuracy, and he is rarely behind in the count. His motion is nice and easy."

These are his career numbers:

Koji Uehara through 2007
Record ERA IP WHIP Hits K BB K/9 Inn K/BB
106-57 2.96 1459 1.00 1264 1304 190 8.05 6.86
All of these numbers are good, but look at that K/BB line... 6.86. This guy is a master of control.

That site also says Uehara is about somewhere in ability between Daisuke Masuzaka and Kei Igawa. Dice-K signed a $52 million/6 year deal with the Red Sox and Igawa signed a $20 million/5 year deal with the Yankees. If Uehara is somewhere in the middle of these two guys, we can expect to have to offer a deal worth about $36 million over 5 years. I would be more willing to offer a $24 million/3 year deal, though. Five years is a bit much, in my opinion. But, hey, I'm just guessing here. It depends on how the market is this off season. Either one of those deals leaves us with half of our free money to spend in other places. (By my estimates, we should have about $16 million to spend on free agents, not including Ausmus, if our payroll stays about the same as the last couple of years.) I probably wouldn't want to risk offering any more than that since he's not a proven MLB talent. But who knows?

Dice-K's done a fair job as a Red Sox starter, going 15-12 with WHIP of 1.32 and ERA of 4.40. Not so bad for the AL East. Igawa, though, not so much -- he was so bad he had to be sent down to AAA. Uehara's career ERA in Japan was slightly worse than Dice-K's but he did have a better win ratio and he blows him away in his K/BB. Dice-K had a career K/BB of 2.70 and a WHIP of 1.14. Both worse than Uehara's. Dice-K's current K/BB in the Majors is 2.51. Could we expect a 6+ K/BB ratio from Uehara in the Majors? Probably not, but the difference has to mean something. It's anyone's guess how this would translate into the Majors, but it looks like he has pitch command down to a science.

So anyway, that's my analysis Koji Uehara and how he just might be the #2 guy we need. Although I have a feeling this guy isn't even on the Astros' radar. Let me know what you think.

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