Did the Braves have a cow over Kawakami?

The Atlanta Braves have outrighted right-handed pitcher Kenshin Kawakami to Double-A Mississippi.

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Were Kawakami’s 7-12 record and 3.86 ERA “good enough” for the Braves in 2009? Clearly, they’ve blanched at his 1-10, 5.15 line from 2010. But is that a reasonable response? As MLBTR points out, Kawakami’s 2010 peripherals were very close to the line he posted in 2009.

(Kawakami) was solid during his first year with Atlanta, posting a 3.86 ERA with 6.0 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9 in 156.1 innings in 2009. Things fell apart last season despite similar peripheral stats (6.1 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9)

Yes, I’d say those are similar stats. Here are some more.

Year  Swing  Whiff  IWZ Chase  Watch  B:CS
2009  .443   .176  .509  .239  .323    2.0
2010  .452   .184  .529  .243  .323    2.2

I’m still not getting the “outright and double-demote” vibe.

How about batted balls? These rates are league adjusted—but not park—and shown a la OPS+

Year  KpBF  BB+HBpBF  GBpBIP LDpBIP FBpBIP PUpBIP
2009   86      95       94    102     114    77
2010   84      66       89    116     108    97

Kawakami hit six batters in 2009 and just one in 2010, in just more than half the number of the innings. While Kawakami’s line drive rate increased, that’s a notoriously volatile attribute for a pitcher. If you look across the two seasons, and even his Triple-A stint, he’s pretty simple to describe. Kawakami doesn’t strike-out or walk many and is a mild flyball pitcher.

What’s the problem here? Even when the ball was put in play with supposedly a little more oomph a little more often, Kawakami’s SLGCON only went from .527 in 2009 to .578 in 2010, and home runs per fly ball and line drive nudged from 5.9 percent to 6.5 percent. Is anyone else wondering if their favorite team could get the Braves to eat a bunch of cash and pick this guy up?

Surely his stuff has declined, and we’re not seeing the impacts. Or they manifest through the offense or Chipper’s knee.

Or not. Kawakami may have lost a bit of velocity on his fastball(s), but it was (a) less than 1 mph; and (b) due in part to an increase his sinkers in the fastball mix. An alternate (b) would be there was a greater variety of movement on his fastball in 2010, relative to 2011. That said, there was a similar decrease in forkball speed and a half-mile drop in cutter speed. On the other hand, there was a 3 mph bump in curveball speed.

The speed differences can be sampling issues, pitch classification issues or actual changes in Kawakami. Whatever they may be, the changes are small enough to be shrugged off.

David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution puts the situation into some context:

The Braves have six other starters ahead of him: Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and rookies Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy

For the record, that’s not enough. Seven, eight even nine would be better. Perhaps all is not lost between Atlanta and Kawakami:

Why make the waiver move now? Because the Braves wanted to open a roster spot before a Nov. 19 deadline to add to their 40-man roster any players who need to be protected from next month’s Rule 5 draft. “It opens up a roster spot,” (Braves general manager Frank) Wren said Saturday. “It doesn’t change anything else.”

I’d buy that if he had been assigned to Triple-A. Double-A is a bit of a slap in the face.


PITCHf/x data from MLBAM and Sportvision, batted ball data from MLBAM, pitch classifications by the author. Image from Icon Sports Media

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