Hokkaido Nippon Ham pitcher Masaru Takeda may not have the record of an All-Star, but that’s exactly what he is.
Takeda learned on Monday that he’ll participate in his first All-Star game later this month. A deserved honor for a hurler too often overlooked by many outside of Hokkaido.
Taken at face value alone, most baseball fans would probably agree a pitcher with a 6-5 record is merely having an average year.
Similarly, a hurler with a 1.34 ERA through 12 starts may be considered a top pitcher.
Sometimes it’s not quite that easy, as is the case with Takeda.
A 6-5 record says he’s been an average pitcher. Nearly everything else says he’s one of the best.
Last week, “The Surgeon” tamed the Seibu Lions behind 6⅔ innings of one-run ball to notch his sixth win of the season.
Takeda has won his last four decisions, and hasn’t taken a loss since May 23. He’s allowed just two runs in 32⅓ innings over that span.
It’s not as if Takeda has had some sort of recent epiphany. He’s pitched like this all season.
Through 12 starts, Takeda’s 1.34 ERA is tied for the third-lowest in Japan and his 0.78 WHIP is second only to the 0.75 put up by Tohoku Rakuten’s Masahiro Tanaka.
The only knock on him thus far has been his mediocre record.
But wins can’t always accurately account for a pitcher’s worth. Pitchers can impact wins and losses to a great extent, but ultimately have very little control over the final outcome.
There are a litany of things outside of a pitcher’s powers — errors for example — that can turn a 14 strikeout gem into a loss and a six-earned run, six-walk disaster into a victory.
That’s just the game. No matter how dazzling a pitcher is on the mound, his offense will occasionally let him down.
Teams can out-hit a bad night from a starter, but even the best pitcher needs at least the bare minimum from his offense in order to register a win.
An extreme case of a pitcher’s result being shaped by his offense came in the majors on June 3, 1995, when Pedro Martinez threw nine perfect innings for the Montreal Expos.
The first 27 batters retired in order. There was nothing more Martinez could’ve done — well, short of homering himself. His offense failed to score until the 10th, however, helping to deny “El Duro” a perfect game (though he did get a win) and a place in history.
Offense has also been Takeda’s problem. In his 12 starts, the Fighters have scored an average of 1.9 runs.
Two of his five losses came in 1-0 games, with two more coming in 2-0 contests. In a separate game he tossed eight scoreless frames against the Hanshin Tigers but didn’t get a decision.
Though at the same time, the Fighters have played a positive role for the pitcher as well.
Takeda has a .227 BABIP (batting average of balls in play), which can partly be attributed to an above-average defense behind him. That’s an almost impossible number (his career average is .274) and displays one reason he’s given up so few runs.
Currently eight NPB pitchers, including Takeda, have thrown at least 75 innings while maintaining an ERA of 2.00 or lower.
The majority of those hurlers are Takeda’s fellow All-Stars.
Major League Baseball faced this same problem last year in the AL Cy Young voting, where Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez paired a lousy win-loss record with superb stats in other areas.
Voters recognized that he was weighted down by an anemic offense, and gave him the award ahead of several others with more impressive records.
Just as in that case, Japanese baseball got it right and awarded one of the year’s top pitchers with the ultimate midseason honor.