The Kenshin Kawakami Debate

Much has been posted about Kenshin Kawakami lately.  Some people think that he should move to the bullpen when Tim Hudson comes back.  Some think that Kawakami should be trade bait.  Others think that he isn't worth his contract.  I hope to look a little more in depth at what KK has done this season and hopefully, convince some of you of his value to the Atlanta Braves so far this season.

I'll start off by saying that I know very little about advanced metrics on pitchers.  My knowledge is pretty much limited to K rates, BB rates, WHIP, and things of that nature.  I know very little about WAR, or how to compute it.  I know what WAR means and believe it is a valuable tool for measuring a player's worth.  However, due to my ignorance of the ins and outs of it, I will not really refer to it during this post.  If someone smarter than I can elaborate more on WAR in the comments below, I would appreciate it, and I think that it will enhance the discussion.



I have made many fanposts on here, but this is my first attempt at a serious analytical look at a nicely please! :)


My hypothesis is that Kawakami is not only one of our better options for a SP, but also one of the better SPs in our division.  I believe that he belongs no where near the bullpen, nor does he belong on another team.  I will compare some of his stats this season with other pitchers that we were rumored to be getting, our own pitchers and some of the better pitchers in our own division.


First, let's look at total innings pitched.  It has been said on this website several times that Kawakami cannot pitch past the 5th inning, and that he cannot throw more than 75-ish pitches.  Really?  I will list below a comparisson of IPs and # of pitches per start:

NAME # Games Total # IP Innings /game Total # Pitches Pitches/game
Kenshin Kawakami 20 110.33 5.5 1816 90.8
Derek Lowe 23 136.67 5.9 2238 97.3
Javier Vazquez 22 147.3 6.7 2281 103.7
Ricky Nolasco 20 117 5.9 1915 95.8
Jake Peavy 13 81.67 6.3 1302 100.2
A.J. Burnett 21 131.33 6.3 2223 105.9
John Smoltz 7 36.67 5.2 606 86.6
John Maine 11 61.67 5.6 1066 96.9
Cole Hamels 21 123 5.9 1971 93.9

Here I have compared KK with some of our own pitchers, some other pitchers in our division and some that we were rumored to be after.  While KK ranks the lowest of all of these names in the specific categories measured (except for John Smoltz), I think it is still safe to say that he is not pitching as few innings as most people claim, or as few pitches.  KK is pitching well into the 6th inning on average (ranking just below Derek Lowe) with over 90 pitches per game.


It has also been said that KK lacks control.  While I understand that early on in the season, control was an issue for KK, has he settled down at all?  Where does he rank among the above-listed pitchers in control?  Let's take a look:

NAME # Games BB BB/Game K K/Game K:BB
Kenshin Kawakami 20 46 2.3 80 4.0 1.7
Derek Lowe 23 28 1.2 72 3.1 2.6
Javier Vazquez 22 30 1.4 164 7.5 5.5
Ricky Nolasco 20 28 1.4 118 5.9 4.2
Jake Peavy 13 28 2.2 92 7.1 3.3
A.J. Burnett 21 65 3.1 117 5.6 1.8
John Smoltz 7 5 0.7 30 4.3 6.0
John Maine 11 34 3.1 42 3.8 1.2
Cole Hamels 21 23 1.1 106 5.0 4.6

So ok, Kawakami has a lower K:BB rate than some of the best pitchers in the game.  But, we all know he had control issues early on.  What about now?  Well, here are his stats by month:

  Games BB BB/Game K K/Game K:BB
April 4 11 2.75 18 4.5 1.6
May 5 12 2.4 26 5.2 2.2
June 5 8 1.6 16 3.2 2.0
July 5 15 3 16 3.2 1.1
August 1 0 0 4 4 INF

He brought his BB #s way down in June, but for some reason, in July he spiked again.  Maybe it has something to do with being nailed by a line drive in the Yankees game at the end of June?  Even with the spike in July, he seems to have bounced back in August (with a 1-game sample size).  At any rate, to average less than 3 walks per game as a SP is not too bad, IMO.

It has also been said that KK is giving up a lot of runs and that he blows leads as soon as he gets them.  let's take a look at the most important factor for pitchers - runs allowed (both earned and unearned) and how KK matches up with the names already listed:

NAME # Games Runs Allowed Earned Runs Runs/Game Earned Runs/Game
Kenshin Kawakami 20 60 54 3.0 2.7
Derek Lowe 23 68 64 3.0 2.8
Javier Vazquez 22 52 49 2.4 2.2
Ricky Nolasco 20 70 65 3.5 3.3
Jake Peavy 13 38 38 2.9 2.9
A.J. Burnett 21 61 57 2.9 2.7
John Smoltz 7 29 29 4.1 4.1
John Maine 11 33 31 3.0 2.8
Cole Hamels 21 66 64 3.1 3.0

This is where I think KK sets himself apart and distinguishes himself.  He is putting up comparable, if not better numbers than most of these guys.  Some of these guys are reguarded among the best pitchers in the league.  Others are #2 or #3 starters on our division rivals.  KK is our #5!  He is pitching like a true #3 starter and only looks to get better as he continues to adjust to the American style of baseball.


The sad part about all of this?  In games in which Kawakami pitches, the Atlanta Braves are 8-12.  The only other pitchers on this list with a losing record are John Smoltz (2-5 in appearances) and Jake Peavy (6-7).  Is this because Kawakami has been sucking it up?  I don't think so.  I think it is a lack of run support.  Kawakami is giving us fewer runs than most of these guys (both earned and unearned), yet has the worst record.


I think we as Atlanta Brave fans need to stop looking at wins and losses and start looking at the value that our pitchers have.  I don't hear anyone complaining about Derek Lowe's numbers, yet when it all boils down, Kawakami is giving up the exact same number of runs per game as Lowe.


So, having laid the numbers out there for all to see, I ask once again, why all the bashing of Kawakami?  The numbers prove that he pitches well into the 6th inning in each start.  The numbers show that he is gaining command of his pitches.  The numbers show that he is among the best in the division (if not the league) in terms of not giving up runs.  Flat out, the numbers show that Kenshin Kawakami is an asset to this team.


I have no idea why some of you prefer to put one of the division's best pitchers in the bullpen in favor of a guy who hasn't pitched a Major League inning in over a year, who is coming off of Tommy John surgery, whom we have no idea how effectice or efficient he can/will be.


I realize that there are a few pitchers in the division that I left out (Johan Santana, Josh Johnson and now Cliff Lee are some), but I think it is safe to say that they are probably 3 of the top 5 pitchers in the division.  I wanted to contrast Kawakami to people that he is connected to in some way (either as an Atlanta starter, or a comprarable pitcher on another team).


Like I said before, if anyone can shed some light on the WAR info (or VORP, I don't even really know the difference) and then contrast his value as it relates to his contract, I would appreciate it.


Let the bashing begin...


EDIT:  It should be noted that the "Earned runs/game" column is not based on a 9 inning game, but rather actual games pitched.  That is why it differs from a traditional ERA.


EDIT #2:  I have corrected the errors noted in the comments below.  The results of plugging in the correct numbers are that KK's runs allowed went down to an even more respectable number, Lowe's K numbers look worse (and KK's better, thus supporting my hypothesis more) and that a couple of other numbers from other pitchers (Burnette) went down as well.  Thanks for helping point out the errors!


EDIT #3:  As someone below pointed out, it would be interesting to see what happens when you take away each pitchers 3 worst starts.  KK only has 3 bad starts (as, interestingly enough, most of these guys do) and here is what happens:


NAME # Games Runs Allowed Earned Runs Runs/Game Earned Runs/Game
Kenshin Kawakami 17 41 36 2.4 2.1
Derek Lowe 20 47 45 2.4 2.3
Javier Vazquez 19 36 33 1.9 1.7
Ricky Nolasco 17 47 42 2.8 2.5
Jake Peavy 10 23 23 2.3 2.3
A.J. Burnett 18 41 37 2.3 2.1
John Smoltz 4 12 12 3.0 3.0
John Maine 8 15 13 1.9 1.6
Cole Hamels 18 43 44 2.4 2.4


I think that this shows that outside of his 3 poor performances, KK has been VERY reliable this season.

This FanPost does not express the views or opinions of Talking Chop.

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