Back in February, when the Mets signed Hisanori Takahashi to a minor league contract, barely anyone noticed.
Now, almost two months into the season, Mets fans are enamored by his talents.
However, most fans do not know much about Takahashi.
Takahashi spent time pitching in college in Japan and Japan’s Industrial League. Then, at age 25, Takahashi began pitching in the Nippon Professional League in 2000 for the Yomiuri Giants. He spent his whole professional career in Japan with the team.
Takahashi started between 2000 and 2005. His best season came in 2002, when he went 10-4 with a 3.09 ERA in 21 starts. He posted a 2.8 BB/9 rate along with an 8.0 K/9 rate. Takahashi also had a WHIP of 1.11.
Then in 2006 the Giants converted Takahashi to closer. He struggled, posting a 4.94 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. He also gave up 10.2 H/9. Takahashi moved between the bullpen and the starting rotation for the Giants between 2007 and 2009.
Then after the 2009 season, Takahashi became an international free agent. He drew interest from the Giants, Dodgers, Red Sox, Pirates, and Padres, as well as the Mets.
After signing a minor league contract with the Mets, Takahashi was impressive in spring training. He won a spot in the Mets bullpen.
In 15 appearances out of the bullpen, Takahashi pitched very well. In 26 innings, he posted a 3.12 ERA and had 33 strikeouts to only 14 walks. This is a strikeout rate of 11.42 K/9.
After his impressive performance in the bullpen, Takahashi was moved to the starting rotation after Oliver Perez’s demotion and Jonathon Niese’s injury.
Takahashi has been dominant, dare I say ace-like, since the move to the rotation. In two starts, Takahashi has posted a 0.00 ERA and a 0.917 WHIP in 12 innings. Takahashi’s numbers also include an 11.0 K/BB ratio and an 8.3 K/9 ratio.
How is a pitcher who did not have a K/9 ratio greater than 8.1 K/9 in Japan suddenly having so much success in the major leagues?
The answer could lie within the size of the Nippon Professional League. There are only 12 teams in Japan, and the batters study all of the pitchers. If a pitcher only throws three or four pitches, batters will easily figure them out.
It has been reported that Takahashi has six pitches. He throws a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a cut fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a sinker. It also appears that Takahashi can throw two different curveballs and two different sinkers. This would give him an amazing eight pitches. With so many possible pitches, it is no wonder why batters are so confused.
Another factor in Takahashi’s success has been his ability to keep runners off the basepaths. His walk rate is only 3.55 BB/9, which is actually the highest rate of his life. He did not have a walk rate greater than 2.8 BB/9 in Japan.
Takahashi has also been able to keep the ball in the ballpark. Only 2.3 percent of fly balls hit against him have been home runs. He also has a .24 HR/9 ratio. This is very low.
The advanced metrics favor Takahashi’s success as well. He has an FIP of just 2.31 and an xFIP of only 3.51. Takahashi’s tERA, or true ERA, is 2.63.
One can also argue that Takahashi has even been unlucky this year. While he is holding hitters to a .230 average, hitters have a .329 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against him. This makes his success even more impressive.
Takahashi has also posted an outstanding 83.3 LOB percent, which is well above the NL average of approximately 72 percent. While some may attribute this to luck, it has actually been shown that there is a correlation between LOB percent and pitching ability.
While Hisanori Takahashi’s success came as a surprise to all Met fans, there is still a lot to look forward to. Takahashi’s success should continue throughout the year, and he should be a stalwart of the New York Mets’ starting rotation.