Zoning In on Hisashi Iwakuma

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Zoning in on the 2016 Mariners is a daily series in which we’ll examine one player every day, 30 total, in the lead-up to Opening Day. We’ll explain their role on the field, what they’re like off of it and provide highlights and photos. On deck tomorrow: Nelson Cruz

It was the moment of the offseason, and a moment unlike any that Mariners fans had seen before. Normally you see signings break publicly through the media, maybe a press release. Never is it something like this:

“Sometimes you have to get lucky,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said back in December after making the move to bring back Hisashi Iwakuma, which happened very quickly after a reported deal with the Dodgers fell through.

“This one is, pure and a simple, a gift to the organization, a gift to the city, a gift to the fan base from our ownership,” he said. “This was not part of the original plan. This is an opportunity to do the right thing, to add to our pitching staff, to bring a great guy back into the clubhouse and reunite a player who wanted to be here, and should be here, with a team who always wanted him.”

As much of a feel-good story as it is, it’s a lot more than that. In Iwakuma, the Mariners bring back a starter who, when he’s out there, is among the best in the game.

Just back in 2013, his first full season as a Major League starter, Iwakuma was an American League All-Star and finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting. In 2014, he recorded a strikeout-to-walk ratio that was third-best in baseball. And while last year he was hindered a bit by injury, he was back to his normal self in the second half. Highlighted by the no-hitter, he had the sixth-best WAR by an American League pitcher over that span, according to Fangraphs.

Iwakuma’s repertoire, of course, is highlighted by the splitter he frequently throws down and out of the strike zone. While controlling the zone is important, getting hitters to chase bad pitches works too—and since 2013, no pitcher who’s thrown at least 500 innings has been better at it than Iwakuma, as hitters have chased 36 percent of the pitches he throws outside the strike zone.

It’ll be good to see that splitter working at Safeco Field again, someplace Iwakuma knew he wanted to be.

“I feel like I have always wanted to come back here, that was always in the back of my mind,” Iwakuma said when he re-signed through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “A lot of people that I know here in Seattle wanted me to come back. I have a lot of friends here away from baseball and in baseball. We had a lot of guys who texted me, ‘Please come back,’ and that really touched my heart. I want to come back, I want to help this team contribute, and play to my expectations and make it to the World Series.”

Off the Field

While Hisashi Iwakuma now spends his offseasons in Seattle, he stays very close to his roots in Japan, and is close with the players who have also made the journey to play stateside.

Iwakuma is a big supporter of charity. He and his wife, Madoka, teamed up to create a children’s book to give it to kids during their visits to Ronald McDonald House of Charity in Sendai, Japan.

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Highlights

 

 

 

Photos

More in the Zoning In on the 2016 Mariners Series:

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