Ah, yes, the question that just about every Yankee fan would like an answer to. There’s probably a lot wrong with the Japanese southpaw that the Yankees wish they could fix. But, there are also other things that seem to be more obvious, at least to me, that appear to be more correctable. All players, though, cannot correct all their flaws, and hence, that is where players are weeded out. So, whether Igawa can sort out his problems remains to be seen, but issues there are a plenty.
I went to see the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees opener on Thursday specifically to examine Igawa up close and personal to see what I could discover about “what is wrong with him.” Of course, he didn’t make it easy on me by proceeding to toss six perfect innings against Lehigh Valley before being subsequently being lifted in favor of Scott Patterson. So, yes, the task I had laid out was to break down what is wrong with a pitcher who had just steamrolled through six frames with 7 strikeouts and no walks. Most would be deterred, but not me. Find out more after the jump…
Kei Igawa does have more than enough pure stuff to get Triple-A hitters out, and that is exactly what he showed on Thursday. His fastball touched 92 MPH on a very chilly, windy night and his changeup ranged from 77-81 MPH. Even his often suspect breaking ball was working for him as well. But, I really do not think, nor do many baseball people, that his problems stem from a lack of weapons in his arsenal.
Whether Kei Igawa’s current mechanics are what worked for him in Japan I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that what he does now will make it very difficult for him to ever get the ball down in the strike zone against big league hitters.
Bottom line: Kei Igawa never fully transfers his weight over his front leg. I suppose you could call him a drop and drive pitcher, given his extreme back leg collapse, but it is simply not working too well. To put it another way, he is drop without the drive. I’ve laid out a few points as to why Igawa has struggled so much to locate his pitches down in the zone, which has been the general problem with him; he’s been up in the zone. Of course, my school of thought it just one school of thought, but I also believe some points I make are fairly standard pitching philosophies. Always keep in mind though, to keep an open mind when it comes to mechanical philosophies one way or another.
Point 1: Arm Speed
Kei Igawa is not blessed with tremendous arm speed. That is not an automatic point of ruining for a pitcher; some guys have it and some guys don’t. Igawa’s delivery is based on the work of his legs. All his workouts are directed towards his legs and all of his mechanics are built around leg drive. But, one major issue is that Igawa’s arm cannot catch up to his immensely long stride. He never truly gathers himself at his balance point. In fact, that is really not a problem. I love the aggressive nature and momentum he has going into his release. However, to succeed with such a fast paced delivery, you need to be in a special class. Pitchers who have that electric quick arm and have an aggressive, violent weight transfer toward the plate are an entirely different case. These pitchers are some of the big leagues’ most successful hurlers, but Igawa does not have the two parts of this winning formula to make it work. He never comes to a stop at his balance point and the arm simply can never catch up to the lower half.
It’s simple physics from this point on. If a pitcher’s arm is not keeping up with the rest of his delivery, he’s making it very difficult on himself to drive the ball on a downward plan low in the zone. Arm speed is generally a gift for a pitcher, so I don’t believe that fixing that is an option.
Point 2: Stride Length
A long stride used properly can produce outstanding results but it is also a good place to start looking for problems for a pitcher who has had as many struggles as Kei Igawa has. His stride length is about equal to his height. The main problem I have though is that he is reaching so far with his front front that it’s causing his front hip to open up early. Try it for yourself. Stand in the middle of the room and reach as far as you can with your foot. If you reach far enough, your hips will begin to turn. If those hips are opening up, he’s striding too far and losing much of that power he has stored on his back leg. You don’t want to see a pitcher’s hips squaring up too early in his delivery or before he can begin to employ his leg drive.
All that is definitely a problem in regards to Igawa’s stride, but there is also a far more key issue that I touched on briefly in point 1. The longer a pitcher’s stride is, the more leg drive they need to get leverage and throw over their front side. This lefty has the long stride, and the leg drive, but not enough to overcome just how long that stride is. Combined with his arm having trouble keeping up, it is quite a challenge for Igawa to use that front leg as a post of sorts in which he can vault his swing his weight over. With his stride being as long as it is, he’s just making it very hard on himself to firm up that front leg and create a downward plane. This image illustrates that struggle pretty well.
Also, take a look at how low Igawa’s actual release point is being as spread out as he is. Not much downward plane going on there is there?
Point 3 – Front Leg
Take a look at Igawa’s stride leg upon release of the ball. It’s bent at nearly a 90 degree angle. In fact, it looks like there’s as much resistance pushing backwards as there is pushing forward. He’s making it very difficult on himself to transfer his weight toward the hitter. At not point in his delivery does that front leg ever completely straighten out so that he can bring the rest of his body and arm over the top. Ever hear youth and high school coaches tell pitchers to stay tall? It applies at all levels. Igawa delivers the ball essentially from a crouched position that Jeff Bagwell could be proud of. Except, for a pitcher, it is hard to get much leverage from down there.
Also take note of how Igawa’s leg swings open as oppose to just a normal stride forward. This also causes his hips to prematurely open. By doing this, he is causing his front foot to turn open also. Notice that his foot lands very hard on his heel and not on the ball of his foot. Because he is landing on his heel, as he begins to drive with his legs, his heel will rotate slightly before the rest of his foot comes down. It’s a small millisecond but that is more time for his front side to premature open up. Especially since he is a leg drive oriented pitcher this is especially true, but a pitcher’s upper body and arm follow and are dictated by the actions of the lower body.
Point 4 – Pie Throwing
The term “pie thrower” is scouting jargon for a pitcher who has his palm somewhat under the ball rather than on top. Igawa is a classic example. His arm action is not a thing of beauty; it’s quite stiff and seems to merely be along for the ride with his lower half. His “pie throwing” is more than likely a simple result of his lower half mechanical flaws.
I gave Kei Igawa a very hard time in this piece because that was the point of this article. Small flaws were magnified and examined. So, no, these flaws are not as monstrous as they may sound. Right about now, no one is too interested in “what is great about Kei Igawa”. People want to know why he hasn’t succeeded. Of course, there are reasons far beyond just his delivery mechanics that he’s failed in the big leagues thus far. But, since it’s been becoming more and more evident that his main chink in the armor has been pitching up in the zone, I thought exploring why that’s been happening would be interesting.
There is actually a lot to like about Kei Igawa, so Yankee fans, don’t quit just yet. I think a lot could be resolved for Kei with a shortening of his stride. I really like the momentum and aggression in his drive towards the plate. I would just prefer that that drive be much more downhill. His stuff, down in the zone, can be effective. Whoever scouted and signed him didn’t get that completely wrong. Perhaps what they did not anticipate was the trouble he’d having in changing his mechanics. Although he dominated a Triple-A lineup on Thursday, there was not a truly dramatic change in his location; he was up a lot. So, it begs the question; will he come to the realization that his delivery works at Triple-A and in Japan but not at the MLB level? Only time will tell.
I hope this was good food for thought for Yankee fans especially. Kei Igawa is not a lost cause, despite the fact that all I did was point to his flaws. Besides his lack of arm speed, they are all correctable problems. Will he make the adjustments, however? That I do not know.