Boston Red Sox Report Cards: Koji Uehara


Now that the 2015 season is in the books, the BoSox Injection staff will hand out their final report cards, grading the performances of each member of the Boston Red Sox roster based on their expectations entering the season.

A-. . closer. . KOJI UEHARA

2015 Stats: 2-4, 2.23 ERA, 25/27 Saves, 40.1 IP, 28 H, 14 R, 9 BB, 47 K, 2.44 FIP, 0.92 WHIP, 1.3 WAR

Contract Status: Signed for 2016 at 9M.

Koji Uehara is quite arguably one of the most effective closers for Boston since Dick Radatz and has certainly attained a similar cult status as “The Monster.” Physically both are total opposites with Koji being about half the size of Radatz.

Two issues are constantly mentioned with Uehara – his age and his physical health. There is little to do with age since it is public record and Koji will be 41-years-old and in baseball terms that is Methuselah territory. The second issue has plagued Uehara in his America stay with last season being cut short by a broken hand induced by a natural reflex response to a batted ball. Despite the broken paw, Koji got the out.

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Examining Koji’s MLB record the man still has a swing a miss quality as in 2015 his contact percentage was a career low of 64%. Uehara does his surgical precision of batters with stealth and not the sexy and attention getting 100 MPH fastball. Uehara averaged 87.1 MPH on his FB in 2015, so he does throw harder than retired Jamie Moyer.

What Uehara does possess is a cutter that is his traditional “out” pitch. The cutter is employed 60.4% of the time as the fastball 38.8% of the time. The fastball usage is also a career low for Uehara. So if you are a hitter your mindset is to place a priority on the cutter. The great Mariano Rivera will cut his way to the HOF so knowing it is coming and doing something about it are two different issues.

Uehara will close in 2016 unless the Red Sox make a huge splash and manage to pry loose an Aroldis Chapman or another elite closer. Under those circumstances Uehara will return to the position he was originally intended to perform in Boston until fate intervened – set-up or late inning specialist.

With concerns surfacing over Junichi Tazawa traditional late season meltdown the Red Sox just may be interested in pursuing Koji to Tazawa’s position and moving Taz back a notch. But with that comes another risk and that is the wear and tear on Uehara. As closer the last few season his use was closely monitored regarding multiple games/innings, which were frowned upon, so further bullpen depth certainly could provide additional comfort over usage issues.

What is known is Uehara is a superb closer, a lively individual and a solid teammate. Koji can pitch and pitch under pressure in as tough a market as exists in baseball and that is something that cannot be dismissed.

Sources: Baseball-reference/fangraphs

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