Boston Red Sox 25 in 25: Junichi Tazawa
The BoSox Injection staff’s preview of the Boston Red Sox 25-man roster continues with a look at Junichi Tazawa.
Junichi Tazawa was signed right out of the home islands industrial leagues and never had the opportunity to ply his pitching trade in Nippon Professional Baseball by arriving stateside with a healthy bonus and a world of promise. The road to Boston was certainly paved with uncertainty including Tommy John Surgery and an ill-fated rush to Boston in 2009.
Originally pegged as a starter, Tazawa migrated to the bullpen and success at Pawtucket in 2012 earned a promotion to Boston where Tazawa has been a staple in the bullpen. The now 29-year-old right-handed pitcher has performed rather well as a late inning set-up and has even chipped in with some commendable post season work.
The recent bulking up of the Red Sox bullpen with a premier closer in Craig Kimbrel and a promising Carson Smith should allow Koji Uehara – a remarkable reliever – to be part of the late inning mix to get to Kimbrel. That should impact on the positive for Tazawa who does have a significant performance question hovering about him.
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There are two historic elements in play that need to be considered with Tazawa. Boston has certain traditions such as an incompetent transit system, a marathon and a famous Fourth of July celebration. A relatively new addition to the list is the annual late-season meltdown by Tazawa.
The 2015 Tazawa collapse was especially dreadful with a 0-4 record in the last two months and a staggering 9.55 ERA. In 2014 in was 3-1 and 3.43 ERA – manageable – and 2013 was 1-1 with a 3.69 ERA. September is especially a nightmare (2-2, 4.54 career), so the trend is apparent – wear and tear takes a bit out of Tazawa. The bullpen additions could erase 10 possible games from the usual 70 that Tazawa appears in and the results could mean a refreshed Tazawa when (hopefully) the second season arrives in October.
The second historical issue is a simple one to resolve: Do not under any circumstances allow Tazawa to face the Toronto Blue Jays. The career totals are 2-4 with a 7.66 ERA. A WHIP of 1.87 and a mind-blowing 38 hits in 24.2 innings pitched. Tazawa should not be exempt from Jays duty, but the smart play would be to limit his appearances to a ten run behind or ahead game – even with that caveat it may be wise to hand Tazawa a three or four game vacation.
Tazawa is in the prime years of his career and has been a dependable source to trudge out from the bullpen. Do not expect a repeat of his 2-7 record in 2016 now that reserves have been added to the bullpen. What you will see from Tazawa is a relatively hard thrower who relies on a fastball (59.7% career), a split finger fastball (24.2% career) and the occasional curve and change pumped into the mix. The speed will occasionally reach the mid to upper 90s on the fastball.
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With a career BB/9 of 1.96 and K/9 of 8.71 you have a pitcher who will not be very walk prone and can get the “K” when needed. The possible downside is a 36.8 GB%. This is a pitcher who you know what you will get since his performance – both the positive and negative – have been consistent in his Boston years. Expect the negative to dissipate with the restructured bullpen.