Why we should have seen Koji Uehara coming

Why? Well, probably because we're all lazy idiots. Or we weren't paying attention. OK, no - we're just lazy idiots.

If there’s any one player-related piece that I hope people take away from this season, it’s that folks begin to appreciate just how good Koji Uehara is at baseball – and I really mean that. I mean it because sure, he’s an insanely likeable guy, but I say it more from the perspective that he might be one of the most undervalued commodities in baseball and it’s nice to see a guy whose gone so unnoticed for so long, finally get his due.

To this point, there’s not a lot to be said that hasn’t been said already about Uehara since he became closer for the Red Sox back in the middle of June. He hasn’t allowed an earned run since Jose Bautista took him deep on June 30th. He has an ERA under 1. His K/BB with the bases empty is a cartoonish 28.50. In fact, he’s only walked two batters in three months.

Koji Uehara

He’s even great with kids! (Credit: FLICKR)

All of that is incredible, but you know what else is incredible? 1.) He’s been doing this for a while now; and 2.) As writers we should have been paying more attention because, really – why didn’t we see this coming?

I mean let’s take a step back for a second here and consider that last piece, because let’s face facts, his numbers are anything but subtle. In fact, since 2010, Koji hasn’t just been one of the best relievers in baseball, he might, in fact – be THE best reliever in baseball. Since then, he’s amassed a:

• 2.01 ERA that ranks 4th among MLB relievers
• 11.60 K/9 that ranks 11th among MLB relievers
• 1.13 BB/9 that ranks 1st among MLB relievers
• 2.44 FIP that ranks him 8th among MLB relievers
• 6.1 cumulative fWAR that ranks him 7th among MLB relievers

Just for a point of reference, he’s been better than Mariano Rivera in almost every statistical category and has been worth almost a full win above replacement more than the best reliever in the game’s history over that period of time.

And look – I’m not taking anything away from Rivera, here – but Mo has also had the luxury of being able to enter games in the 9th inning more often than not. That means he’s entering the game with no one on, no one out. By contrast, Koji’s been utilized as a high leverage reliever his whole career – frequently being called into games with runners in scoring position and not much margin for error.

Yet time after time, Koji’s successful.

In fact, if we measure Uehara on the basis of his WPA/LI (How many wins a player contributes to his team with the Leverage Index aspect removed – e.g. accurately weighted situations) – he isn’t just the best in the game – he blows away the competition.

Koji’s obscene 6.87 WPA/LI is not only the best in baseball, but it’s a full 1.69 better than Rivera’s 5.28 mark. To give you some context – the difference between Koji and Rivera (#1 and #2) is the same difference that exists between Rivera and the 22nd ranked guy on the list – Brad Ziegler.

The point is – Koji Uehara is elite and has been that way for some time. It’s high time we started treating him the way he should be treated – and that’s as one of the top 2 or 3 relievers in all of baseball, if not the absolute best.

This isn’t a Cinderella story and it sure isn’t a surprise. It’s just us not paying attention.

And while we’re at it, we might as well pat Ben Cherington on the back, too. He’s the guy that convinced Koji to sign a 1-year, incentive-laden $4 million contract that morphed into a 2 year, $8 million contract. Or then again, maybe we shouldn’t. Cherington, after all – is also the same guy who was OK with paying Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey a combined $11.14 million to be atrocious.

Which perhaps unearths another, more subtle lesson to be learned in the year of Koji: There are always pitchers who are undervalued on the market. Find them and pay them and let everyone else worry about overpaying for silly things like saves and ‘proven closers.’

Categories: Andrew Bailey Brad Ziegler Joel Hanrahan Jose Bautista Koji Uehara Mariano Rivera

A world-class baseball nerd, baseball fan, and baseball man, Hunter Golden agreed to terms with Fire Brand of the American League in September of 2012 in exchange for an oversized baby bottle, football helmet filled with cottage cheese and naked pictures of Bea Arthur. In January of 2013, he was named Editor. He likes run-on sentences, enjoys over-using hyphens, and smelling books. When it comes to serious stuff, Hunter is a professional writer (no, really), father of two, Husband of one and whose natural habitat is Western Massachusetts and agreeable parts of Connecticut. Follow him at @hunterGbaseball on Twitter or shoot him an email at [email protected]

4 Responses to “Why we should have seen Koji Uehara coming” Subscribe

  1. DuyTran September 4, 2013 at 9:16 AM #

    from december 2012
    Ben and Sam discuss Koji Uehara’s signing with the Red Sox and try to figure out why he doesn’t make more money and high-leverage appearances.
    Episode 97: “Why Couldn’t Koji Uehara Get a Bigger Contract?”

  2. Chip buck September 5, 2013 at 7:22 AM #

    How does leverage and situation play into WPA?  Koji was Daniel Bard set-up type guy prior to ascending to closer.  He would come in with men on base, rather than a clean slate like most closers.  Might that play into Koji having such a large advantage over Rivera in WPA?

  3. baseballNE September 5, 2013 at 2:18 PM #

    @Chip buck Yeah that’s it, basically, Chip – but still – that’s what’s so mind blowing to me about Koji. He’s posting better numbers than almost everyone in insanely high leverage situations with no margin for error. I can’t even imagine what his numbers would be if he had been closing for four years instead of being everyone’s favorite water pump…

  4. New Lyndsay September 12, 2013 at 10:49 PM #

    I really wish I could hire Koji Uehara to high five me when I arrive at work every day.