The Curious Case of Micheal Nakamura

When I wrote about why I feel we shouldn’t hold unreasonably high expectations for recently signed Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, I mentioned that he will the first Japanese player to ever wear a Twins uniform, excluding RHP Micheal Nakamura*. Don’t worry, I forgive you if you don’t remember Nakamura, considering he only pitched 12.2 innings for the Twins in 2003.

* Yes, his first name has the “e” and “a” flipped. It’s like Jhonny Peralta.

Well, after remembering Nakamura, curiosity got the best of me and I decided I had to check out his stats. I remembered the poor ERA (7.82) from the sidearmer, but some things caught my eye. For one, a 9.95 K/9 and a 1.42 BB/9. Wow, that’s actually awfully great, I thought.  How was his ERA so terrible? Then I saw it: a .359 batting average against (with a .424 BABIP), and a horrific 2.84 HR/9. The same was true in 2004 when he joined the Toronto Blue Jays, as he had a 7.36 ERA, 2.45 HR/9, and yet a good 8.42 K/9 and 2.45 BB/9 in 25.2 IP.

Combining those two seasons, Nakamura had a terrible 7.51 ERA, but his xFIP (take FIP and normalize the home run rate to the league average, which Nakamura was clearly surpassing) was a much more respectable 4.03, thanks to his good strikeout and walk rates. Now firmly entrenched in the NPB with the Yomiuri Giants, he has established himself as a solid reliever, as he had a 1.93 ERA, 7.07 K/9, 1.93 BB/9, and 0.86 HR/9 during the 2010 season.

I’m not saying that the Twins should necessarily consider bringing back Micheal Nakamura, but I do think that a major league club could take a gamble and let him attempt to find success in the States again. He is currently 34 years old, and MLB teams have signed several Japanese pitchers at this age before, so it’s not like it would be anything extraordinary. However, the unique part would be giving a Japanese pitcher a second stint in MLB, especially when there were 6 seasons in between those two stints. Perhaps for the right price (i.e. the major league minimum), Nakamura could be a low-risk, medium reward signing. Or, this could just be treated as my own little pipe dream of giving a professional athlete a chance at redemption.

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