<
>

Takahashi worthy of watching

You may have heard on a recent edition of "Baseball Tonight," show host Steve Berthiaume refer to Hisanori Takahashi as "the second-most watchable pitcher on the New York Mets."

That line was borrowed from this blogger and started a running discussion on the idea and value of pitcher "watchability."

Since that comment was made, various pitchers have occupied the "most-watchable" slot in Met fandom, whether it be Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Jonathon Niese, and now the present keeper, R.A. Dickey.

Hisanori Takahashi

2010 Season

But Takahashi has stayed in the No. 2 slot, at least in this writer's eyes. What's made the southpaw a fun watch heading into this evening's start against the Tigers?

He's a strike-thrower

Since entering the Mets rotation, Takahashi has consistently done what Oliver Perez could not do- throw strikes.

Remember the first inning of the first start Takahashi made against the Yankees on May 21?

Derek Jeter led off with a hit, but then Takahashi did something that very few have been able to do this season -- he struck pesky Brett Gardner out swinging. Mark Teixeira followed by hitting into an inning-ending double play.

That inning consisted of nine pitches, eight for strikes, and was followed by a 13-pitch, 11-strike scoreless second inning. That set the tone for everything that has followed.

In his six starts, Takahashi has thrown strikes at a 66 percent clip. The only pitcher the Mets have who throws strikes more frequently is Santana (66.8 percent). Perez couldn't imitate the good version of Santana. Takahashi can.

He's unpredictable

We like Takahashi's unpredictable nature, and we're not talking about the idea that in one game he may never run a 2-0 count the whole night, and then run eight in his next start (as he did in last two outings).

We're referring to his approach to hitters.

Most pitchers tend to throw first-pitch fastballs more often than not. With Takahashi it's about a 50-50 proposition as to whether you'll see a fastball or not.

Even if the pitch is a ball, Takahashi has the hitter standing at the plate, trying to figure out the pattern. Lefties in particular are having trouble picking it out.

Hisanori Takahashi

2010 Season

If Takahashi falls behind in the count, it's the same deal. You could see any of his four pitches -- fastball, curveball, slider or changeup.

Most hitters expect a meaty fastball when they're up 2-0 or 3-1, and they'll get one about three-quarters of the time. With Takahashi they won't. He stays true to his unpredictable nature, throwing the fastball about half the time when behind, and has a willingness to rely on his changeup or breaking ball the other half.

In the fourth inning last Friday, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez got ahead of Takahashi 2-0. Both got sliders. Rodriguez flew out on his. Cano popped out on his turn, the second straight at-bat where got up 2-0 and was finished with a slider.

The typical major league hitter slugs around .550 when he's ahead in the count. In Takahashi's six starts, hitters ahead in the count, are only slugging .333.

Yankees hitters saw a whopping 36 pitches when ahead in the count against Takahashi in his last start last Friday. Yet they couldn't do a thing against him in six scoreless innings.

Against those 36, the Yankees netted just one baserunner, and made six outs.

Takahashi's changeup, which one AL scout told us was "average to above-average" when he saw it early in the season, also worked wonders in both outings against the Yankees.

"He relies on location and he knows it," catcher Rod Barajas said. "So when he goes out to start his goal is to locate pitches, change speeds and minimize mistakes. That’s exactly what he did. When we needed to go inside, he went inside. If he missed, it was going to be for a ball inside.

Takahashi Changeup

In 2 Starts vs Yankees

Barajas is a hue Takahashi supporter because he loves the fact the picture is willing to throw any pitch in any situation.

"We threw the changeups behind in the count, we threw the changeups ahead in the count," Barajas said, referring to the Yankees game. "We just kind of mixed and matched with location, with pitch speed and that’s what you have to do with a great-hitting ballclub. (You have to) keep these guys off-balance, keep them guessing and he was able to do that."

He's always nugget-worthy

I'll admit that I watch games differently from a lot of folks, looking for nuggets (with the help of my colleagues, and the Elias Sports Bureau) that both our writers and I can integrate into their stories.

Hisanori Takahashi has been a gold mine for nuggets, even with those as silly as that he's tied for the "most syllabled" Met of all time (eight syllables, matching Bartolome Fortunato).

Of greater significance was that on April 23 Takahashi became the first Mets reliever in 34 years to strike out seven batters in only three innings of work (the first since Skip Lockwood in 1976).

• On May 26, Takahashi became the second Met, and first since Grover Powell in 1963, to not allow a run in his first two starts with the team.

• On June 18, he became the first rookie pitcher since Sidney Ponson in 1998 to throw 12-straight scoreless innings against the Yankees, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Good pitchers provide good nuggets.

---

With all this in mind, we were wondering how the heck it is that the Mets ended up with this guy, when 29 other teams had a crack at him.

It turns out the knock on Takahashi in Japan, at least according to two folks we exchanged e-mails with, was his consistency.

"When his command was on and he could locate his fastball he could be next to unhittable," said Jim Allen, who covered Takahashi's team, the Yomiuri Giants, for The Daily Yomiuri. "Most games it wasn't and his ability to adjust has not been that great."

Allen cited the example of former Mariners reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa as someone who Takahashi might be emulating, in terms of raising his game upon coming to the states. But the challenge of long-term success may be tougher for Takahashi since he's starting now and not relieving.

"Many people did not think he is capable of being a starting pitcher in MLB and I was one of them," said Brandon Siefken, who has been scouting and covering Japanese baseball for Japan Baseball News Weekly since 1991, and despite that spoke highly of Takahashi's skills. "I am afraid once MLB batters get a read on him, they will start clubbing him though."

Takahashi has been known to defy the naysayers before. In 2007, he went 14-4 with a 2.75 ERA and 1.18 WHIP for Yomiuri and was named to the Central League's Best 9 (the equivalent of winning a Cy Young). That came after three years in which his ERAs were 5.44, 4.47 and 4.94. In 2008, his ERA jumped back to 4.13, but in 2009, it dropped to 2.94.

For now, we're not sure what the future holds for Takahashi, but we're definitely curious to sit back and watch the results come in.

Mark Simon is a researcher for Baseball Tonight. Follow him on Twitter at @msimonespn or e-mail him at webgemscoreboard@gmail.com.