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Kenshin Kawakami, etc.

Were they really still playing baseball in the sixth inning last night? It might just be seeing it in HD for the first time playing tricks on my eyes, but it seemed like we hit rain-delay-intensity about an hour before they finally unrolled the tarp. Thank goodness for the late tie. (In other news, Bud Selig owes Bossman Jr. a fruit basket or a bouquet of flowers.)

The RBI story is just not coming together (if we want to continue on the movie analogy from last week it is not just on the shelf but on the shelf next to the lost Marx Brothers movie and rapidly degenerating due to its unstable nitrate-based film) so it's time for some regularly scheduled news and notes. 

The Japanese pitcher of the hour, Kenshin Kawakami, has hired an American agent. The Red Sox are said to be the prime contenders for his services, but I have to imagine that any ready-for-action starting pitcher has at least had his tires kicked by Moz in the Hot Stove early going.

Kawakami, who will be 34 in 2009, is a tough guy to get a read on coming out of Japan. His stats are borderline spectacular; through 2007 he had a career K:BB ratio of 3.76, and he's walked fewer than two batters per nine innings for his last five seasons. More importantly, maybe, for a player moving to the majors he's able to strike batters out; in 2008 he struck out nearly a batter an inning, and his career K/9 is over seven. 

That said, as with a player moving from AAA to the majors, or from the low minors to the high minors, it's difficult to figure exactly how much of his control is pitch command and how much is pitching to batters with less power and less plate control than big leaguers; according to East Windup Chronicle scouts have pegged him alternately in the middle and the back of a Major League rotation. 

If you're attempting to extrapolate from individual cases and are also mildly optimistic, disposition-wise, the example you're looking for is Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda, who definitely impressed me in the playoffs. Kuroda, like Kawakami, is a control pitching veteran who arrived via free agency in his thirties. Like Kawakami, he eventually just stopped walking batters in Japan, culminating in an outstanding 21 walks in 190 innings in 2006. 

Kawakami strikes out more batters, but Kuroda has a Duncan-approved groundball tendency in his favor, which manifest itself in a lower home run rate during his peak in Japan. The worst thing you can say for Kawakami is that this comparison is a wash, making Kuroda's above-average performance in 2008 seem within reach. 

Players like Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu are certainly proof that Japanese aces aren't always what their NPB numbers would seem to indicate, but unless the Cardinals have seen something I haven't I'd like to see them take a shot at Kawakami. With no posting fee he's just a regular free agent, albeit one whose numbers must be looked at even more sideways than a Coors Field refugee's. 

The Hank Aaron Award is handed out each year to honor the best offensive performer in each league. It is now awarded by a fan vote. Presented without comment: the winners. 

At MVN they're Being the GM, and a non-Cards blogger has detailed his ideas for the 2009 Cardinals. I think it's interesting to see an outside opinion that dovetails so neatly with the very school of thought we've come to fear in Cards fan circles: the veteran re-treading. Renteria I'm okay with; Brian Shouse would be an excellent fit; but I think the closer you get to St. Louis the more concerned you are with the idea that the Cardinals really would love to go with Brandon Lyon in the closer's role. 

I don't mean to dismiss the idea entirely; the Cardinals bullpen could certainly use a veteran arm, even though I'd rather it not be that one. It's just that this is a plan that's been bandied about so long now that even though it works, to a point, I'm terrified of the prospect of the brass trying it again. Suggesting, to a Cardinals fan, that they might be well-served by signing some veteran role players and filling holes is like telling Sisyphus that he really ought to just roll the rock up the hill and be done with it.