Starting pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada signed with the Chicago Cubs in the offseason after the Baltimore Orioles declined his $5 million option. Wada failed to make the starting rotation out of Spring Training, but with his current dominance of the Pacific League, he may lay claim to a starting rotation spot in case of an injury or ineffectiveness of No. 5 starter Jake Arrieta.
Wada, a 33-year-old left-handed pitcher, originally signed a two-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles coming out of Japan but immediately had to undergo Tommy John surgery. After recovering, Wada threw 102.2 innings for the Orioles’ Triple-A team with effective but generally yawn-inspiring results, pitching to a 4.03 ERA with 80 strikeouts and 35 walks.
While his first season stateside wasn’t very impressive, it was still an admirable and worthy debut for Wada. In his second taste of American baseball, Wada is pitching like a completely different person, increasing his strikeout rate from 7.01 to 9.34 K/9 while cutting his walks from 3.07 to 1.83 BB/9. This has led to a 1.22 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 44.2 innings pitched.
Although the results have been excellent, Wada is clearly pitching way above his head. Opposing batters have hit just .221 on balls in play against Wada, and he has not yet allowed one base runner to score this season. The six total runs Wada has allowed have all come on five home runs hit against him. While this is a rate that cannot continue, it is impressive nonetheless.
The main takeaway from Wada’s 2014 season so far has been his incredible 5.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. If he can maintain a rate anywhere above 3.00 Wada is going to have success no matter what league he’s pitching in.
Jake Arrieta, however, has been the opposite of Wada in terms of command, with a 1.63 K/BB ratio in 13.1 innings. This is par for the course with Arrieta, as his career K/BB rate is just 1.71. He’s been able to work around the walks so far and has an attractive 2.70 ERA on the season, but if he continues to walk batters at this rate he will not hold onto his rotation spot for long.
Wada should be the first man up from the minor leagues to take over for Arrieta if he falters. While Wada does not overpower hitters and is what some will refer to as a “crafty lefty”, he’s the type of guy teams love to have at the back of the rotation as a pitcher with a plan on the mound and will throw strikes. The Cubs will want to see exactly what they have in Wada, and when they do, he has the potential to give the team a chance to win every fifth day.