Felix Hernandez gets all the attention in Seattle, and understandably so. He’s arguably the best pitcher in all of baseball, and he’s got the numbers to back it up. But the Mariners are in the thick of the AL Wild Card race, and it isn’t solely because of King Felix. There’s a No. 2 starter in the Pacific Northwest who has been almost as good, and his name is Hisashi Iwakuma.
Playing in Seattle and pitching behind Hernandez is the perfect disguise for a player, and because of it, many fans haven’t even heard Iwakuma’s name. While that’s understandable, it isn’t right, and it shouldn’t be that way for much longer. The Mariners’ No. 2 ace turned in another brilliant performance Friday night against the Chicago White Sox, holding Jose Abreu and company to just one earned run on five hits over seven innings. The only blemish to Iwakuma’s line came via a Dayan Viciedo opposite field blast in the top of the fourth. The pitch that was hit out wasn’t even poorly-located, as it was destined for the outer-third of the plate before Viciedo reached out and deposited it just over the right field wall. Iwakuma only struck out three batters, his lowest total since July 18, but he was still extremely effective in the win.
His ERA is now comfortably under three and his WHIP is under one, and it could be easily argued that, if Iwakuma were on a team that received more national media attention, he would’ve been in the All-Star Game. Without the ace, Seattle definitely wouldn’t be in the playoff hunt, and Iwakuma should almost certainly top the list of best players you’ve never heard of.
Seattle has Iwakuma under contract until after the 2015 season assuming the M’s exercise his team option next season, a move that the team would be foolish not to make. The Japanese star is getting paid just $6.5 million this season, and he will receive a mere $7 million next year. When his contract is up, Iwakuma will undoubtedly demand more money, and he’s right to do so. While he hasn’t been the healthiest pitcher during his time in the majors, and despite the fact that he’s 34 years old, Iwakuma will be one of the game’s best for the next few seasons. Realistically, he could demand and receive upwards of $25 million a season on his new contract, assuming he’s healthy.
It would be great to see Iwakuma get more attention, but obviously that isn’t going to happen playing in Seattle. While he might get to play October baseball this season, there is a decent chance he might even move to a larger-market team when his contract is up. It’s realistic to think that the large majority of the baseball world doesn’t want to see the New York Yankees buy Iwakuma for an inordinate amount of money, so let’s all hope he either remains in Seattle or moves to another contending team after 2015. The baseball world deserves to see Iwakuma on the sport’s biggest stage. He has the talent necessary to easily be considered one of baseball’s best.