The Munenori Kawasaki Mirage
* Munenroi Kawasaki has been fun to watch, but he was signed as a back-up shortstop for triple-A Buffalo and that’s likely where the man who earned the nickname ‘The Mascot’ last year in Seattle is headed. ….
By Liam McGuire
Munenroi Kawasaki is fun to watch, there is no doubting that.
The YouTube sensation has quickly become a fan favorite in Toronto because of his unorthodox personality that doesn’t necessarily reflect that of the average MLB player.
Kawasaki prepares for the game of baseball differently than anyone, well ever.
Whether it’s his bizarre pregame routine (including handstands), his fake steal attempts (which are hilarious) or his bows to his teammates, there’s no doubting he is a lively addition to the Toronto Blue Jays.
However it seems that Blue Jays fans, that probably needed something to smile about after a disappointing start to the Blue Jays season, actually believe he is a viable option as a starting MLB player.
That is absolutely not the case.
I often hear Blue Jays fans talk about what is going to happen to the Japanese shortstop when superstar Jose Reyes comes back. Questions range from “can we shift Kawasaki to third when Reyes comes back?” to “who goes to the minors when Kawasaki goes to the bench?”
Questions like this are easy to answer.
Kawasaki and his .216 batting average will go to the minors, where he most likely belongs.
While Emilio Bonifacio and Macier Izturis (to a lower extent) have been extraordinarily disappointing, Kawasaki isn’t a savior at second or third base.
Keeping Kawasaki over either Bonifacio or Izturis would have to mean he has more potential than, or can produce at a much higher level than either of those two. While Bonifacio and Izturis have been horrible, this isn’t the case.
In 229 (109 games, through June 11th) at bats in the majors, this is what Kawasaki has (or hasn’t) done:
Career homeruns: 0
Career batting average: .205
Career doubles: 4
Career triples: 2
Career RBIs: 21
There isn’t any reason to believe Kawasaki will become any better than a player, who despite gaudy numbers, is peaking.
To compare, here are the stats of Seattle Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan, often considered one of the worst hitters (but best fielders) in the league from 2013 in 173 at bats (56 less at bats than Kawasaki):
Batting average: .220
The two players are comparable.
Both were teammates last year, and it is telling that Ryan played 141 games at shortstop despite Kawasaki’s presence.
Kawasaki is 32, Ryan is 31.
Both are shortstops.
Both are known for their gloves and certainly not their bats.
Kawasaki has shown solid plate discipline this season. He has taken walks. He has also had a couple of big hits for the Blue Jays this season.
However, the production still hasn’t been great.
His OPS (On-base plus slugging percentage) is a staggeringly low .603. In comparison the struggling Brett Lawrie’s is .642. The only Blue Jays that ranked lower than Kawasaki are Bonifacio and Izturis both of whom have struggled mightily.
Kawasaki’s ISO (which measures a players raw power) is a team worse .056. Henry Blanco even posted a better ISO despite being an almost automatic out every at bat he had this season.
wOBA (weight on-base average) is generally the best statistic to measure a hitter. The formula is a bit complicated:
wOBA = (0.691×uBB + 0.722×HBP + 0.884×1B + 1.257×2B + 1.593×3B +
2.058×HR) / (AB + BB – IBB + SF + HBP)
Essentially the statistic gives more weight to stats such as doubles, triples, HRs and walks than batting average would, which only gives the same weight to any hit.
Kawasaki’s wOBA is a well below average .281, which bests only season long slumpers Lawrie, Bonifacio and Izturis, which is largely because of Kawasaki taking walks.
While Kawasaki has shown solid plate discipline, it isn’t enough to justify him being in the lineup. His fielding, which is his apparent bread and butter, is also a bit overrated (but solid).
The American League average for fielding percentage among shortstop is .973; Kawasaki slightly beats out that mark with .975 rating.
Kawasaki rates in at -1.5 in UZR/150 which measures “the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, per 150 defensive games,” Comparatively Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta has a 6.0 UZR/150 and former Blue Jay and current Ray, Yunel Escobar has a 9.1 UZR/150.
Kawasaki rate at -0.4 runs in RngR (range runs) which measures “the number of runs above or below average a fielder is, determined by how the fielder is able to get to balls hit in his vicinity,” again, for the sake of comparison, Peralta is at 1.5 runs and Escobar is a 1.9 runs.
Kawasaki is not a bad fielder, but his bat plus his defense don’t justify a spot in the lineup full time. Kawasaki’s only role if he is kept in the majors would be as a utility fielder/pinch-runner.
The campaigns to get Kawasaki to the MLB All-Star game this season are completely silly and a reflection of how depressing the Blue Jays season has been thus far. While surely Kawasaki would make a great story and give his usual great sound bites, it would be embarrassing to baseball to even consider his name for the honor.
While it isn’t easy to fill for one of the best shortstops in the planet, Reyes, Kawasaki has done an OK job. However, the decision to what to do with him after Reyes comes back isn’t as hard as Blue Jays fans are making it.
While Kawasaki’s good natured spirit and attitude rank among tops in the league, unfortunately for Kawasaki admirers, his actually ability isn’t on par.
(stats from Fangraphs.com via June 11th, 5:30 PM)