Naoyuki Uwasawa, a Japanese pitcher recently posted at the same time as fellow countryman Shōta Imanaga, isn't someone the Philadelphia Phillies should consider signing.
According to Mark Feinsand of MLB Network, Uwasawa was posted on Nov. 27 by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. His 45-day signing window opened on Nov. 28. Major League teams have until Jan. 11 to ink the hurler to a deal to bring him over to North America.
Uwasawa, a 29-year-old right-hander, has been with the Nippon-Ham Fighters since his debut in 2013 as a 19-year-old. For his career, Uwasawa has thrown 1,367 1/3 innings over 225 games and posted a 3.42 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP.
In 2023, he went 9-9 with a 2.96 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 170 innings over 24 starts and was named an All-Star. While those numbers look good, the consensus is that his lower strikeout rates will hamper his popularity among MLB front offices.
Uwasawa's strikeout rate could pose a problem
This last season, Uwasawa posted a 17.8 percent strikeout rate. That's 124 punchouts in 696 batters faced over his 170 innings. His career strikeout rate stands at 19.1 percent. The average strikeout rate among all MLB starting pitchers this past season was 22.1 percent, so he's giving up some ground there. And that's even before considering the adjustments to the ball and the hitters that Japanese pitchers have to make when they come over to the Major Leagues.
Pitching and stuff+ guru Eno Sarris of The Athletic does point out that Uwasawa's pitches have some interesting shape characteristics. His fastball has 19 inches of induced vertical break and spins at 2,650 RPM. According to Sarris, those metrics would put Uwasawa in the top five to 10 percent in the Majors.
Per Baseball America's Geoff Pontes, an above-average induced vertical break for four-seam fastballs is over 18 inches, and "Pitchers capable of reaching 20 inches of IVB are considered to have elite vertical movement on their fastball."
So, Uwasawa's fastball movement is really good but not elite. After not being a big strikeout guy in Japan, even with those pitch metrics, you can't expect him to suddenly start missing bats in the Major Leagues.
Compared to the other Japanese pitchers looking for contracts this offseason, Uwasawa isn't in the same ballpark. He won't be anywhere close to 25-year-old phenom Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who ran a 26.7 percent strikeout rate this past season. Imanaga's rate was even higher, up at 29.5 percent.
The most recent Japanese success story, Kodai Senga, came over this season after posting a 27.4 percent strikeout rate in Japan in 2022. He improved on that with the New York Mets in 2023, with a 29.1 percent strikeout rate, and that's largely thanks to his famous ghost fork pitch, which baffled Major League hitters most of the season.
As a fourth or fifth starter-level depth piece, Uwasawa would be serviceable, but the Phillies already have a handful of depth rotation arms. If they're serious about upgrading their rotation with a third stud arm behind Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola for a World Series run, Uwasawa isn't the guy to target.