The Logic Behind Looking Into Hideki Okajima


A few days ago Susan Slusser reported that the Oakland Athletics were showing interest in the veteran 37 year old left hander reliever Hideki Okajima, famous for his years with the Boston Red Sox.  He had his best season in his first year in MLB with the World Champion Red Sox in 2007, he’s been in a gradual but steady decline each year since then.  So why exactly would the Athletics be interested in him then?

Apr 30, 2011; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Hideki Okajima (37) pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the seventh inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The A’s already have 3 relatively established left handed relievers with Jerry Blevins, Sean Doolittle, and Jordan Norberto in the fold.  But those three aren’t without their uncertainties.

Jerry Blevins had a very solid season in 2012, and seemed to prove that he can get hitters out with consistency.  I can’t mention too many times how amazing his Houdini-like save in Anaheim was either.  But some of his peripheral stats can be a bit troubling.  His .224 BABIP and his 4.21 FIP seem to show that he benefitted from a bit of good fortune en route to his solid season.  It doesn’t mean he’s going to get shelled in 2013, but there’s absolutely no guarantee he won’t.

Sean Doolittle shocked everyone by dominating three levels of minor league ball in 2012, going from the High A Stockton Ports all the way to a prime setup role with the Oakland Athletics themselves.  For the former first baseman turned pitcher, it was clearly a shocking turn of events.  Doolittle took his lumps at times, but he also looked downright filthy other times.  His fastball was hovering in the mid to high 90’s early on, but seemed to fade a bit as the season wore on.  Certainly pitching more than he ever had in his life took its toll.  Whether he suffers a sophomore slump, or still hasn’t completely recovered from his heavy workload remains to be seen.  He may be on his way to becoming one of the league’s dominant lefty set up men, but once again, nothing is guaranteed.

Jordan Norberto is the biggest question mark of the three.  He missed a large portion of the season, including everything past August 17 with shoulder problems.  When he was healthy though he was effective, provided he wasn’t walking everyone to the tune of 3.9/9 innings.  He’s a middle reliever and nothing more at this point, but having him in the bullpen as a lefty certainly has its own value.

They also have Travis Blackley as a swing man, he’ll be in the long relief role and making spot starts here and there, so his presence doesn’t impact the rest of the bullpen necessarily.  So adding a low risk arm like Hideki Okajima makes sense because he’s something of a safety net incase any of the three current lefty pitchers go down.

As the expression goes, you can never have too much pitching.  That notion applies for both the starting rotation as well as the bullpen.  While there may be a number of arms who’ll spend most of 2013 in Sacramento, none of them have the experience that Okajima has.  On a team as young as the Athletics, a presence like Okajima could provide value beyond just what he’s able to contribute from the mound itself.

He’s already been released from the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan, so it appears his intention is to return to MLB this season.  Look for Billy Beane to take a long look at bringing Okajima into the fold, there really isn’t any reason not to give him a shot.