It's been a long time since the 2008 Japan Series, where a then-23 year old, Takayuki Kishi announced to the world who he was by dominating the Yomiuri Giants bringing a title to Saitama. We didn't know it at that time, but that was a just a sign of things to come from Kishi who is the clear ace of the Seibu Lions pitching staff. With all the aces in the Pacific League being young kids, he is definitely the best veteran starter in the Pacific League and perhaps all of NPB.
We'll be doing a few things in this post, we'll first take a look at Kishi's pitching arsenal with a few GIFs I've created after watching plenty of film on the 30 year old ace. And then we'll be looking at his numbers through FIP, and from there we can predict how Kishi will do this season, going forward.
His fastball usually sits in the high 80s and tops out at 93. According to NPB Tracker circa 2012 (last known data compiled on pitch usage), Kishi threw his fastball 52.7% of the time which is atypical of many Japanese pitchers. Don't let this usage fool you, Kishi's fastball is a tremendous weapon for a variety of reasons.
First off, he has impeccable control of his fastball and one thing that is always fun is to watch how much Sumitani's catchers glove moves when Kishi throws his fastball. He's always a sure bet to paint the corners and even be granted a generous strike call because of how accurate he is. An example of this was seen in last year's All-Star Series when facing the Hiroshima Carp's Brad Eldred (who was the home run king of NPB in 2014) and Kila Ka'aihue from different sides of the plate.
When Kishi is at his best, he's able to freeze hitters by spotting a fastball right at the knees or sneaking it in on the inside corner to ring up the batter. When his fastball flares up in the zone, the result is often a drive to the outfield. Now that isn't a problem if it stays in the ballpark because of the tremendous outfield range that Norio Tanabe's squad contains. With that being said, Kishi has often had problems with the longball during his career. In 2009 he led all of NPB with home runs given up, though this isn't as much of a problem now, it's still something to keep an eye on. Here's the perfect example of Kishi freezing a hitter for a backwards K during his no-hitter last season against the Marines.
Even though Kishi appears to be a painter, don't underestimate him when it comes to just rearing back and letting it fly. Once in awhile, he'll reach and back for all he's got and challenge a hitter. Even though he tops out at 93, it looks a lot faster due to deception, and with his vast knowledge from experience, he gets the most out of his fastball. Just ask Japan's 2013 Home Run king, Wladimir Balentien about Kishi's ability to challenge.
The fastball/changeup combo is one of baseball oldest recipes for pitchers success and Kishi continues to use it to success. Personally, I love his changeup and he uses it often. In 2012, Kishi used it 17.4% of the time and watching this upcoming GIF, you can certainly see why. The pitch is absolute hell for opposing hitters because Kishi expertly brings the same arm motion as he would with a fastball, and it's usually 8 mph different from his fastball which is perfect to fool hitters. Watch how bad Kishi makes Eldred look with his changeup:
I looked everywhere to try and find video of Kishi's slider but I couldn't confirm if I saw his slider or not. It's identical in velocity to his changeup but it's thrown the least out of all his pitches. Keep an eye out for his slider during his starts.
In 2012, Kishi threw his curveball over 21% of the time which was his second most used pitch. From watching the tape, it's easy to see why. His curveball comes in at a speed below 70 and has tremendous drop on it, the pitch seems to be at its best when its destination is either in the dirt or below the knees. It either produces swings and misses or a weak groundball that provides Kishi with a solid out pitch in sticky situations. Below are two examples of Kishi curveballs, one is a great curveball from Kishi and another is a bad curveball. Take note of the results of each.
Looking at Kishi's arsenal as a whole, he's a very dynamic pitcher who can get you out in so many ways and he seems to limit contact from his opponents at times. He doesn't have to strikeout 12 a night to be successful, he's very happy to let his defense deal with simple, weak contact that he has created.
Now onto Kishi's Statistical Analysis:
The following are the complete FIP vs ERA comparisons from Kishi's career to this point
2007 (156.1 IP with 24 starts):
FIP: 3.45 ERA: 3.40
2008 (168.1 IP with 26 starts):
FIP: 2.97, ERA: 3.42
2009 (179.2 IP with 25 starts):
FIP: 3.95, ERA: 3.26
2010 (113.2 IP with 16 starts):
FIP: 2.64, ERA: 3.25
2011 (135.0 IP with 21 starts):
FIP: 3.24, ERA: 3.80
2012 (187.2 IP with 26 starts):
FIP: 2.47, ERA: 2.45
2013 (178.1 IP with 26 starts):
FIP: 3.02, ERA: 3.08
2014 (161.1 IP with 22 starts):
FIP: 3.18, ERA: 2.51
Kishi's average FIP: 3.11
I was really looking forward to my findings in Kishi's FIP numbers and much to my delight, FIP actually makes Kishi seem like an even better pitcher than his ERA does. According to FIP in 2009 (at the age of 24) which also happened to be one of only two seasons where his WHIP was over 1.2 with the other being the 2011 season, Kishi has been quite consistent in his important statistical areas like BB/9 and K/9 with his BB/9 usually being slightly above 1.5 and his K/9 being a little above 7.0.
His innings have been the stuff of a workhorse and it'll be interesting to see the amount of pitches Tanabe lets him throw in his outings and if Kishi can continue to show his rubber arm at the age of 30. In fact, last year Kishi reached a career high with complete games by throwing 5 last year. The Lions will need more of that this year and hopefully it can carry them into the playoffs.
What do I expect from Kishi? I expect more of the same, a guy with great control, finds a strikeout when he needs to, inflicts weak contact and goes deep into games. Any FIP near his average would fantastic, if we are to do anything in postseason, Kishi will have to be healthy and pitching at the level that we know he is capable of doing.
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