Will Sox Invest More Yen in the 'Pen?

Will the Sox Invest
More Yen in the 'Pen?

Hideki Okajima, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters

(Sports Nippon Sponichi Annex Photo)

Lefty Hideki Okajima Could Be More Than Dice-K's Friend

By Daigo Fujiwara, BDD contributor and founder of JapaneseBallplayers.com

The American League East may gain its fourth Japanese player in just over two weeks. First it was Daisuke Matsuzaka Mania, then the Devil Rays got the rights to third baseman Akinori Iwamura. Yesterday, it was Kei Igawa to Yankees. And now ESPN's Buster Olney is reporting that "Hideki Okajima is in serious discussions with the Red Sox about a two-year deal." I like this deal for the Red Sox for multiple reasons.

Hideki Okajima, a 30-year-old lefthanded-specialist relief pitcher, is a three-time Japan Series winner, twice with the Yomiuri Giants in 2000 and 2002 (he was a teammate of Hideki Matsui, who he would be facing a lot, if signed), and this year (2006) with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

Okajima has faced tough lefty opponents in critical situations out of the 'pen and proven his ability in Japan. He has a "big" curve, which is tough for lefthanded batters to hit, and he's held lefty hitters to less than a .200 average in '05 and '06. Okajima's last three years of innings pitched (IP), bases on balls (BB), and strikeouts (SO):

2004 2005 2006
IP 46 2/3 53 54 2/3
BB 20 19 14
SO 53 56 63

Bottom line is, Okajima is a solid situational lefthanded pitcher, and probably will cost much less than three years at $12 million that Orioles paid Jamie Walker. And Okajima is four years younger than Walker.

And maybe most importantly, Okajima would no doubt help Matsuzaka’s transition to the United States, as Daisuke will have someone who he can talk to about the culture shock they will both be going through.

BDD is a feature of Boston.com. All posts are by Steve Silva unless otherwise indicated.

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