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Bluto and Ishii
2004-12-27 21:50
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

You can't stand to look at him, can you? You see Kazuhisa Ishii the way the Omegas saw John Blutarsky, don't you?

Of course, that's Senator Blutarsky to you, pal.

No Dodger pitcher has confounded in the past three years the way Ishii has - check out the Dodger Thoughts archives for evidence.

April 9, 2003: Kazuhisa Ishii pitches like my childhood bedroom looked ... a slopfest on the mound - pitches strewn about everywhere like clothes and toys all over the floor.

April 17, 2003: I worry about losing my credibility.

When a pitcher throws seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and three walks, I should be able to praise him, shouldn’t I?

How can I defend .204-hitting Adrian Beltre one day, and in the same week, still raise questions about Kazuhisa Ishii after Wednesday night’s winning performance?

May 9, 2003: Kazuhisa Ishii, who I have said should go to the bullpen, pitched six innings of one-run ball Thursday and lowered his ERA to 2.95.

But the rest of the world has caught up with deconstructing Ishii. Whereas in 2003 I wrote that "no one seemed to notice that his ERA was high despite a winning record," now that's all people notice.

In the meantime, what they're missing is, however inconsistent, a pitcher who more than occasionally embarasses the opposing lineup.

It's not just that Ishii produced 16 quality starts in 31 games last season. Quality starts are overrated. Particularly in the context of Dodger Stadium, at least through 2004, allowing three runs in six innings - a 4.50 ERA - is not all that impressive.

Here's a game-by-game review of Ishii's 2004 performance. Note not only the quality starts, but the fact that he pitched 13 games (in bold below) in which he allowed two runs or fewer in six innings or more.

IP  ER
6.0  1  April
6.2  4
4.0  7
9.0  0
6.0  2 
6.2  2  May
4.0  2
6.1  3
4.2  2
6.0  0
5.0  3  June
8.0  1
6.0  3
5.0  5
6.0  3
3.0  7  July
9.0  0
6.0  2
3.1  6
4.0  6
6.1  1
2.0  5  August
7.0  2
4.0  5
7.1  2
6.0  1
5.2  3  September
2.1  4
4.2  4
7.0  1
5.0  3  October

How many games of six innings/two runs did free agent prize Matt Clement have last season? Twelve. (Odalis Perez, by the way, had 18.)

The key to Ishii is that despite his corpulent walk totals - 305 in three seasons - opponents punish him about as effectively as Greg Marmalard and Doug Neidermeyer would. In 2004, Ishii allowed a slugging percentage of .414 - 24th-best in the National League. In previous seasons, Ishii's opponents' slugging percentage was even lower: .384 in 2002, .394 in 2003.

The disturbing trends with Ishii are not only that the slugging is on a slight rise, but that his strikeout rate went on double secret probation in 2004. After averaging more than eight strikeouts per nine innings from 2002-03, Ishii fell to 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings this past season.

Oh, and not coincidentally, there were the 10 games last season that Ishii put the bullpen through a workout by not making it out of the fifth inning. Sometimes, it does help to sit through an entire class.

I saw Animal House probably 30 times before my 13th birthday - there was a stretch when I was watching it on a daily basis when I got home from school. I can't say I have the same desire to see Ishii that many times before my 38th birthday next November.

Nevertheless, those who think Ishii should be expelled without remorse are mistaken. There are certainly several baseball teams out there who don't have five better starting pitchers than the Dodgers' Delta House mascot. He's overpaid for his current performance, but there's a whole fraternity of folks like that.

Just because Ishii isn't great, or even average, doesn't mean we should ignore what value he does retain.

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