Hisanori Takahashi will forever go down in history as being Tony Reagins supposed "big splash" in the 2011 off-season, but he did have some usefulness despite his association with those unfortunate comments. While Takahashi was more good than bad in 2011, he'll have to do better in 2012 to justify the Angels' investment in him.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to the early start, not all stat projection systems are available yet, but I will update the player preview pages after the fact once they do become available)
2011 Stats: 4-3, 68.0 IP, 3.44 ERA, 58 H, 25 BB, 7 HR, 52 K, 2 SV
2012 ZiPS Projections: 4-3, 75.2 IP, 3.57 ERA, 69 H, 26 BB, 8 HR, 73 K
2012 Bill James Projections: 4-3, 68.0 IP, 3.44 ERA, 62 H, 25 BB, 7 HR, 58 K, 0 SV
2012 CAIRO Projections: 5-5, 88.0 IP, 4.06 ERA, 85 H, 31 BB, 9 HR, 71 K, 6 SV
2012 MWaH Projections*: 2-4, 62.0 IP, 4.08 ERA, 57 H, 22 BB, 7 HR, 46 K, 0 SV
*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research
2011 in Review: The Angels made a point last off-season of finally arming their bullpen with some left-handed arms, signing both Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi. The idea was that Downs could be a setup man while Takahashi could be the middle inning left-hand specialist and maybe a bit more. Heck, when Taka was picked up, there was even talk that he could move into the rotation or possibly even win the closer's job. At worst, the Angels knew they were getting a guy who would be death on left-handed hitters.
Or not. What the Halos thought they were getting was a guy who limited left-handers to a .554 OPS in 2010 (with righties hitting .768). But in 2011, his platoon reversed. It was lefties touching up Taka for a .733 OPS, including four home runs, while righties hit just .599 against him. That unexpected ability to hold down right-handers that allowed Takahashi to finish the season with what ended up being pretty decent overall numbers. Alas, there probably isn't a single Angel fan that trusts him.
Hisanori didn't walk many batters or allow a lot of hits, so he really should have been more reliable, but his problems with the gopher ball proved to be his undoing. For reliever, seven home runs in just under seventy innings is too much, especially with four of those homers coming against the left-handed batters he was supposed to be so deadly against. On the bright side, he did earn himself some additional value by being effective against right-handers, meaning that instead of being a LOOGY, he actually ended up being Mike Scioscia's long man out of the pen.
Three Lingering Questions for 2012:
- Can Takahashi reverse his fortunes against left-handers? With his delivery and repertoire, Taka should be more effective against lefties, and he has been in the past. But his effective change-up could also allow him to hold his own against righties again. Is it possible that he could keep getting righties out while returning to his lefty-killing ways? Or will both righties and lefties hit him hard?
- What will Hisanori's role in the bullpen be? Considering that the Angels were rumored to be looking to add a third lefty to the pen this off-season, it is reasonable to assume that maybe management doesn't trust him against lefties anymore. Factor in the emergence of Bobby Cassevah, the addition of LaTroy Hawkins and maybe another free agent, how far down the bullpen depth chart might Taka fall?
- Is there anything Takahashi can do about his home run problem? No, there isn't. He even had the same problem in Japan. I just couldn't think of an interesting third question. Middle relievers are boring.
What to Expect in 2012: As a quick preface to the projection discussion, keep in mind that Hisanori's projections are kind of messed up because he has only been in the league two seasons and he spent the first one as a part-time member of the rotation, which is why his innings projections are so high. For me, I'm assuming he'll pitch in relief all season, though I kind of wonder if maybe he isn't better suited for the rotation.
As my projection suggests, I don't have high hopes for Takahashi. While I do think that he'll be able to at least partially reverse his fortunes against lefties, I think that his success against righties is going to prove to be quite the fluke. The reason for that is that his BABIP against righties was an unsustainable .234. I'm also concerned that Scioscia has lost faith in Taka. By the end of the season, Scioscia had limited his LOOGY-type appearances in favor of pitching Takahashi for multiple innings. To some that might suggest Taka "earned" the right to face more righties, but it also means that Scioscia had no problem burning Hisanori in the early innings. Basically, Takahashi was something of a glorified longman and that won't bode well for him getting used in high leverage situations now that the Halos have a deeper pen.