I don’t think it’s a secret around here that I’ve been higher on the idea of Tsuyoshi Wada than most. I say idea, rather than just the dude, because I don’t want anyone to think I’m calling Wada a Kershaw (or even a number three). The idea of Wada – a cheap, frustratingly-effective, medium-term 4th/5th starter on a good team – has intrigued me from the moment the Cubs signed him to a minor league deal in the offseason. Yes, he’s 33, and yes, he was smacked around in Spring Training. No, even after three big league starts and a great stint at AAA, there is no guarantee that Wada will “make it.” I wouldn’t bet my name on it, and I’m not claiming any kind of victory here (#NoBackPats).
Instead, I want to point out that, after those three big league starts, actual Wada looks very much like the idea of Wada. After his first start, here’s a snippet of what I wrote:
Which brings me back to my early sense of what Wada is, and what he can be: a guy who doesn’t walk anyone (the only walk he gave up last night was to the first batter of the game – understandable), and generally tries to induce weak contact and relies on his defense can be a solid 5th starter in the big leagues. You’d like to see a guy like that get a few more groundballs than Wada tends to, because his style will lend itself to the occasional stinker (likely thanks to a spate of homers in a given game). But, based on what I saw last night – coupled with what I saw in Spring Training, and the little bit of info you can get from his AAA results – Wada could be a big league arm for a few years. I don’t think you’ll see him regularly doing what he did last night, in terms of results, but he could keep a good team in the ballgame regularly.
In our three-game set, that’s pretty much what we’ve seen to a tee. Through three starts – one of which was a stinker – Wada’s numbers are better than we would have expected: 3.38 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 3.98 xFIP, .313 BABIP (which, as a flyball guy, could actually come down quite a bit), 19.4% K rate, 9.0% BB rate. You’d like to see that walk rate come down, and the home runs will come (he hasn’t given one up yet, which is why his xFIP is so high). But, all in all, those are really nice numbers for a guy you’re dreaming on as a 4/5.
It’s a small sample, and all of the standard caveats apply. But it’s worth noting that Wada’s stinker came against the lowly Padres (who singled him to death, together with his own lack of command), and his two good starts came against the Reds in Cincinnati (offense-friendly) and against the Rockies at Wrigley (decent offense). Even as I type all that, though, I just have to come back to small sample. Ignoring the results, there have been some good things to see so far. But we’ll see what happens when teams get multiple looks at him.
For now, I’m comfortable enough to say that Wada has so far lived into the idea of what I thought he could be: an effective back-of-the-rotation starter, mixing great outings (when his command is on point and his velocity ticks up a notch or two) with clunkers (when the command is even slightly off, and the homers come in bunches). I also like that he’s looked pretty athletic out there, which bodes well for aging.
Speaking of which, one final thought on Wada as a future rotation member: don’t get hung up on the 33-years-old thing.
The reason we look at age so much on a rebuilding team like the Cubs is because age is a short-hand proxy for two things: (1) cheap control, and (2) upside. Every team wants those things, and rebuilding clubs have the luxury of trying to hoard those things. So we focus on young, young, young.
With Wada, age is just a number. No, he’s not going to be around for a decade, but neither are 95% of the 4th/5th starters a team uses in any given year – even the ones who are 25-years-old. The question is whether he can pitch for the Cubs in 2015 and 2016. If he’s effective, of course he can. Further, even if he doesn’t have “youth,” he does come with cheap team control and upside (in his case, not so much in terms of development, but in terms of limited MLB exposure – sometimes guys like that surprise to the upside (Hisashi Iwakuma being the extreme example).
Worst case scenario? On a team with an excellent rotation, Wada is a great 6 or 7. Given how many pitchers the average team needs in a given season (the Cubs have had insanely good pitcher health luck the last two years), you need 6/7/8 starters anyway. I like what I’ve seen so far from Wada for him to be one of those guys – better than some of the 6/7/8 types we’ve seen in recent years.