No. 2 starter? Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma is more like another ace
Hisashi Iwakuma carved up the Phillies in his usual precise and unforgiving manner Tuesday night, tossing a pristine eight scoreless innings while allowing four hits and fanning a season-high 11 hitters. He also hung a goose egg in the walks column for a staggering 12th time this season. He threw 96 pitches, including only 22 balls.
Iwakuma’s pitch and strike totals by inning:
• First: 14 pitches, 12 strikes
• Second: 8 pitches, 7 strikes
• Third: 12 pitches, 9 strikes
• Fourth: 23 pitches, 16 strikes
• Fifth: 12 pitches, 8 strikes
• Sixth: 7 pitches, 6 strikes
• Seventh: 8 pitches, 7 strikes
• Eighth: 12 pitches, 9 strikes
He threw a grand total of five balls over his last three innings as his efficiency overwhelmed another opponent.
This is nothing new. Iwakuma owns a frigid walks-per-nine-innings rate of 0.73, which is seventh-best in MLB history. He is directly looking up at Cy Young (0.69 in 1904) and Christy Mathewson (0.66 in 1914) on the all-time list for a single season. He has only issued a total of 12 free passes this year.
To take it a step further, Iwakuma has reached three balls in a count in only 54 plate appearances this year. There are 28 pitchers in the big leagues this year who have actually walked as many or more hitters than Iwakuma has reached a three-ball count with. Iwakuma’s foe Tuesday night, the Phillies’ A.J. Burnett, has issued an MLB-high 76 free passes this season. If Iwakuma’s rate holds, he would need to hurl roughly 900 innings this year to catch Burnett’s total.
Iwakuma’s eye-poping performance Tuesday night also pushed his strikeout-to-walk ratio to the rarefied air of double-figures. His rate is currently 10/1. There have only been two other starters in history who have boasted a double-digit strikeout-to-walk ratio.
1. Bret Saberhagen, 1994: 11/1
2. Cliff Lee, 2010: 10.28/1
3. Hisashi Iwakuma, 2014: 10/1
Iwakuma’s recent roll has been ridiculous. In his last 10 starts, he owns a 1.63 ERA and opponents are hitting just .201 against him. He has fanned 65 hitters and only walked four. He has yielded an on-base percentage of just .213. He’s allowed just 54 hits in 72 innings.
Iwakuma has pushed himself into the group of leaders in several different pitching categories in the American League. He ranks sixth in ERA (2.57), third in walks plus hits per inning (0.95), 10th in average against (.231), first in walks per nine innings (0.73), first in strikeout-to-walk ratio (10.00) and second in one-base percentage (.247) to his teammate, Felix Hernandez.
The consistently underrated Iwakuma is again putting together one of the greatest statistical seasons for a starter in Mariners history.
Mariners’ season ERA leaders
1. Felix Hernandez, 2014: 1.99
2. Felix Hernandez, 2010: 2.27
3. Randy Johnson, 1997: 2.28
4. Randy Johnson, 1995: 2.48
5. Felix Hernandez, 2009: 2.49
6. Hisashi Iwakuma, 2014: 2.57
7. Hisashi Iwakuma, 2013: 2.66
8. Felix Hernandez, 2013: 3.04
9. Freddy Garcia, 2001: 3.05
10. Felix Hernandez, 2012: 3.06
What Iwakuma is doing is not isolated to Mariners history. He maintains the second-best ERA as a starting pitcher for pitchers with at least 60 starts since 1930.
1. Clayton Kershaw: 2.53
2. Hisashi Iwakuma: 2.63
3. Whitey Ford: 2.71
4. Sandy Koufax: 2.71
5. Spud Chandler: 2.78
6. Jim Palmer: 2.80
Clearly the No. 2 pitcher label does not apply with the Mariners. It is Ace 1 and Ace 2. Sounds like a good Dr. Seuss book.