Is there anyone from the 2014 Blue Jays roster more enjoyable to watch than Munenori Kawasaki? Originally signed by the Seattle Mariners as an Amateur Free Agent for the 2012 season, Kawasaki has brought a unique and upbeat approach to the clubhouse. His warm up and stretching routines combined with his ability to make us laugh have endeared him to the Blue Jays faithful and team mates alike.
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That is not even to mention his occasional heroics to win games that we never would have expected, but have come to anticipate. The guy they call “Noodle Arms” has definitely earned his place in Toronto Blue Jays lore. His lovable personality makes us forget the fact that there is no way he should be getting regular, starting at bats for a major league club.
“when your “depth” becomes your “regular”, you have a problem”
When we think of Munenori Kawasaki, we automatically go to his silly antics off the field. Like this:
But, we also have to give him props for filling in all over the infield whenever called upon. Like John McDonald previously, his determined glove is definitely his strongest asset. John Gibbons knew that whichever position he plugged in Kawasaki, he’d give effort like this:
But it is not just his glove that has helped out his club. He has shown one of the better approaches at the plate this season. He works counts and fouls off tough pitches to get to one he can handle. According to our friends at PitchFX, Kawasaki made contact with a surprising 91.4% of pitches inside the strike zone and swung at just 20.8% of pitches outside the zone. His Swinging strike percentage is just 5%! This adds up to a guy who has a good eye of the zone and can run a count up. The club certainly could have used more of this.
And, when he makes contact, it seems as though he has come up with quite a few huge hits this season.
For a guy who probably shouldn’t be relied on in high leverage situations when the game is on the line, Kawasaki actually hasn’t been as much of a disappointment as you’d think. He certainly doesn’t kill rallies by striking out. *cough* Colby Rasmus/ Juan Francisco *cough*
Despite the above, Kawasaki saw action in 82 games this season, which is far too many. He did have his best offensive season, but that is not saying much. BaseballReference.com has the proof. He slashed .258/.327/.296. A SLG of .296 is just not acceptable from 3rd and 2nd. His glove is not THAT good that we can overlook such a deficit in power. Of his 62 hits, he only totaled 71 bases. That’s it. A singles hitter for sure. His wRC+ of 78 does not scream everyday player, or even 80+ games.
Well, at least he plays good D, right? Um, yeah about that. At 2B, his UZR is -2.1. 3B it is 1.8 and at SS it is 0.1. While it isn’t really fair (or accurate) to combine them, his 2014 UZR sits at -0.2. Despite the occasional highlight, he is decidedly average as a defender. In fact, he made just 96% of “routine plays” at 2B, 95% at 3B. Does that seem a tad low to anyone else. We’re talking about routine plays. And, if your glove is your calling card, those numbers had better be higher.
When all is said and done, Kawasaki was worth 0.4 WAR. That is just what you’d expect from a bench player; a guy who can step in to relieve a regular, or cover a brief stint to the DL. The Blue Jays have to have some self awareness and recognize that they will need all the depth they can get. Munenori Kawasaki adds that depth. But when your “depth” becomes your “regular”, you have a problem.
The Blue Jays recently removed Kawasaki from the 40 man roster by optioning him to AAA Buffalo. They love him, we love him. He loves them and us. It is likely a long term relationship. But, if he returns it will be via a minor league deal. And, all indications are that the 33 year old would accept, even though he can make more money in Japan. Personally, I hope he is brought back. I also hope that we don’t have to rely on him for nearly 100 games. With the infield in question and the likelihood of Blue Jays’ injuries, there is certainly a spot for Noodle Arms.
Check out some vintage Kawasaki on Intentional Talk with Kevin Millar and Chris Rose. It’s a bit long, but totally worth it.