The Boston Red Sox were desperate for a closer when they called upon Koji Uehara to closeout games in June. He was expected to be efficient and serviceable enough until the team could find a closer for 2014. Along the way, he became one of the most dominant closers in baseball, armed with a pedestrian 89 mph fastball and a splitter that he locates on both sides of the plate.
How did the Boston Red Sox and Koji Uehara get to this point? According to STATS LLC, his fastball velocity ranks next to last among all closers in baseball, which is not the type of pitcher that a team normally envisions as a closer. But outside of the box thinking mixed with a little fortune is what produces championships as evidenced by The Boston Red Sox eighth World Championship.
His swing and miss rate ranks third among closers, behind only Aroldis Chapman and emerging star Greg Holland. Those pitchers get hitters out with fastballs that are 97 mph or above, while Koji gets hitters out with deception.
He just might be the most deceptive pitcher since Greg Maddux. His splitter is flat out filthy. His swing rate when he throws his splitter is the second highest in baseball. Along with his fastball Koji Uehara had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 11 to 1 last season. His velocity in 2013 was actually the highest its been clocked in the past five seasons.
Uehara set career highs in BABIP allowed at .188 and hitters only managed a .125 batting average against him. He stranded runners at more than a 90% clip while maintaining a K% that was the highest of his career. Not bad for a pitcher who struggles to break 90 mph on the radar gun.
Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald indicated that if Ben Cherington wants Uehara to start 2014 as the closer in Boston. Expect him to top the 21 saves he managed in a shortened season as Red Sox closer.
He will have baseball’s best offense behind him, which is a blessing and a curse for fantasy owners. There will be times during the season where the Red Sox will limit the amount of save opportunities because of the amount of offense they generate. The services of their closer won’t be needed.
As stated in the preview, I do expect him to top 30 saves in 2014 but don’t expect him to lead the league in that category. He will help your team ERA and WHIP tremendously. There are not a lot of soon to be 39-year-old pitchers with upside, but Koji Uehara is definitely an exception.