Unless you have your head under a rock, you have heard about the posting agreement between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball that permits teams to commence the Shohei Otani sweepstakes. The agreement is what allows the 30 MLB clubs to bid for the services of the 23-year-old heralded as Japanese Babe Ruth, and a contract between Ohtani and a Major League club to be determined will come within the next three weeks.
The entire point of this agreement, which was delayed and the voted upon again, was for Ohtani — the 2016 NPB Pacific League MVP with the Nippon Ham Fighters — to come stateside and bring his power hitting and 101 MPH fastball to North America. But lost in the noise is another, completely different Japanese pitcher who appears worthy of an MLB deal: Kazuhisa Makita.
Makita is a 33-year-old reliever with crazy movement on a borderline insane pitching delivery. He posted an earned runs average of 2.59 in 62.2 innings of work in 2017, following up his career-best 2016 campaign during which Makita went 7-1 with a 1.72 ERA in 78.2 innings pitched. For some of the more depleted bullpens in the big leagues, taking a chance on a righty like Makita would not be insane.
Kazuhisa Makita and, for example, Ohtani, are polar opposites. Ohtani throws “shoulder up” like a conventional North American pitcher and compiles strikeouts with blazing velocity, but Makita is a submarine hurler whose specialty is deception and movement. His pitching style is seldom seen in MLB, as his knuckles nearly hit the dirt on the mound as he reaches the midway point of his delivery. It’s reminiscent of former MLB relief arm Chad Bradford in its gimmicky and unorthodox style – and even if you don’t recognize that name, you have likely seen his pitching motion before.
Especially as the need for decent-to-elite bullpen presences becomes increasingly imperative, signing Makita once he’s posted by the Saitama Seibu Lions would be a good bet. If you watched any postseason game this year (save Game 2 of the ALCS), you saw how crucial relievers holding down the fort can be. Not to project a career as a lockdown fireman role for Makita or anything, but he would seemingly fit in with pitch-to-contact, methodical guys in MLB today.
33 isn’t that old for a reserve arm. Relievers can generally extend their career further than that of a starter using, of course, common sense: fewer innings, fewer batters faced, less wear and tear on the human body. Secondly, fellow Japan native Koji Uehara came over to MLB at 34 and blossomed into one of the top relief arms 0f the past decade. Of course, their pitching styles contrast on every aspect of what makes a good pitcher, but a single step begins a journey of a thousand miles.
Makita has been the top middle reliever in the bullpen for the Saitama Seibu Lions over the past two seasons, striking out 78 batters and yielding just 21 walks in his past two NPB years. Makita had previously been used as a starting pitcher and totaled nine complete games, indicating that he could be for an effective long reliever role. If not, he could get more than three outs if asked upon the task.
Though you probably haven’t heard of him, Makita is a steady right-hander with an intriguing and entertaining pitching style. It’s possible teams elect to forego bidding on Makita, but teams with intentional bonus pool money to burn and in need of a good relief arm (Texas and Minnesota come to mind first) could find that in Kazuhisa Makita.