December 14, 2011 was the last day that MLB teams could submit a bid for the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish. It was also the day that the Baltimore Orioles officially signed another Nippon Pro Baseball pitcher: Tsuyoshi Wada. Wada's deal was for two years at $8.15 million, with a $5 million club option for 2014.
A year and a half after signing, Wada has yet to throw a pitch for the big-league club. He made one start in Norfolk in 2012 before going on the DL with an elbow injury, which required Tommy John surgery on May 11, 2012. He's currently on a rehab assignment; the current thinking is he'll be with the big-league club in early June.
Wada is a a left-handed starting pitcher who spent five years, from age 26 to age 30, in Japan with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. According to his Wikipedia page, he features a four-seam fastball between 84-88 MPH, touching 91 at times. According to a report on npbtracker.com in 2009, he also throws a changeup, curveball, slider, and forkball.
I compared Wada's time in Japan to the age 26-30 seasons of MLB left-handed starters throughout history. It was a fun exercise, but we shouldn't take it seriously. NPB players are not of the caliber that MLB players are, and the stats I used are not designed for comparison across eras. Plus, Wada is not 30 anymore.
Wada exhibited excellent control: in his time in Japan, he had a 3.58 K/BB ratio. This would rank him 4th in MLB history among qualified left-handed starters in that same age range, behind Sandy Koufax, Johan Santana, and C.C. Sabathia but ahead of Cliff Lee, Jim Kaat, Frank Viola, Ron Guidry, and Steve Carlton.
Wada's 3.02 ERA puts him comfortably in the upper quartile, better than nearly 80% of comparable pitchers. He'd be tied for 28th with Eppa Rixey; they both squeak by the immortal Warren Spahn (3.04 ERA). Wada would be ahead of Sabathia and Carlton again as well as Tom Glavine, Mickey Lolich, Tommy John, Vida Blue, and Jimmy Key.
Wada allowed 0.67 HR per 9 IP, tying him for 47th in the live-ball era (122 pitchers total) with Fritz Peterson and Doug Rau (no, I don't know who that is either). He bests Sabathia and Carlton again here, as well as Randy Johnson, Cliff Lee, Harvey Haddix, Johan Santana, and Barry Zito.
If we look at WHIP, Wada stands at 1.145. This would rank him 16th in MLB history, just behind Carl Hubbell (1.142) and just ahead of Chris Short. Wada would also be ahead of Warren Spahn, Lefty Grove, Whitey Ford, and Hal Newhouser (among others).
That's all well and good, but ... what can Wada do for the O's this year? He's 32, hasn't played for over a season, and is recovering from Tommy John surgery. He's moving from NPB to the shark-infested waters of the AL East, and the offense-boosting Camden Yards to boot. He'll have to regularly face hitters like Evan Longoria, Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano, and David Ortiz. And he'll have a little more than only half a season to do it in, which means luck and chance will play a larger role than it will with other players.
But here's the catch: we've set him quite a low bar. He only has to be better than 4/5 of the current starting rotation. At this point, even being league average would qualify him for that achievement. Our offense and bullpen will take care of the rest.
In that context, I have every expectation that Wada will deliver in 2013.