Sayonara, Koji? Not So Fast
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
I know one Baltimore Oriole who was rooting against the USA yesterday in the women's World Cup -- a certain guy named Koji Uehara. But, I sure hope Andy MacPhail and Buck Showalter aren't holding that against him.
Based on blogs and fan reaction, there seems to be an air of inevitability to the fact that Uehara could be waving bye-bye any day now. To that, I say, why?
Amazingly, Uehara is more than midway through his third season in Orioles livery. And while it has been an oddly evolved tenure, one could argue he is one of the better Orioles free-agent pickups during the past decade.
In 2009, his first season, he was miscast as the seasoned veteran starter. It turned out he wilted in the heat during some warm-weather starts and his elbow was no longer capable of outings that lasted more than two innings. After 12 appearances (all starts) and 66.1 mostly forgettable innings, Uehara's season was over.
The club had signed him to an initial two-year deal, so every attempt was going to be made to get their money's worth in 2010 as an arm out of the bullpen. Injuries early last season made that look improbable. But suddenly, in a late-inning role carved out by Juan Samuel and then Showalter, Uehara finished the season with 13 saves from Aug. 21 to the end of the season. Additionally, he has the following bullet points in his resume in the 2011 media guide:
-- Led American League relievers (minimum 40 IP) in strikeouts-to-walk ratio (11.00)
-- 1.02 walks per nine innings led A.L. relievers (minimum of 40 IP)
-- Was second (minimum 40 IP) to Matt Thornton (12.0) of the White Sox in strikeouts per 9 innings (11.25)
-- Ended the season with a streak of 44 strikeouts in between walks, which was the longest AL streak of that kind since Pedro Martinez in 2000 went 49 Ks without a walk. Koji's streak was the sixth-longest in major league history
Despite Uehara's strong finish in 2010, MacPhail had doubts about his durability for 2011. Enter one Kevin Gregg who wrestled away the closer's role without much of a fight, as Uehara battled some leg and elbow issues.
But, as the 2011 season has moved into the second half, Uehara is putting together another impressive season. When the Orioles have a lead late, it is Uehara who holds down the eighth inning and gets the Birds to Gregg.
The numbers do not lie, and a 1.84 ERA, 58 Ks, and 23 hits and eight walks allowed during 44 innings speak volumes about his ability to get major league hitters out in the short format.
So, in viewing Uehara like a fine wine and seeing that in this role, he just may be getting better with age (he'll be 37 April 3), why the rush to get rid of him?
Nobody on this Orioles team -- one on the near verge of having a losing mark for the 14th-consecutive season -- is truly untouchable. Having said that, and knowing that Uehara may not fit in the long-range plans, giving him away for peanuts would be a disservice to the long-suffering baseball fans in Baltimore.
Posted July 18, 2011