It’s tough to get much attention when AL ERA leader Felix Hernandez is your teammate, but Hisashi Iwakuma is quietly emerging as a formidable sidekick at the top of the Mariners’ rotation.
Iwakuma gave up two runs over seven innings last night in a 6-3 win over the Athletics. The 32-year-old struck out nine and walked none while retiring 16 batters in a row at one point. Brooks Baseball notes that he had 12 swings and misses, including five on his splitter, which has emerged as a legitimate weapon during his brief time in the majors.
Just to give you a sense of how good Iwakuma has been this season, his ERA actually went up from 1.61 to 1.74 with last night’s start. Still, he hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of his eight starts this season and owns a stingy 51/8 K/BB ratio over 51 2/3 innings. His 0.74 WHIP is the best in the American League. And to think, he has pitched most of the season with a blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand.
Iwakuma’s dominance actually dates back to last season, as he has a 2.33 ERA in 24 starts since moving to the rotation last July. Only Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, and Kris Medlen have a lower ERA in the same timespan. It’s unlikely that he’ll be able to maintain his .198 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and 84.4 percent strand rate, so some regression should be expected, but the Mariners’ decision to keep him around on a two-year, $14 million deal looks pretty smart right now.
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant was one of the most prominent examples of service time manipulation in recent memory. He was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball going into the 2015 season by Baseball America. He then had an incredible spring, batting .425 with a spring-high nine home runs and 15 RBI. The Cubs, however, didn’t add him to the Opening Day roster, instead keeping him in Triple-A for the first two weeks of the season, ensuring the club would get another year of control over Bryant because he wouldn’t accrue enough service time. He made his debut on April 17 and the rest was history. Bryant won the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year Award.
While the MLB Players Association filed a grievance on his behalf, Bryant didn’t say anything. But it was a learning moment for him. The same is true of the past offseason, which Bryant says “opened my eyes,” as Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports. He now considers labor issues a priority, saying, “I need to study up, have my voice heard, continue to learn, because this is going to affect us for years to come. And I’d be foolish not to kind of offer myself out there.”
As Wittenmyer notes, Bryant hopes to replace Jake Arrieta as the Cubs’ player reprensentative. The players make that decision later this month. Bryant also vowed to fight for the next collective bargaining agreement. He said, “Maybe the focus was on other things rather than some of the more important things. But I think with this next one things are definitely going to change, and there’ll definitely be more fight on our side just because we’re going to get the chance to experience the effects of some of the things we agreed to. The only way to get what you want here is to fight for it. And I think you’re going to see a lot of that.”
It’s good to see Bryant motivated by recent economic developments in baseball. Hopefully more players take his lead and become more informed, arming themselves with all of the tools they need to create a better situation for themselves when the current CBA expires.