Top 100 San Diego Padres: #100 Akinori Otsuka
AKINORI OTSUKA | RP | 2004-2005 | CAREER STATS
Signed as a free agent prior to the 2004 season, Otsuka who had been one of the best relievers in the history of the Japanese League had no trouble adapting to Major League Baseball. Aki's unorthodox delivery, wicked slider and relative luck with turning balls put into play into outs were good for a 1.75 ERA, a steady job as Trevor Hoffman's 8th inning setup man and third place in the Rookie of the Year balloting behind teammate Khalil Greene and former Padre farmhand Jason Bay.
The unorthodox delivery, which involved a small tap in his glove with the ball, was the matter of some controversy. On May 2, 2004 following one pitch by Aki in the 8th inning, the Mets played the game under protest. "We felt it was an illegal pitch, the way he (Otsuka) was delivering the ball," said Art Howe. The argument was that the move was deceiving to runners on base and ought to be called a balk. The league disagreed. The Padres won. And Aki picked up a Hold, which he would go on to lead the league in that year. He would also pitch in the ninth most games of any Padre pitcher in a single season.
Overall, Aki was good for 4.6 Wins Above Replacement in 2005, but thanks to Manager Bruce Bochy's decision to call on Aki in high leverage situations, he managed 5.1 WXRL (Win Expectation relative to replacement level and the quality of lineup faced).
2005 was a bit of a disappointment following his outstanding 2004 campaign. Fans saw his strikeout rate fall, walk rate climb and RA balloon. Part of Aki's problem that season was his BABIP regressing toward league average and less favorable groupings of walks and hits. In fact, his Peripheral ERA rose only about half of a run. Despite the drop off in production, he was still a valuable asset worth nearly 3 wins over replacement.
In the off-season following 2005, Otsuka was dealt to the Texas Rangers as part of a six player trade. Barring a return via free agency later in his career, and the Padres do like to bring back former players in the twilight of their careers, we can safely assume that Aki will not climb any higher on the Padres All-Time List.