Meet Kenji Jojima
Word around the campfire heralds that the Mariners are pursuing Kenji Jojima, a standout Japanese catcher.
For those of you unfamiliar with the player nicknamed “Joe,” here’s a quick introduction. (And yes, that means the Mariners might well end up with a tandem of JoeJessica and JoeJima.)
For the past three years, Jojima’s offensive numbers have been excellent. In 2005, he cracked the Pacific League’s top ten in just about every important category, including on-base percentage, slugging, total bases, batting average and even triples. His rate statistics are impressive, especially 2004, which may have been his career year:
YEAR AVG OBP SLG 2003 .330 .399 .593 2004 .338 .432 .655 2005 .309 .381 .557
Behind the plate, he has a solid defensive reputation, a good arm and has stayed relatively injury-free (though he did suffer a broken shinbone this year). Jojima speaks very little English, but has worked with American pitchers in Japan without any particular problems. He turns 30 in June.
There are two or three things that would concern me about him for the Mariners. You could say pretty safely that plate discipline played a key role in his productive 2003-2005 seasons (.399, .432 and .381 OBP respectively). But his strike zone judgment has been very spotty before that — his career high in OBP before 2003 was .377, and in 1998 and 2002 he put up out-machine type on-base numbers (.309 and .305, ouch!).
It seems like he’s learned to control the strike zone as his career has progressed. At least, one hopes so.
I also worry about how his power numbers are going to translate. Hideki Matsui is the success story here, but Jojima’s lifetime numbers (while good) are not Hideki-like, and there are enough instances of players leaving their slugging percentage at customs that I’d be concerned. He’s a righthanded hitter, too, and coming to a large park life Safeco might hurt him.
AVG OBP SLG .267 .366 .506 .298 .358 .513
Pretty close, though Jojima hits for more average. He’s also three years younger, so he has that going for him, but they’re both players that hit for power and had up-and-down plate discipline in Japan. Nakamura took his righthanded bat to a big American ballyard, and, well, you know what happened. There is also the curse that the Mariners appear to have on the catching position to consider.
On the other hand, his numbers also compare (favorably) to Tadahito Iguchi‘s. Iguchi had several mediocre years before two superb ones, and Iguchi has produced in the states.
Given that Nakamura got a minor league contract, I can’t imagine Jojima will cost the M’s a lot of money, which makes it a low-risk, moderate-to-high reward move in my eyes if that’s the case. Even the $2.3 million base salary the White Sox paid for Iguchi doesn’t seem out of bounds. The potential payoff will likely justify taking a chance.
Just from the numbers, I’d say his upside is probably a player like Ben Molina has been for the past few years (though Jojima can run a little bit), with his downside being a Nakamura-style disaster. Yes, that’s a wide variance of expected performance. But considering the feast-or-famine nature of Japanese stars coming to the states, it’s best to temper expectations.
That way, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.