On May 10th, I Praise Kenji Johjima

Jeff · May 10, 2006 at 6:12 am · Filed Under Mariners 

He came to Seattle from Japan. He filled an important gap. In a year where the Mariners have seen two kinds of holes — ones in the lineup, and ones down which promising careers have fallen — it’s nice to see a player cover over a void rather than create one.

Apropos of this, I think it’s time to revisit the issue of Kenji Johjima. We have always endorsed the signing, but with little save the weather going right these days, it might be fun to focus energy on the positive.

Perhaps this will, at the very least, put to rest the constant accusations of anti-homerism we get around here.

Potentially, we will remember Johjima as Bill Bavasi’s best all-around free agent signing. He’ll turn 30 next month, is signed to a reasonable deal, and plays a demanding position where talent is scarce. What’s not to like?

You recall his Seattle beginnings: two games, two home runs. The power numbers haven’t kept up that pace, certainly, but Johjima’s brought sock to a position that has been a consistent black hole for the Mariners. And his memorable first impression stuck with people.

30 days later, Joe had become a fan favorite. There are good reasons for this.

Kenji has put to rest many concerns, be they about his bat or the way he would communicate with pitchers. Misgivings about the offense he’d provide have been proven quickly proven unfounded.

At the last USSM Feed, I suggested that we’d be happy if Johjima gave us numbers comparable to Tadahito Iguchi‘s. “Ecstatic,” Derek quickly added. Given where Johjima is at this point in the season compared to where Iguchi was in his first year — and factoring in park effects, too, since Safeco’s a much tougher place to hit — the meter has to be edging closer toward ecstatic each day. [And by the way, why does Iguchi get a comically intricate pronunciation guide from ESPN, but Johjima gets “N/A”?]

Right now, it’s difficult to find cause for optimism. The team’s power hitters are hitting like arthritic pygmy marmosets and the ousted closer couldn’t get tough stains out.

It’s in Kenji Johjima, and Jose Lopez, and yes, in King Felix. It’s there, optimism, even if you have to look harder than you’d like. The same way you might, for example, look for a hidden meaning in the beginnings of 10 paragraphs.


35 Responses to “On May 10th, I Praise Kenji Johjima”

  1. VandalJeff on May 10th, 2006 6:25 am

    I have to say that I completely whiffed on what an arthritic pygmy marmoset was. They are not at all like arthritic pygmy marmots, which is what I initally had in mind. That being said, Kenji and Jose Lopez are wonderful bright spots for this season.

  2. vj on May 10th, 2006 6:39 am

    wild-ass-guess at the hidden meaning: “Happy 30, Kari” i.e. your friend Kari turns 30 today?

  3. Russ on May 10th, 2006 7:28 am

    Marmosets = obscure small mammal reference. I watch them sun on the rocks outside my office each day. Lots of marmosets in Spokane.

    Thanks for the reminder of what is good. In truth, the team is playing so poorly that us wanna be stat heads have nothing very compelling to hone our reseach skills. When all the news is bad, one stops reading every day.

    I have enjoyed Kenji’s play. He seems to have a presence, even on TV.

    Lopez just may be a superstar! I have to wonder what his stats would be if he just stopped bunting. Grover should be kicked in the shins any time he gives the bunt sign to Jose.

    King Felix was very nice last night. A little rough but much better to what we all know he will be. I wish he shined like that against a better line-up but I’ll take any bright spot to cling to at this point.

  4. Zero Gravitas on May 10th, 2006 7:32 am

    I really like Kenji’s swing. He looks pretty bad-ass at the plate sometimes. Note how he steps out between pitches and takes a nice big practice cut, like he just can’t wait to hit. And he almost has a Boonie-esque bat flip when he squares one up. I never want to hear excuses about players like Beltre having to make some huge adjustment when they switch between NL and AL, when someone like Kenji can come over from Japan and slug his way through his first month like that.

  5. Doc on May 10th, 2006 7:32 am

    In regards to Lopez bunting. This may be selective memory, but it seems like every time he tries to bunt, he fails and then goes ahead and gets a nice hit to right field.

  6. Rick L on May 10th, 2006 7:45 am

    He has indeed played well offensively. My question, and it is a sincere desire for information, concerns the pitches he calls. He seems to call a lot of breaking balls. He had Felix throw four straight curves yesterday. I wonder if his calls are the reason Moyer supposedly doesn’t like pitching to him. I don’t know enough about this to have an opinion. I would like the comments of those who do.

  7. Rick L on May 10th, 2006 7:49 am

    5. The classic (i.e. old) model of the number two man in the order was Pee Wee Reese. If Jackie Robinson got on base, Reese often laid down a bunt to move him into scoring position. I wonder if that is what Hargrove wants from Lopez and why he was batting Bloomquist there when he played. Lopez is ill suited to this role, but I agree his hitting has been a pleasant surprise this year.

  8. msb on May 10th, 2006 8:20 am

    #6– FWIW, the notion that Moyer doesn’t like to pitch to Joh appears to have come from the Japanese media (and not anyone in the team) after Joh’s days off twice landed on Moyer-pitching days. No one else seems to think there is a problem.

    I suppose it’s possible that Moyer might be more comfortable throwing to Rivera (we don’t really know) if for no other reason than there is a familiarity. As has often been stated, Moyer has a ridiculously complicated set of signs, and Rivera is just more used to him after two years in both spring camp and the big leagues. I’m betting that if Moyer didn’t like Johjima’s pitch selection he would let him know when out there, and there doesn’t seem to be any extra shaking off (extra from the extra shakes that apparently mean ‘switch to another set of signs to freak out the hitter here’)

  9. jimbob on May 10th, 2006 8:31 am

    Where would we be without Lopez and Johjima, who so far are massive upgrades over our catching and 2nd base from last year. Our schedule in May will help heal what ails the Mariners — last night would have been a true blowout but for Tampa Bay’s center fielder’s Mike Cameron like highlight reel.

  10. davepaisley on May 10th, 2006 8:33 am

    The only real downside on Johjima has been the passed balls, but even they’ve dried up, so, yeah, what’s not to like. (Note that Olivo is putting up a .723 OPS with lousy OBP but decent power.)

    BTW, take a look at Felix and Meche’s lines for the year. Apart from the strikeouts, not much difference (and yes I know one has zero chance to improve, while the one, er, does…)

  11. DMZ on May 10th, 2006 8:56 am

    Awww Jeff, you big softie.

  12. ConorGlassey on May 10th, 2006 9:07 am

    Good to hear from you Jeff. I hope you’re feeling better!

    When I read “arthritic pygmy marmosets” I thought, “I wonder if Derek bet him that he couldn’t work that into a post.”

  13. CecilFielderRules on May 10th, 2006 9:32 am

    Johjima seems to be on a Biggio-like HBP pace. It’s not a bad thing, as it pads his OBP given his modest walk rate. I’m just curious if this is an intentional part of his game plan (like Biggio, Kendall, etc.)? Does he have a history of this in Japan?

  14. msb on May 10th, 2006 9:37 am

    oh, and re: the ESPN pronunciation guide? I think it is just timing– they still haven’t given Betancourt a pronunciation yet either

  15. Evan on May 10th, 2006 9:40 am

    It would be cool if Johjima is the sort of guy who gets HBP all the time. It’s a valuable skill, but aside from guys like Biggio and Reed Johnson, you don’t see it taken to extremes very often.

  16. Tek Jansen on May 10th, 2006 9:40 am

    I too have enjoyed watching Johjima. But why has he seemingly taken such a pounding from various media types? As an MLB rookie, he has more than held his own. Sure, he is not perfect, and will not be a copy of Johnny Bench in the early seventies, but the criticism directed toward him over minor and correctible flaws seems excessive. I find this similar to the trend of beating up Ichiro! for minor flaws while ignoring the positve overall contribution that he has made for five seasons.

  17. Evan on May 10th, 2006 9:41 am

    Betancourt doesn’t need a pronunciation guide. Everyone remembers Nuno.

  18. msb on May 10th, 2006 9:44 am

    as far as I know it’s just been Jeff Brantley … has anyone else jumped on him?

  19. Mariner Fan in CO Exile on May 10th, 2006 10:02 am

    I think Joh has been a great acquisition so far. I’ve heard from various news sources (and quotes from Grover and Chaves) that he doesn’t order up more breaking balls with Felix than would be expected. As for our other starters, well, we are short on power starting pitchers, so breaking pitches tend to be the pitch du jour.

    Related to Felix, this from the ESPN.com recap of yesterday’s game:

    “Hernandez and pitching coach Rafael Chaves both said the right-hander had been opening his front shoulder before delivering. That caused control problems and had many Mariners fans wondering, ‘What’s wrong with Felix?’

    ‘I would say if he’s not back all the way, he’s pretty close,’ Chaves said.”

    I’d like to think it was something this simple (combined with overthrwoing in the early innings) but, for me, the jury is still out.

  20. Mat on May 10th, 2006 10:03 am

    And by the way, why does Iguchi get a comically intricate pronunciation guide from ESPN, but Johjima gets “N/A”?

    I chalk it up to the existence of this announcer.

  21. PLU Tim on May 10th, 2006 10:05 am

    You guys must have missed the memo from ESPN about how Johjima is the biggest FA disappointment in baseball so far.

  22. Nick on May 10th, 2006 10:30 am

    Johjima just looks like a great athlete. And speaking of atheletes, it looks to me as though Felix has dropped a few pounds since the beginning of the year.

  23. Brian Rust on May 10th, 2006 10:46 am

    Russ, marmosets are monkeys. If the critters sunning on the rocks in Spokane are rodents, they may be marmots.

    Actually, there is hope to be found not only in individual player performances, but in the standings and the schedule. We’re just 3 1/2 back, and the coming road trip to LA and Oakland comes while Texas visits NY and Boston. At least we can see first place from where we stand this morning.

  24. Tek Jansen on May 10th, 2006 10:54 am

    #23 — While Bud Selig has made many mistakes, as an M’s supporter, I selfishly applaud the way in which he acceded to the demands of Diamondback’s owner Jerry Coangelo (sp?) and kept the AL West a four team division.

  25. msb on May 10th, 2006 10:55 am

    #21– all I’ve heard is Brantley blaming Felix’s struggle on him, no one else…

  26. carcinogen on May 10th, 2006 11:10 am

    File under: general baseball.

    The Cardinals are playing the Rockies right now on ESPN. I just have to say…its odd to watch a good team operate. After watching the M’s so much, you forget what good baseball looks like.

  27. PositivePaul on May 10th, 2006 11:16 am

    Yes, even umpires go all charismatic adoring Kenji’s presence…

  28. Roger on May 10th, 2006 11:35 am

    I turned 39 today…So I’ll take some of the message as being my own. And yes, Kenny Joey (to Rizzs-a-fy the name) has been a bright spot on an otherwise non-reflective team.

  29. mark s. on May 10th, 2006 12:04 pm


    how about this:

    “Happy 3 Kari” = The third anniversary with Kari

    The hidden message become clearer.
    “filled an important gap”
    “best all-around free agent signing”
    “The power numbers haven’t kept up that pace”

    That has to be about 3 year relationship. maybe.

  30. ChrisK on May 10th, 2006 12:08 pm

    Honest question here: Should Bavasi deserve all the credit, or was there a higher influence (ie, ownership) telling him to focus on Kenji? I only ask because this P-I article (on Nov. 11th) noted the following:

    “General manager Bill Bavasi has said he wants to find catching help, but has left that below pitching and left-handed power among his offseason priorities.

    ‘It’s far down the list,’ the club source said. ‘We have more pressing needs. To go out and get a catcher now, before signing a pitcher, wouldn’t be prudent.'” (Full article: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/baseball/248008_mari11.html)

    11 days later, Johjima signed a 3-year, $16.5M deal with the M’s.

    I’m sure Bavasi deserves credit for closing the deal, but could there have been a mandate from ownership to make Kenji a top priority?

  31. msb on May 10th, 2006 12:22 pm

    #30. No. Bavasi himself uses it as an example of how a player will affect a clubs plans during the off-season; because Jojima made up his mind he wanted to stay with Seattle well before anyone expected him to (cancelling a trip to Chicago & NY), the Ms were then forced to move sooner than they expected to. It was like the realization in 2005 that Delgado wasn’t going to make a decision until the end of winter, and the M’s knew they had to get a player before that point.

    OT, Cap’n Jimmy gives us his version of Babe Ruth’s ESPN show “Babe on Babe”

  32. Dave on May 10th, 2006 12:40 pm

    We talked to Bavasi about this at the last feed. Basically, Johjima showed up, said “sign me, I’ll play for cheap!”, and the M’s obliged.

    It was probably the easiest free agent signing in the history of baseball.

  33. Karen on May 10th, 2006 12:57 pm

    Another post along the lines of #19:

    Last night’s postgame locker interview with Felix was the first time I’ve ever seen the kid outside the lines, without his hat on. He looks about 16 years old! (he’s so cute, and plump-faced) You could see by the twinkle in his eyes and by the expression on his face that he’s not acquired that major-league-stoic/bored-it’s-a-job veneer so many ballplayers have, even his idol Freddy Garcia.

    Just a little grandmotherly ga-ga over King Felix, don’t mind me… 😀

  34. msb on May 10th, 2006 2:08 pm

    Drayer has often said that she makes Felix work on his English interviewing skills because she want people to see what a personality he has, and to see his sense of humor.

  35. apunetid on May 24th, 2006 1:40 am

    Johjima plays baseball.

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