Tsuyoshi Wada on the hill for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

The Long Road Back

Baseball is full of players who amass interesting careers. Some accomplish a lot, some accomplish very little, and even others are simply ballplayers who never accomplish a single thing worth noting. Then there are the players who were once great but now are merely good. They are a rare breed, far more common are the once great players who are no longer any good. The players who are able to stick around for long periods of time and positively contribute to their teams are the nuts and bolts players on any teams roster.

Tsuyoshi Wada was once a stud, now he is a nuts and bolts player. He came to America in 2012 on the heels of 9 very successful seasons with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League. He’d been one of the best starters in Japan during this stretch, landing among the league leaders every year. It all culminated in a 2011 season where he posted an ERA of 1.51 and WHIP of 1.002 in 26 starts while helping guide the Hawks to their first Japan Series title since 2003 when they had been known as the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks and Wada was considered the top rookie in the league.

The lefty had proven himself over the years to be a top of the line starter who walked very few, almost always had a low ERA, but lacked overpowering velocity and thus had low strikeout totals. That’s why when he decided to leave Nippon Professional Baseball for Major League Baseball there were concerns about him making the transition. Wada requiring Tommy John surgery almost immediately after signing with the Baltimore Orioles didn’t help alleviate those concerns. 

Prior to surgery Wada was a control and command pitcher who sat around 89mph and could sometimes top out at 93mph. After spending two years in the Orioles minor league system Wada decided not to pursue the third year option in his contract and elected to go the free agency route. He spent the next few two years with the Chicago Cubs organization and even managed to start 21 games for the big league club. Still, Wada’s stuff wasn’t as crisp or as fat as it had been and he found himself a free agent following the 2015 season. Surprisingly, Wada never really underperformed in America. He put up really good numbers when he was healthy, as his 2014 ERA of 3.25 and FIP of 3.72 can attest. All the same Wada never truly gelled in affiliated ball and in 2016 he made his way back to the Hawks.

One season into his return he began to add to the injuries from America. In 4 seasons with the Hawks and their Western League farm club, he has managed to pitch in only 41 games. He came out of the gate strong in 2016, appearing to be the same old Wada, albeit now flashing a two-seam fastball. An ERA of 3.04 and a WHIP of 1.080 with the usual BB/9 and K/9 numbers of 2.1 and 8.7 respectively. Wada couldn’t stay healthy though, and he found himself sidelined for the majority of the 2017 and 2018 seasons when the Hawks were back-to-back Japan Series champions.

In 2019 Wada has only appeared in 22.1 innings for the big league club, but he finds himself as quite the redemption story. He’s the same type of pitcher he was in his prime and he’s getting nearly the same results. Most guys wouldn’t be able to put up an ERA of 2.82 and a BB/9 of 1.6 in their age 38 season where they are coming back from years of injury. His WHIP is a slightly elevated 1.1.119 and his K/9 is a minuscule 5.6, but it’s early and I don’t see any reason why Wada won’t keep getting positive results.

It’s hard to look at a team like the Hawks who are essentially the Houston Astros of Japan (if the Astros manage to keep winning for the next ten or so years) and feel something for one of their players. Okay, okay, that’s the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters fan in me talking, because the truth is that Wada is easy to root for. He’s no longer a stud, but he’s the definition of consistent quality pitching and a guy who shouldn’t be doing what he is doing at his age. I may not want to see the Hawks win it all yet again, but imagining a scenario where Wada plays a role in bringing the Hawks another title does make me smile like a dopey idiot.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Kyodo News

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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