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The Season that Was: Munenori Kawasaki

Who wouldn't love a guy that can do the Vulcan Mind Meld.
Who wouldn't love a guy that can do the Vulcan Mind Meld.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

We picked up Munenori Kawasaki in the spring when we signed him as a minor league free agent. We were less than excited.

We didn't know much about him, other than he hit a big .192/.257/.202 in 61 games with Seattle. He had been very good in Japan, hitting .294/.345/.378 over 11 seasons. I did wonder if the Mariners gave up on him too quick, but it did look like he didn't have enough power to force pitchers to throw anything that wasn't straight down the middle.

Anyway, at the time he was signed, it seemed like a very long shot that he would see anytime with the Jays. We had Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, Maicier Izturis and Mark DeRosa on the active roster. And Ryan Goins was on the 40-man.

Well, we did see Munenori in Toronto:

2013 - Munenori Kawasaki 96 240 27 55 6 5 1 24 32 41 7 1 .229 .326 .308

96 games. I'd have bet any amount you asked that Kawasaki wouldn't play more than a handful of games, even if things went really badly.

Fangraphs had him at a 0.8 WAR, making him worth $4 million to the Jays. And it wasn't caused by a lot of BABIP luck, he had a .269 BABIP, but then he didn't hit the ball hard.

Munenori walked 11.1% of the time, and struck out 14.2%. He knew how to work the count, he wasn't afraid to go to 2 strikes. He didn't hit particularly well, once he got to 2 strikes (.182/.294/.219), but he wasn't afraid to see a bunch of pitches and get to 2 strikes. And really, he basically had a 2 strike approach right from the start of the at bat.

He hit line drives 21.8% of the time (pretty good), hit grounders 58.0% and fly balls 20.2% of the time. 2.6% of his flies left the park. Of interest to me, he was successful bunting for a base hit in 15.8% of his tries.

A left-handed hitter, Kawasaki hit ok against RHP (.247/.341/.340) and not at all against LHP (.152/.264/.174).

He hit better on the road (.264/.383/.330) than at home (.201/.278/.291). I wonder why.

With RISP he hit .208/.338/.226.

By month Kawasaki hit:

April: .220/.306/.293 with 3 RBI, in 17 games.

May: .224/.346/.284 with 11 RBI, in 24 games.

June: .244/.358/.422 with 3 RBI, 1 home run, in 20 games.

July: .120/.185/.120 with 3 RBI, in 9 games.

August: .286/.318/.381, with 2 RBI, in 9 games.

September: .268/.362/.317 with 2 RBI, in 17 games.

Defensively, he was pretty good. In 470 innings at short, he had a 1.1 UZR/150. 5 errors for a .977 FA. At second base, in 126 innings, he had a 6.4 UZR/150. 1 error, for a 986 FA.

I did have a feeling that he made errors at the worst possible moment.:

And Minor Leaguer tested it. His conclusion:

So, has every single error by Kawasaki been made in important situations? No, but I'm sure that Tom was being hyperbolic when he tweeted that. But so far his errors have tended to be made in high-leverage game situations, much more than expected if we assume that error rates don't change with leverage. FanGraphs' Glossary state that only 10% of game situations have an LI >2, yet Kawasaki has made 33% of his errors in those situations (I did not look at his individual leverage distribution).

Likely it was a bit of bad luck.

Fangraphs has him as a better than average base runner, saying he was 2.1 runs better than the average base runner.

His favorite team to face? He hit .304/.385/.435 in 7 games against the White Sox.

Least favorite? He hit .120/.214/.120 in 9 games against the Red Sox.

His longest hitting streak was 3 games. Longest on base streak was 6 games. His longest hitless stretch was 4 games (well, just count games he batted more than once.

The Jays were 37-37 in games Kawasaki started. Considering how bad the team was, that's pretty impressive.

Mostly the guy was fun. I mean watch this:

Or go through the GIFs in this post by Jays182.

He was just fun to watch. And we didn't have much fun this season. It was nice to be reminded that baseball is supposed to be entertainment. I mean, I want to win, we all want to win, but really we want to be entertained. And Munenori did that, he made baseball fun.

We did try to get him voted on to the All-Star team. And Minor Leaguer made two great campaign videos, here and here.

Kawasaki even brought a "mini-nori" into the world.

Baseball always teaches lessons. Lately the lesson has been 'make sure you have lots of alcohol in the house'. But, Munenori taught us, or at least reminded us, that baseball is a kids' game. It should be fun. Players should be allowed to be kids.

Yesterday it was announced that the Jays didn't pick up his $1 million option for 2014. Likely it had less to do with the money and more to do with the fact that they didn't want him taking up a roster spot. I'm assuming they will sign him to a minor league contract. Or at least I hope they do. If they don't, I'll be sad.

I would like to say to Munenori: Thank you. You took a season that was unbearable and found a way to make me enjoy small moments. You gave us a life lesson: enjoy yourself. I mean, I'd rather have a winning team, but you really helped us put up with a losing one. We were lucky to have you.