The Orix Buffaloes have added a few arms this offseason, and have a number of interesting options for their 2011 rotation. Let's take a look at how things could fit together.
The Orix rotation discussion begins with an established ace and two solid arms.
Chihiro Kaneko - Orix has a legitimate ace in Kaneko. He's been good in each of the three years he's spent as a starter, but he reached new heights in 2010 with 17 wins, 204.1 innings, six shutouts and 190 strikeouts.
Hiroshi Kisanuki - Orix bought low on Kisanuki, and were rewarded with a solid 174.1 innings of 3.98 ball. Kisanuki's been around for a while, so it is a little surprising that 2010 was just the fourth time he's thrown over 100 innings, and the first since 2007. This may explain why he was strong in the first half but struggled down the stretch. If he can stay healthy again in 2011, he'll continue to be a solid innings eater.
Kazuki Kondo – I like Kondo, he reminds me of Junichi Tazawa. His 5-10, 4.35 performance in 2010 belies the fact that he took a big step forward with a career-high 133 strikeouts in 142.2 innings. Like Kisanuki, he wore out down the stretch, and was basically done after a 144-pitch outing in early September. Kondo has established a ceiling of 140-150 innings in a season, but he's a good mid-rotation arm.
Health Question Marks
Then we have a group of talented pitchers with poor track records for health.
Hayato Terahara - Terahara is another personal favorite of mine, and I think Orix absolutely fleeced Yokohama in getting him for Shogo Yamamoto and Go Kida. Terahara had a big breakout year as a starter in 2007, then a solid year as Yokohama's closer in 2008, but has missed significant time with injuries over the last two seasons. If Orix can coax a healthy season out of him, they'll have something. It's a good risk to take.
Satoshi Komatsu - It seems like a long time ago that Komatsu went 15-3, won the Rookie of the Year award, and was chosen for Japan's WBC team. It's been a rough, injury-laden couple of years since then. Komatsu did make 13 starts last year, but now seems destined for the bullpen.
Masayuki Hasegawa – Getting Hasegawa for the unused Yuichiro Mukae was an inspired move, but he's no ace. Realistically, Hasegawa's contribution will be that he can take the ball every so often and keep his team in the game for five or six innings.
Next year, Orix should have a foreigner taking regular rotation turns for the first time since Tom Davey in 2007.
Chan Ho Park – Park is obviously the big name here, having collected 124 wins over a 17-season MLB career. Park signed with Orix to start, so we can assume he'll open the season in the Buffaloes rotation. There are some question marks though; he's 37 and hasn't worked anything close to a full season as a starter since 2006 in San Diego. On the other hand, getting more rest between starts and reduced travel might suit.
Alfredo Figaro – And at the other end of the spectrum, there's Figaro. Figaro has only 31.2 MLB innings under his belt, and is still only 26 years old. Back in 2009, Marc Hulet of FanGraphs put his upside as a back-rotation MLB starter, which makes him an interesting NPB prospect. He'll bring plus velocity and a good slider to the table.
Assuming health, I'd stack the rotation going into the spring something like this:
Kaneko's the ace and Kisanuki earned his #2 spot with his 2010 performance. Park's MLB track record will probably give him the edge for the next spot, though I like Terahara better if he's healthy. Kondo is next, and I put Figaro in the last spot because I have decided what I expect from him yet.
The catch is that every pitcher I listed here is a righty. With Yamamoto dispatched in the Terahara trade, Orix doesn't have an obvious rotation lefty. Shinya Nakayama got a few starts in 2010, but has never been able to stick at the ichi-gun level. Another option might be sophomore Shuichi Furukawa, but he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in his first professional season.
Overall, Orix has assembled a deep group of starters. It'll take a few things going right, but Orix could have one of the best rotations in Japan next season.