Sarfate has really found a home in Japan after an inauspicious tenure in the big leagues that saw him post a 4.53 ERA with 81 walks across 119.1 big league innings. Following the 2010 season he became a free agent when Baltimore dropped him from their 40-man roster, and he signed with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of the NPB for 2011, where he promptly struck out 82 in 62.2 IP and saved 35 games. He regressed the next two years, posting slightly more pedestrian K/9 rates at 8.0 and 10.3 respectively, but took off in 2014 when he signed with SoftBank. He saved 37 games that year and K’d 96 in 68.1 IP. Last season he topped that by striking out 102 in 64.2 IP to go along with a career low (in any country) of 3.8 Hits/9. He was handsomely rewarded for such eye-popping swing-and-miss rates with a three-year deal valued at approximately $14 million. So far in 2016 he has slowed slightly with a 10.2 K/9 through his first 36 innings, but is still getting results with a 4.2 Hits/9 and 25 saves.
Such success later in a career may make you wonder what changed. Sarfate has definitely made strides in limiting the walks that often torpedoed him here in the States, but the power stuff and swing-and-miss capability has always been there. With Baltimore his fastball sat in the mid-to-high 90s and he struck out 86 through 79.2 IP in 2008, his first full big league season. What we see now is a guy that still has below-average command in the strike zone, but is using the rather large margin for error that his elite velocity creates for him vs. NPB lineups.
He also sports 2-3 average or better secondary pitches on any given day. His splitter is above average, showing hard, late tumble, and is a weapon vs. lefties, while his slider and knuckle curve both can be plus at times. He tends to open his front side early and will often miss out over the plate with the fastball, however he manages to locate his secondary stuff enough to keep hitters off balance which allows him to get away with below average FB command. Also, NPB lineups tend to house less power than those in MLB making fastballs up in the zone less likely to get turned around. I have not heard if there are any opt out clauses in Sarfate’s deal or not, but chances are that he will be back in Fukuoka in 2017. That said, stranger things have happened and NPB clubs tend to be far more open to buyouts when it comes to foreign player contracts. Should he become available, I would expect a few MLB teams to be interested in slotting him into a 7th or 8th-inning reliever role.