There have been rumors that Japanese left-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi has a preference to sign with a major league team on the west coast, which coupled with the San Diego Padres’ rotation weaknesses, makes him a very viable target for the team.
He’s been very good in the Japanese Nippon Professional Baseball League, sporting a 2.81 ERA across eight seasons and 1035.1 innings.
Kikuchi has talent worth adding to a major league team, and that’s why we’ve heard about him even dating back to the last offseason.
What his true talent level is, remains an unanswered question. There are more factors than we can account for in attempting to find out how good he truly is, though there are ways in which we can improve our knowledge about his performance statistically.
Here are Kikuchi’s career NPB Statistics:
|NPB Career ERA||NPB Career K/9|
We know that the Nippon Professional Baseball League is known to be more hitter-friendly, which is something key to keep in mind as we evaluate his profile. So let’s look at the statistics of some prominent Japanese pitchers who recently made the move from the Nippon Professional Baseball League to the Major Leagues. Here are the numbers of the most well-known and sought-after Japanese pitchers who have come to major league baseball recently, while playing in Japan. Also included are their equivalent statistics while pitching in Major League Baseball:
|Pitcher||NPB Career ERA||NPB Career K/9||MLB Career ERA||MLB Career K/9|
Based on the data we have above, we can reasonably say that the performances of the pitchers were not as strong in the major leagues in comparison to their successes when pitching in Japan. Even though it seems like the pitchers are striking out more hitters in the United States, compared to in Japan, we have to remember that there is much more emphasis on contact hitting and bunting in the Nippon Professional Baseball League. Therefore, it’s natural to assume that the pitchers would strike out more hitters upon making the move to Major League Baseball. All of the data we just examined, must be kept in mind when attempting to project Kikuchi going into the 2019 season.
We should additionally consider the fact that Kikuchi is older than most of the pitchers above, at 27 years old. Darvish and Tanaka were 25 in their first seasons, while Ohtani was 23. Only Kenta Maeda was a similar age to Kikuchi, beginning in 2016 with the Dodgers at age 28. Kikuchi has a career strikeout per nine innings ratio of 8.0, ranking behind all of the pitchers listed above, aside from Kenta Maeda. Based on the discussion among scouts and evaluators surrounding Kikuchi, we can be pretty sure he isn’t as high quality of a pitcher as his countrymen listed above. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a valuable asset to be gained by whichever team signs him, to be clear. Kikuchi just has a lower career ERA, and less of a consistent track record in Japan, when compared to the aforementioned Japanese hurlers.
Also worth noting, is that Kikuchi is a lefty, while all of the pitchers above are right-handers. He has a value that they can’t provide, as a result of being a left-handed pitcher. It’s the only way in which he’s clearly better than his fellow Japanese pitchers. His durability is an issue, however, and this will likely hold him back from getting the amount of significant guaranteed money some of the other Japanese pitchers have gotten in recent years. He hasn’t ever thrown more than 187.2 innings in a season while playing in the NPB, which does not bode well for his success in the United States. Considering that pitchers traditionally pitch once a week in Japan, the added workload of pitching every fifth day in the Major Leagues may be of concern for a pitcher like him.
When it comes down to it, however, Kikuchi remains a strong option for many west coast teams looking for starting pitching help. His overall repertoire has been rated highly by scouts, who often rate his Slider and Curveball as 60 on a 20-80 grade scale. Considering the fact that the Padres had such subpar performance from their starting pitchers in 2018, signing a pitcher like Kikuchi would vastly improve their rotation. If the Padres want to be closer to contending in 2019, they should seriously consider inking a deal with the Japanese lefty. Although he probably isn’t as good as many recent Japanese pitchers who have come to the Major Leagues, Kikuchi has traits that are nonetheless valuable to almost any MLB team.