Yusei, I say
There is an old move in professional sports, one that has been repeated a few times with varying levels of success. That move would be going out and getting a player that traditionally plays well against your club. Again, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least that type of signing can solve a problem.
That may not be the exact thinking of Ross Atkins and the Toronto Blue Jays front office as they signed starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi from the Seattle Mariners to a three year, $36 million deal, but it has to help. Kikuchi is one of the first players to be signed after the lockout, and his market grew after the 99-day search for a CBA ended. He was one of the more desirable pitchers in the first place, due to his hard fastball, but the market for starters got thinner after Clayton Kershaw returned to Los Angeles.
He recorded a 1.7 WAR in 2021 with a 1.318 WHIP in 29 games. No, it isn’t the most glorious, but Kikuchi is being signed on to be a fifth starter, not an ace. The Blue Jays already have a loaded rotation ahead of him. However, Seattle used him more frequently as they had a less talented rotation. (Now Robbie Ray will pitch there.) He did end up as an All-Star.
Kikuchi has four pitches, his best and most frequent the aforementioned fastball. With that pitch, he frequently goes down-and-in (from a righthanded batters’ perspective) as well as right down the middle, averaging 95.1 miles per hour in 2021. That hardball is one of his calling cards, and it struck out many.
On top of the talent, he has beat up the Blue Jays on two occasions. Once was in his rookie year of 2019, when sure, the Jays weren’t exactly great, but this guy was a rookie who wasn’t exactly good, allowing two home runs per nine innings. But that was his game, the first instant we realised he could be decent.
And then in 2021, on Canada Day in Buffalo, he torched the Jays, making the best hitters hit light to the infield and the worse hitters striking out.
Kikuchi is the traditional Japanese pitcher, from his throwing and in his mechanics. He balances himself before delivering the throw. As mentioned, his workload won’t be as large as Hyun-jin Ryu or Kevin Gausman, but his balanced windup also balances out the rotation. Nate Pearson, a top prospect who was injury-riddled in his first few years, had surgery in the offseason and is still expected to be a starter, but if he can’t at least the Jays have insurance.
Kikuchi may very well be the predecessor of good things to come, since we saw in recent years that the Jays, for whatever reason, sign a decent pitcher before delivering a massive move. It happened last year with George Springer, when Atkins and co. went out and signed Kirby Yates. (Though he didn’t play.) Is there potential for another former Astro to come to town?
Kikuchi’s deal ups the money spent by the Blue Jays on free agents to $146,000,000 spent, all on pitchers, as it couples with Gausman’s deal.