Thursday, March 23, 2023

Japan's Victory Lap


Very fitting that the year Japan takes down the US in WBC play, it also happens to be a big year for Japanese players in the US.

I mean, there have been more monumental years for Japanese exports, like the initial buzz of Hideo Nomo in LA, or the exaltation of the Yankees getting Hideki Matsui, or the gambit of the Red Sox nabbing Daisuke Matsuzaka and then winning a World Series with him, or even the Rangers being the ones to take Yu Darvish. But 2023 has three relatively big Japanese ballplayers touching down on American soil to begin the year, and in an era where Shohei Ohtani is one of the faces of baseball, it's an earned victory lap.

The Mets probably made the most waves signing Kodai Senga, especially considering that it came in the same offseason as their signing of Justin Verlander. Even with Jose Quintana hurt, their rotation is still looking like Scherzer-Verlander-Senga-David Peterson-Carlos Carrasco. Even with Carrasco being an older liability, that's still a strong matchup, especially with Peterson looking insanely good over his spring starts. 

While Verlander and Scherzer are sure to be the crowd-pleasers, Senga does look like an interesting case behind them. In 11 seasons with the Softbank Hawks, Senga sported a 2.42 ERA, a 104-51 record, 1486 strikeouts and a 1.096 WHIP. Those are some pretty solid numbers, even if the seasons are shorter in Japan. There is ultimately the worry of the initial adjustment to throwing stateside, as virtually every Japanese pitcher has had a year of surgeries after trying to adapt to MLB hitting, but the hope is that the Mets at least get some prime years out of him before this, and 2023 would be a nice season for Senga's a-material to aid the Mets.

At the other end of the spectrum is Shintaro Fujinami, who's notably struggled more often in his 10 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers. The 28-year old still has a 3.17 ERA and 80 wins, but a career 1.322 WHIP is a bit scarier to people. Fujinami is also suiting up for the Oakland Athletics, a team with direr needs and sparser run support. At the very least, Fujinami is 3-0 in his 4 spring training starts, and has 17 strikeouts...but he's also walked 13 people and given up 6 earned runs. He is a premeditated risk that could, in theory, pay off for the A's. 

And then, of course, you have Masataka Yoshida for the Red Sox. The dude was on full display during the WBC, people know how useful someone like him is even for a mid-tier team like Boston. In 7 seasons with the Orix Buffalos he has a .327 average, 133 home runs, 900 hits and 474 RBIs. Not bad at all, and close to the production of someone like Benintendi or Devers. In a team that's let so many homegrown contact hitters go, Yoshida is the closest thing to a compromise, a contact-hitting export that has cut out the 'coming to prominence' part of his journey and is right at his peak as the Red Sox need him.

I honestly think Yoshida's gonna have the best season of these three, just on the basis of his WBC production and his career to this point, but Senga could surprise me. I haven't counted out Fujinami either, he could be a tricky aspect of an already-interesting AL West.

1 comment:

  1. It's a shame we didn't get to see Senga and Fujinami in the WBC, but at least we got a taste of Yoshida. He absolutely raked... but I think the coolest thing is that he only struck out once... while driving in 13 runs.