Category Archives: Yusei Kikuchi

Posts related to Yusei Kikuchi

Find this man a treadmill, please

In talking about his desire to focus more on his fastball next season, the Seattle Mariners’ Yusei Kikuchi talked about his work ethic recently.

The lefty, who went 6-11 with a 5.46 ERA this season, his first in MLB, said what he’s good at is grinding out at the same task over and over. And though one might confuse him with a gym rat, Kikuchi said he’s no rodent.


“I’m not a hamster, but if you put me on a treadmill and told me to go, I’d run for all I was worth. Doing the same thing over and over and keeping it up is what I’m good at.”

Yusei Kikuchi from Kyodo News Plus

Read the full story HERE.

The man behind the curtain

Tsutomu Jinji
Tsutomu Jinji, Ph.D., shown at December’s baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas.

Yusei Kikuchi gets all the credit for remaking himself on the mound the past three seasons. But when he decided he wanted even more to work with before he moved to the major leagues, he called on Professor Tsutomu Jinji, and his company, Next Base Inc. Working with TrackMan data, Kikuchi began absorbing more and more information about his pitches and mechanics in 2019.

In my Kyodo News interview you can find HERE, Dr. Jinji talks about Kikuchi’s dilemma last season — What to do when you suddenly have Japan’s top left-handed fastball but your strikeout pitch has always been your slider.

Jinji began working in pro baseball with the Pacific League’s Rakuten Eagles in 2015, where he was brought in by the team’s owner to work with pitchers only to get caught in the crossfire from coaches who treated him like an intruder. He went through a version of that with Kikuchi, when the pitcher added the TrackMan analysis to the discussions he had with his regular catcher, Ginjiro Sumitani.

“His catcher would say, ‘That pitch was good,’ but when we compared that to the data to reach a consensus, it resulted in disagreements,” Jinji said.

“Kikuchi would say, Ginjiro said it was like this, but ‘how was it really?’ And that’s how the conversations would begin. We reconciled his feel for the pitch, the catcher’s sense of it and the TrackMan data. Up until then, it was just those two guys, but after we added another tool to translate what happened, he (Kikuchi) came to believe that TrackMan was more accurate than his catcher’s senses. Eventually, he was able to use TrackMan to express his feel for his pitches.”

Jinji called Kikuchi a fast learner and attacked new information the way he’s tackled the English language and learning about nutrition and conditioning. Jinji suggested that some of that had to do with his background, coming from the same school attended by Los Angeles Angels pitcher Shohei Ohtani.

“Hanamaki Higashi High School is one of the schools that demand their players think, and more players from such places seem to be better at acquiring other knowledge,” Jinji said.

The idea that players should be taught to think for themselves is just now building some momentum. While Kikuchi is more of the lead-by-example type, he is symbolic of the movement that DeNA BayStars cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is now advocating.

You can read more on the Kyodo News website.

Slow and steady for Kikuchi

Upon arriving at Narita Airport on Sunday, new Mariners lefty Yusei Kikuchi told reporters he wanted to be ready to throw at full power from the start of spring training.

We’ll see how that plays out, since major league spring training can be a daunting mental challenge for Japanese players used to starting on Feb. 1, going through long, all-day workouts for four or five days straight and then getting a day to recover.

Everyone who goes now knows what’s coming, but knowing and feeling in your bones that an unfamiliar workout pace is right for you are two radically different things.

That aside, the interesting take from Kikuchi’s media availability at the airport was his belief that last May’s shoulder stiffness was due to his not throwing until January. For that reason, Kikuchi resumed playing catch in December and was working out in the States while negotiations were going on with his agent.

“Ahead of last season, I began throwing in January, and was forced to pick up the pace and that led to my problem,” he said. “I want to do it gradually this year, so I will be fit enough to throw at full strength in camp.”

Read the full story on Kyodo News HERE.

Meet MLB’s new deal

On Jan. 3 in Japan, news broke on MLB.com about the details of Yusei Kikuchi’s contract with the Seattle Mariners. According to the report, Kikuchi gets a guaranteed three-year, $43-million deal, with a $13-million player option for 2022, and a four-year, $66-million team option should he decline to exercise his.

Had the Mariners made this a straight-up $109-million deal. They would have had to fork over to the Seibu Lions a $18.225 million transfer fee. Instead, Seattle will pay considerably less.

Welcome to the future of the posting system.

Other than the standard evaluation of a player’s talent and future value, there are other issues at play here. By making this a three-year deal, the Mariners minimize the amount of money they will have to forfeit to the Seibu Lions.

The current posting fee is an amount of money equal to:

  • 20 percent of the first $25 million of the guaranteed contract.
  • 17.5 percent of the next $25 million of the guaranteed contract.
  • 15 percent of everything else including bonuses, incentives paid and options.

That means the first part of the Mariners’ payout to the Seibu Lions in addition to Kikuchi’s contract, provided MLB.com’s numbers of a $43 million guarantee are accurate, will be worth $8.15 million in addition to another amount equal to 15 percent of any bonuses and incentives.

But here’s the sweet part for the Mariners — and why will likely see more deals like this in the future. Seattle can bank everything else until the decisions are made about team and player options after 2021. If the Mariners do exercise their option on Kikuchi, who will then be 30, the share of the posting fee they will then pay will be the repayment of a three-year, $9.9 million, interest-free loan from the bank of Seibu.

The second trick is that by making the rest an “option,” all of Kikuchi’s future income from this contract will only require the Mariners to pay 15 percent of that amount to Seibu.

It’s a small bit, but changing the posting fee on the first $7 million paid to Kikuchi after 2021 to 15 percent from 17.5 percent, will save Seattle another $175,000 for good measure.

Boras: Kikuchi interest “intense”

Agent Scott Boras tells a throng of reporters at the winter meetings in Las Vegas about his clients.

 

LAS VEGAS – Agent Scott Boras called the interest in Seibu Lions left-hander Yusei Kikuchi “intense” on Wednesday, when he held court at baseball’s winter meetings.

Kikuchi has been on the market since Dec. 5, has already had his physical, and is expected to arrive in Los Angeles in the coming days, Boras said.




“He’s the only 27-year-old left-handed starting pitcher on the market,” Boras said “He’s viewed very differently, because of the acquistion cost. You have to pay a posting fee. Clubs feel he has a very fresh arm, unlike a lot of Japanese pitchers. He did not throw in NPB at 18 or 19, so he has very limited innings compared to some of the other Japanese pitchers that have come over.”

“We think the teams are very aware of his value. Remember, too, that a Japanese pitcher of reputation may offer major league teams an economic incentive. Because there’s a lot about the partnership with Japanese companies that bring value. They’re very pleased about having in their market place a star Japanese player.”

Kikuchi has been deactivated three times when the Seibu Lions attributed the reason as shoulder issues:

When he was left off the Opening Day roster in his first year (2010) and was not activated until the end of September.
When he missed one start in the middle of the 2013 season.
When he missed five weeks at the start of this past season with shoulder stiffness.

“People write that he’s had a history of shoulder trouble, but that is not accurate,” a member of Boras’ staff said.




When he was Daisuke Matsuzaka’s agent in 2006, Boras reportedly encouraged Matsuzaka to turn down a last-minute offer from the Boston Red Sox and return to his Japanese club, the same Seibu Lions. But at that time, posted players were limited to speaking with the lone team that bid the highest for his negotiating rights in a closed bid.

“If we strike a deal we could have it done in a short period of time,” Boras said. “We’re still negotiating,” Boras said. “Normally, you get things done in advance of a deadline, because that makes it a little more difficult. I’m sure he’ll have a deal before Jan. 2.”

“We’ve had many meetings. We have all of his physicals in order for the team. And all that’s final. He’s ready to sign at any time.”

More posts on Yusei Kikuchi:




Tracking Yusei Kikuchi

Yusei Kikuchi may have put his major league ambitions on hold in 2009, when he turned pro with the Seibu Lions, but it’s something he’s been building toward ever since. On Wednesday, a source said Kikuchi has been earnestly studying English once a week for years and is keen to be the first Japanese player to give his opening remarks at his first press conference here in English.

Read my story on Kyodo News here.

Trackman data is fairly new to Japan. In a nation where mind-numbing repitition is considered the biggest single key to success, even nutrition and strength training are still viewed by some teams as esoteric endevors.

Kikuchi to keep it simple this time

Nine years after a tearful press conference where he put his major league ambitions on hold, Yusei Kikuchi said Sunday he is not going to be distracted by the highs and lows surrounding his upcoming negotiations with big league clubs.

The day before his posting, he appeared back in the city of Hanamaki, in northeastern Japan’s Iwate Prefecture, with two of his Seibu Lions teammates to participate in an event.

“I’m not going to be on an emotional roller coaster,” Kikuchi said about the posting according to Nikkan Sports. “The negotiating period is 30 days and a lot of unexpected things are likely to happen I suppose, so I’m going to train and prepare so that I can produce next season.”

What MLB scouts think of Yusei Kikuchi
Yusei Kikuchi video

Kikuchi, who graduated from Hanamaki Higashi High School just before Shohei Ohtani entered as a freshman, joined the Lions of NPB’S Pacific League despite announcing that his goal had been to play in the major leagues and not turn pro in Japan.

“I didn’t think he’d be able to hit major league pitchers just like that,” the lefty said. “I thought they would be able to shut him down.”

Yet like Ohtani after him, Kikuchi stayed, and his move to the majors is once more on the front burner.

“I’ve had this target in mind ever since the first winter after I entered high school,” Kikuchi said according to Sports Nippon referring to the idea sown by his high school manager. “Mr. (Hiroshi) Sasaki set that target before me, ‘High School and then the majors.’ It’s been 12 years since then and I’m pretty happy that this opportunity is finally here.”



With about 3,000 people in attendance to hear him and teammates Shuta Tonosaki and Pacific League MVP Hotaka Yamakawa speak, Kikuchi was asked about Ohtani’s success.

“I didn’t think he’d be able to hit major league pitchers just like that,” the lefty said. “I thought they would be able to shut him down.”

Your new pitcher Yusei Kikuchi

Who is Yusei Kikuchi?

The 27-year-old lefty tried to move to the States in 2009, when he was a senior at Hanamaki Higashi High School, in northeastern Japan’s Iwate Prefecture–graduating just before Shohei Ohtani entered as a freshman. The Pacific League’s Seibu Lions won his negotiating rights in a draft-day lottery, when half of NPB’s 12 teams selected him as their first-round choice.

Kikuchi signed with Seibu, announcing his decision in a tearful press conference. Many in NPB have spoken in whispers about how the Lions strong-armed the youngster into staying in Japan.

“…he is aggressive with his fastball. He’s not trying to fool guys. Major league teams like to see that. They need to see that guys aren’t afraid to throw their fastball in the zone.”

The day before his posting, he appeared back in Hanamaki with two of his teammates to participate in an event, where he spoke of his upcoming challenge.

“I’m not going to be on an emotional roller coaster,” Kikuchi said about the posting according to Nikkan Sports. “The negotiating period is 30 days and a lot of unexpected things are likely to happen I suppose, so I’m going to train and prepare so that I can produce next season.”

When he first turned pro, Kikuchi’s first year was more or less wiped out by injury and he had an up-and-down NPB apprenticeship that largely consisted of managing shoulder stiffness and inflammation with one detour for elbow discomfort. Despite all that, he’s become one of NPB’s top pitchers–it just took him a little longer to get there.

What scouts say

In a poll I conducted this past year of major league scouts who cover NPB, Kikuchi was rated the fifth-best prospect of any player in Japan–including those who are not yet eligible to leave.

“He’s a left-handed power arm. What’s not to like about him? He’s developed control of his offspeed pitches and he is aggressive with his fastball. He’s not trying to fool guys. Major league teams like to see that. They need to see that guys aren’t afraid to throw their fastball in the zone.”

“Even in Japan, Kenta Maeda, threw mostly sliders, and major league teams want to see more confidence in the fastball.”

“He used to always be missing something. He used to have a lot of things going on. He had a reputation as being injury prone. But his body is a lot larger now (100 kg). He’s now confident in what he does. He appears more mature.”

To a man, the scouts see Kikuchi as a valuable middle-rotation starting pitcher.



Pitches

Overall: Kikuchi is primarily a fastball-slider pitcher. He got swinging strikes on 12.2 percent of his pitches this year, fourth most among pitchers throwing 90-plus innings. Hitters made below average contact on his pitches in the zone, but he was No. 1 in terms of least contact out of the zone and well above average in getting batters to chase.

Fastball: Averaged 147.3 KPH this year. Kikuchi threw it about 49 percent of the time and got swinging strikes 9.6 percent of the time, the third highest figure of pitchers throwing 1,000-plus fastballs this year. In 2017, it was arguably the best fastball in NPB.

Slider: Since the start of his pro career, the slider has gradually become Kikuchi’s big pitch, and is easily the best slider thrown by an NPB starting pitcher. This past year, 35 percent of Kikuchi’s pitches were sliders, the highest figure for anyone who threw 2,000-plus pitches. He locates it extremely well, and got swinging strikes on 17.0 percent of his sliders – a shade behind the 17.1 posted by four-time PL strikeout leader Takahiro Norimoto, who lacks Kikuchi’s location.

Curve: Kikuchi’s No. 2 secondary pitch, thrown about 10 percent of the time. It’s not a great pitch, but like a lot of Japanese pitchers, he’ll throw it for strikes to get ahead in counts a few times in a game.

Change: Used about 5 percent of the time and it has been effective in limited applications. It’s a chase pitch, generally not thrown for strikes.

Others: A few of his pitches in 2017 were labeled splitters, and a few this past season were designated as two-seamers–depending on who you ask. It’s not unusual in Japan for MLB-bound players to play around with two-seamers. Kikuchi might also have tried it in 2017, when Seibu’s mound was reportedly made harder.



Where he is now

In 2017, everything came together for Kikuchi. He was healthy the entire year, and was dominating the league, umpires flagged Kikuchi for his double-leg-pump pitching motion in August. It didn’t seem to bother him though, as he allowed just three runs over his last six starts of the season, (including one in the postseason) striking out 57 batters in 49 innings. He was named the PL’s pitcher of the month for September and October.

“I hated it that anyone might say I was getting people out because of that (illegal) delivery,” he said after winning the monthly honor.

This past May, Kikuchi dealt with a shoulder issue diagnosed as “degradation” of the shoulder that delayed recovery after his starts. He was deactivated from May 6 to June 1.

“It’s a concern of course,” one scout said about Kikuchi’s health and less-dominant results this year. “That’s where we scouts come in to see what he actually is doing.”

Another scout said, “Let’s see, he’s a lefty with great command of his slider who throws 92 miles per hour and throws strikes. I think somebody will be interested.”

Expectations

The injury issue is a question mark because he will be throwing a different ball from harder mounds that put more stress on the knees than the somewhat softer NPB mounds he’s used to. He’s been hurt in the spring, and he’s going to go through a spring training that is quite different from what he’s used to.

The less-intense but everyday workouts force new Japanese players to question whether they are getting enough work in or whether they will be ready when preseason games start a week after the start of camp instead of having a month before they start.

Kikuchi has become a strike thrower and is more confident and mature than the pitcher who started a game after feeling a tinge from an old shoulder injury and didn’t tell anyone until it began to hurt during the game.



History

His first pro season was limited to two minor league games due to pain in his left shoulder. He was sent back to the farm after 11 days when he couldn’t crack the starting rotation. He was brought up for spot starts throughout the 2011 season, spending the last 1-1/2 months on the first team.

2012 was a big step forward despite not making his first start until July 1. He started all 17 of his games, going 9-4 with three shutouts over 108 innings, but shoulder inflammation caused him to miss two weeks from July 13 only to be deactivated seven days later when the problem was diagnosed. He finished the season on the farm, pitching as part of his rehab. His 2013 season was a similar story, going back to the farm to deal with shoulder discomfort on Aug. 8 and finishing the season in the minors pitching in rehab games.

Kikuchi didn’t start the 2015 season with the first team after suffering left elbow inflammation in camp as he was trying to iron out his mechanics.

On June 23, 2016, Kikuchi felt pain when he threw hard in his right oblique muscles. He returned on Aug. 5, and finished the year with the first team for just the second time in five seasons and with the exception of some shoulder fatigue this spring, has been fairly fit.

Activation / deactivation history

Figures in green represent Opening Day.

Activated Deactivated Reason
3/18/2010 Shoulder pain
9/23/2010 End of 2010 season
4/10/2011 4/21/2011
6/12/2011 6/13/2011
6/30/2011 7/1/2011
8/11/2011 8/19/2011
8/31/2011 10/19/2011 Postseason
10/29/2011 End of 2011 season
3/28/2012 Poor form
7/1/2012 7/27/2012 All-Star break
8/8/2012  End of 2012 season
3/27/2013 7/13/2013
7/30/2013 8/7/2013 Shoulder inflammation
3/26/2014 7/24/2014
8/6/2014  End of 2014 season
3/25/2015 Elbow discomfort
4/28/2015  End of 2015 season
3/23/2016 6/23/2016 Right oblique muscle
8/5/2016  End of 2016 season
3/29/2017 7/8/2017 All-Star break
7/21/2017 10/4/2017 Postseason
10/14/2017  End of 2017 season
3/29/2018 5/6/2018 Shoulder stiffness
6/1/2018 7/9/2018 All-Star break
7/29/2018 10/3/2018 Postseason
10/17/2018  End of 2018 season

Notes: NPB teams often deactivate starting pitchers around the all-star break and prior to the postseason, since there are no limits on roster moves other than the 10-day period it takes to reactivate a player.



Lions Kikuchi ready to roll into posting circus

Yusei Kikuchi will be posted on Dec. 3, the Seibu Lions said Friday as they held their victory parade and fan appreciation day in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture. With captain and second baseman Hideto Asamura leaving as a free agent for the Rakuten Eagles and former No. 1 catcher Ginjiro Sumitani reportedly set to move to the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants, the Lions’ chances of defending their Pacific League championship in 2019 are taking huge hits.

Asamaura’s departure is the second major player the Lions have turned over to the Eagles in recent years, following the move of star right-hander Takayuki Kishi two years ago.



Elsewhere, Hiroshima Carp center fielder Yoshihiro Maru, a good bet to win his second-straight CL MVP award next week, has been courted by the PL’s Lotte Marines and the Giants, while the Carp remain hopeful of bringing him back. Maru is a native of Chiba Prefecture, and by filing for domestic free agency this year, has forfeited his chances of moving to the majors next season as an unrestricted free agent–unless as some have hinted that he signs with a team willing to post him.

It’s hard to see how that would happen since the new posting system awards posting fees based on contract value, and the market isn’t likely to be that strong for a Japanese center fielder with some pop, defense and good plate discipline who will be adjusting to MLB at the age of 30.

While the Carp wait on Maru’s decision, they have handed manager Koichi Ogata a one-year contract extension for what will be his fifth season at Mazda Stadium. He is only the second manager in CL history to lead the same team to three straight championships, though that’s a bit of a red herring, since the other guy was Tetsuharu Kawakami and he did it nine times.

Why Sarfate and not Kikuchi?

So why does Yusei Kikuchi play second fiddle to Dennis Sarfate in win shares? The essential answer is context.

First of all, it is very hard for relievers to rank so high unless they are extremely dominant and pitch a fair number of innings and get lots of saves – indicating many high leverage innings and that moves Sarfate into the conversation.

Still, the win shares system recogizes that Kikuchi was better at one level – the estimated contribution his raw numbers made to his club’s success. So why does Sarfate end up on top despite that.

The answer is wins. Not being credited with wins as the pitcher of record, but team wins.

On one level, this is a normal part of the system: Teams that win more games have more credit for wins to be shared by their players. But in the Pacific League in 2017, the Hawks won four games more than their run production and prevention would predict, and the Lions five games fewer.

Because the system is anchored on wins, you can’t get around the fact that in the big picture, the Hawks’ players’ numbers were therefore more valuable than the Lions’ players – who needed to score and prevent more runs to produce the same number of wins.

The system rewards individual performance on claim points. Pitchers get points for preventing runs in your innings beyond that which your fielders are credited with saving the team per inning.

You get points for striking out more batters and walking fewer, and for giving up fewer home runs. Because Kikuchi pitched nearly three times as many innings, he was able to save many more runs, but Sarfate was extremely effective and had a high leverage bonus because of his 54 saves. Still, Kikuchi gets 87.8 claim points – more than Sarfate’s 75.5.

Kikuchi’s claims give him 21 percent share of the Lions’ pitchers’ win shares. That is larger than Sarfate’s 17 percent of the Hawks total. But because the Hawks’ players’ numbers were more valuable, a Hawks pitcher saving 20 runs in 100 innings (adjusted for context and team defense) created more wins than a Lions pitcher who did exactly the same.

The Hawks’ individual performances were not all that much better, but in terms of wins, they were noticeably more valuable. Because the Hawks pitching staff produced many more wins, Sarfate’s contribution to the Hawks was a smidgeon more valuable than Kikuchi’s contribution to the Lions.

This connundrum pops up when the star of one team that wins more games than its runs scored and allowed suggest is compared to the star of a team that wins fewer games than it ought to. The Hawks won four games more than expected, the Lions five fewer. But you have to give the credit for that to the players, meaning, the Hawks’ players’ stats need to carry slightly more weight than the Lions.

That’s the rationale.

Is it accurate? It has its failings here and there, and it is not hard to believe that somehow Kikuchi must earn more credit, but in the end, everything depends on wins. At least this system doesn’t give players credit for winning games that their team didn’t – as WAR would.

If the Lions’ wins had more accurately reflected their runs and runs allowed, then the system would have seen Shogo Akiyama as the PL’s most valuable player – instead of Yuki Yanagita.

It also explains the presence of so many BayStars players and the absence of Tigers. The BayStars were hyper efficient, while the Tigers were not.