Inside pitch

My takes on players who want to go to the States and how well they’ll make the adjustment to MLB because it’s not always about physical skills, size, and strength. The opinions here are mine alone.

Who’s here?

Tomoyuki Sugano

The Yomiuri Giants ace has the power and command to pitch pretty much any way he likes. He’s stocky but not physically imposing at 1.86 meters and 92 kilograms, but his record with back-to-back Sawamura Awards in 2017 and 2018 speaks to his fire and competitiveness.

Activation, injury report

8/14/20149/10/2014Neck pain, lower back discomfort, middle finger tendon inflammation
10/3/20143/25/2015Lower back discomfort, right elbow ligament damage
5/31/20156/10/2015Neck pain
8/6/20168/16/2016blister on right thumb
10/6/2016*Misses practice for an undisclosed reason.
5/21/20196/9/2019Lower back discomfort
9/5/20199/15/2019Lower back discomfort
9/16/2019Lower back discomfort
3/30/20214/10/2021Discomfort in leg (believed to be knee)
5/8/2021Discomfort in right elbow

Sugano’s sophomore season was cut short by injury, including ligament damage in his right elbow. Since then his injuries have largely been limited to lower-back issues, with 2019 being particularly bad. Last year colored a lot of people’s perceptions about Sugano’s durability. He was activated in order to pitch in the postseason, when he was not fully fit.

Otherwise, he’s never been deactivated in order to “find his form.”

What makes him special

Sugano brings three things: his smarts, the sharp movement on his pitches, and consistently good command.

He can be stubborn, and we’ve seen that with his current approach which is largely about expanding the zone and living on the edge. On those days when his command is not as sharp, he will fight it and run up pitch counts rather than letting his stuff play in the zone.

He appears methodical on the mound. Off the mound, he seems humble and intelligent. Most Japanese players rate extremely high on the makeup scale, but intelligence is I think extremely undervalued in the ability of some players to adapt successfully to the changes that MLB presents.

It starts in spring training. Instead of four-to-six intense workout days and a day off, its lower intensity daily workouts. Players going to the States are also confounded by the schedule. Preseason games start earlier, and players lose their personal sense of where they should be fitness-wise when games start. Players get anxious, overtrain, and suffer injuries.

writing & research on Japanese baseball