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Dodgers Free Agency: Why Is Yusei Kikuchi Such A Big Deal?

The Dodgers are looking to fill a few holes this offseason, including parts of the pitching staff. Reported Monday afternoon, Japanese left handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi is officially a free agent and is welcome to sign with a Major League Baseball organization.

Who Is Yusei Kikuchi?

Yusei Kikuchi is 27 years of age and spent a majority of his 8 professional season in Japan with the Saitama Seibu Lions. He first made his professional debut at the raw age of 20 years old. Kikuchi is in the prime years of his career. He stands just six feet tall and weighs in at 194 pounds.

Yusei and Rich “Dick Mountain” Hill might get along pretty well.

Oh yeah, Kikuchi is a fan of our favorite southpaw and Dodger Clayton Kershaw.

“If he decides to make the jump the 26-year-old, who calls Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw his favorite player, won’t lack for suitors.”

JapanTimes

Now that the left-hander is posted as a free agent, a bevy of major league clubs have already shown their interest in Kikuchi. Similar to Shohei Ohtani last winter, Kikuchi has tossed his name in the hat alongside current free agents such as Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and other big names.

Scouting Report

In my attempt to search for what Yusi Kikuchi offers, there wasn’t too much. No official scouting reports, but there were plenty of videos on the left-hander. Kikuchi offers up a fastball that sits right around 95 or 96 MPH. He also throws a nasty curve that bites hard near the end. That seems like his go-to pitch when ahead in the count.

His slider is also a pitch that sweeps quite a bit and is a great strikeout pitch for Kikuchi. When facing a lefty, the slider low and away in the dirt is almost unfair to the batter. Kikuchi takes advantage when he gets ahead in the count. He is also not afraid to attack right-handed hitters with his fastball. In what seems like a four-seam fastball, he paints the corners and stays a bit off the plate.

This video pretty much sums it up. The slo-mo features are the best showing the strikeouts.

Notice how often Kikuchi uses his fastball on two-strike pitches. And notice how he attacks both righties and lefties with the hard fastball. All fastballs hitting his spot and painting the black on the edges.

It also seems that Kikuchi offers up some type of off-speed pitch in there as well that sits around 80 MPH. It looks like a change-up that is placed down in the zone to throw hitters off. The change-up would be a great pitch for him to use following up one of his sweeping sliders or bending breaking balls.

The delivery from Kikuchi is nothing too special. Simple windup and stretch to the plate. As most of us may remember, old friend Hiroki Kuroda had one of the longest wind-ups in all of baseball. Kuroda’s wind-up may have been a bit mild compared to Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s wind-up.

Competitors For Kikuchi Sweepstakes

Along with the Dodgers and others, it sounds like the Red Sox are well aware of Yusei Kikuchi. An article from Mass Live offers up a few quotes from Red Sox baseball of operations Dave Dombrowski, noting:

“He’s a guy who has been a quality pitcher there for a while, so we watch him on a regular basis. Yes, we have a pulse of him.

Mass Live

The Philadelphia Phillies will also pursue the Japanese left-hander this winter. By the looks of it, the Phillies are mostly interested in bring in a left-handed starter to add to their starting pitching staff. The article notes that the front office is interested in guys such as Robbie Ray, J.A. Happ, and a few others as well.

What makes Yusei Kikuchi so appealing is his age. At the prime age of 27 years old, Kikuchi is younger than current free agents Hyun-Jin Ryu, Nathan Eovaldi, Patrick Corbin, and a few others. While Corbin and Eovaldi will definitely get their big deals this winter, others teams are looking to spend less and get more with Kikuchi.

Other teams such as the Yankees (of course), Mariners, and Padres have also been identified as contenders to pursue Kikuchi this off-season.

Career Stats

Yusei Kikuchi owns a carrer 2.81 ERA in over 1,000 innings of work in his 8 professional seasons in Japan. Within those 8 seasons, there was a month where Kikuchi played in the Australian baseball league. He made his way back to Japan and continued his career with the Seibu Lions.

Early on, his ERA sat in the mid to high 4’s and has dropped off significantly as he has matured as a young man. His most impressive season came when he was just 22 years of age, posting a 1.92 ERA in 108 innings of work. He allowed 23 runs and struck out 92 that season in 2013.

Year Age W L W-L% ERA RA9 G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO H9 BB9 SO9
2016 25 12 7 .632 2.58 3.21 22 22 2 0 143.0 117 51 41 7 67 0 127 7.4 4.2 8.0
2017 26 16 6 .727 1.97 2.35 26 26 6 4 187.2 122 49 41 16 49 0 217 5.9 2.3 10.4
2018 27 14 4 .778 3.08 3.24 23 23 1 0 163.2 124 59 56 16 45 1 153 6.8 2.5 8.4
All All 74 48 .607 2.81 3.22 163 158 15 7 1035.1 838 370 323 75 381 2 925 7.3 3.3 8.0

Looking at his last 3 season in Japan, nothing but impressive numbers all across the board. There were a couple of stat lines that really caught my attention. One of them being the SO/9. In 2016 his SO/9 is 8, 2017 is 10.4, and 2018 is 8 again. One category that blends with SO/9 is the complete games.

During the he posted 10.4 SO/9 innings, Kikuchi tossed six (6!!) complete games in his 26 outings. Six complete games is something you don’t see in this day and age, especially in major league baseball. Four of those six complete games were shutouts.

Final Thoughts

Yusei Kikuchi is without a doubt on the Dodgers, and many other major league clubs’, radar this off-season. Kikuchi is only 27 years old, which separates him from other free agents that are on the wrong side of 30 years old. We’ve seen the fastball and of course the devastating slider that is used when ahead in the count.

Kikuchi is preparing for a well-deserved pay day, and whether it be the Dodgers or anyone else in on the sweepstakes, they’re receiving a very well-rounded young man. Proving himself is something Kikuchi has done the last 8 years, now will he take advantage of it and prove himself the next 8 years with a major league baseball club.

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Written by Tyler Hawk

Currently living in Central California. Life-long Dodgers and Chargers fan.

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