Jays Journal contributors will be authoring Toronto Blue Jays report cards based on how each player performed in 2020. In this edition, we take a look at Shun Yamaguchi.
After spending 14 years playing in the Nippon Professional Baseball League (NPBL) in his native Japan, Shun Yamaguchi thought it was time to bring his talents to the major leagues, the best baseball league in the world.
As the Jays were looking for pitching depth, they pounced on the opportunity to grab a Japanese All-Star by signing him to a two year, $6.35 million deal with incentives. The front office was so excited that they were able to get him that they even gave him his own press conference.
One thing that the front office really liked in him was his versatility and experience pitching in different situations. He had experience both as a starter, reliever and closer in the Japanese league.
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In Spring Training, he was being stretched out as a starter. He was competing with Trent Thornton for the final rotation spot as the fifth starter. While Spring Training was cut short, he most likely would have lost out on a rotation spot as he struggled in exhibition play with 12 hits and nine earned runs given up in four games.
He ultimately stayed in the bullpen for the whole season as he appeared in 17 games posting a 8.06 ERA with an opponent average of .283. He was also credited for a blown save.
Yamaguchi threw four different kinds of pitches this season with those being a fastball (40.8%), split finger (39.4%), slider (17.1%) and a curveball (2.6%).
His most effective pitch was his split finger, as he managed to limit hitters to bat .222 against that pitch. When throwing his fastball or slider, the results weren’t so good and only threw his curveball on 12 occasions.
Yamaguchi didn’t do well either at home or on the road, but fared better when the Jays were at Sahlen Field in Buffalo. As the home team, Yamaguchi posted a 5.65 ERA with an opponent average of .245. When on the mound as the visiting team, he had an ERA of 11.12 with an opponent average of .326.
While he had a bad season, there are two positives that can be taken from his stats. He only allowed lefties to bat .238 off him, and in the month of August he posted a 1.54 ERA with 12 strikeouts against just five hits, with an opponent average of .132 in six games.
Yamaguchi’s first season in the major leagues was unfortunately a complete failure. He posted horrible stats and at times fans were calling on him to not pitch again as he constantly allowed runs to score. Going forward, he shouldn’t be trusted in tight situations and should be used as a mop-up man. It doesn’t help that his fastball is his primary pitch and averages just 91 MPH.
Maybe this season was a case of the jitters for Yamaguchi. Pitching overseas in a different country and more difficult league is harder than anyone thinks it is.
Hopefully Yamaguchi will bounce back next year and find the success that he had in Japan.