The Toronto Blue Jays are well underway and close to finishing the Spring Training season, as the Home Opener is slowly coming up on the horizon. As we tread closer and closer to the start of the season, Blue Jays nation is wondering what the starting mound staff could look like.
Without jumping into the debate of who makes the rotation and where in the rotation they’ll be, let’s look specifically at left-handed pitcher, Yusei Kikuchi. Early this month, the Blue Jays and Kikuchi committed to a 3-year, $36 million contract, after Kikuchi declined an option with the Seattle Mariners, worth approximately $13 million. Some may say, this signing for the Blue Jays is nonsense; I will say it is absolutely fantastic.
Kikuchi is a diamond in the dirt of a scarce pitching market, and a much-needed left-handed chucker in the rotation. This is a player that will maneuver this team into winning scenarios, while he’s uplifted by arguably one of the best lineups in the league. I find baseball critics are very zoned-in on Kikuchi’s 2021 ending, whereas evaluators may have this guy on their active staff 9 out of 10 times.
Yusei Kikuchi, Blue Jays: Evaluation Report
Background & Stats
Yusei Kikuchi, from Morioka, Japan, made his debut on March 21st, 2019. He spent three seasons with the Seattle Mariners. In 2021, he finished the year with a 7-9 W-L record, and 163 strikeouts over 157 innings, walking only 62 with a 4.41 ERA. He’s started 20 more games in 2021, as opposed to 2020. His ERA has improved from 5.46 in 2019, 5.17 in 2020, and now 4.41 in 2021. He has a career 326-132 strikeout to walk ratio with an ERA of 4.97.
FASTBALL: 60 SLIDER: 60 CUTTER: 55 CHANGE-UP: 50
FASTBALL COMMAND: 60
Yusei Kikuchi is a power-left-handed workhorse. Don’t let his delayed and slowed delivery fool you; hitting against this guy will be a mix between whiffle-ball and ping-pong. Kikuchi brings the heat and has weapons for each and every one.
The new Blue Jays starting pitcher weighs in at 200 lbs, standing 6’0”, with a slim athletic build and a rubber, versatile arm. His slow, simple wind-up followed by a short-delayed leg kick is repeated time after time, with no pitch-tipping in sight. This wind-up delivers a very well controlled 4-seam fastball that has maxed out at 98 mph, typically lives around 95-97. Kikuchi’s command can work this heater to the top and bottom shelf, and within and outside of the zone to change eye levels. He has a very greasy slider, which takes a late dive out of the zone, causing hitters to fish and fall out of their boat; the slider sticks about 85-86 mph and can be complemented by a well-worked curveball, which can sit for strikes.
Kikuchi’s out-pitch, and top weapon is his cutter. The cutter sits 91-92mph with late bite, fooling guys expecting the 98 mph heater. This pitch works lefties like gold; Kikuchi is solid with working left-handed hitters in general. His approach to certain matchups is very detailed and thought out; pitch selections are on point and he’s known to battle counts that are not in his favour.
Yusei Kikuchi will be a massive boost to a Blue Jays pitching rotation; we could see this guy in very big situations this season!