This offseason, the Blue Jays made some adjustments to their rotation. They signed Kevin Gausman to a five-year $110 million dollar deal. That has aged wonderfully as Gausman has been one of the best pitchers in baseball so far in 2022. The Jays also gave deadline acquisition, Jose Berrios, a seven-year extension worth $131 million dollars. He’s been iffy to begin the season but will likely bounce back.
The Jays had four starters locked up and guys like Ross Stripling and Nate Pearson as potential fifth starter options. Seeing this, the Jays opted to sign another starter to round out the rotation. I agreed with this idea, as it would’ve given the Jays one of the better rotations in baseball.
The Jays opted to sign Yusei Kikuchi to a three-year $36 million dollar deal to fill in that fifth starter job. I was against this signing from the beginning, as there was way more risk to it than there should have been.
Yusei Kikuchi has shown flashes, but for the most part, has not looked good at all since joining the Toronto Blue Jays this past offseason.
As a Blue Jay, Kikuchi has gone 1-1 with a 4.34 ERA thus far. That doesn’t look too bad on the surface, but some of his expanded stats are a bit startling. He’s posted an ugly 1.50 WHIP in just 20.2 innings. That WHIP would rank him 52nd of 56 if he had enough innings to qualify.
Kikuchi has made five starts so far with the Blue Jays. His most recent start was his best by far, where he went six innings and allowed just one run on three hits and struck out seven batters in six innings against the Yankees. The southpaw was able to get through six innings on 78 pitches and it was the first time he went past five innings with the Jays and it was the first time the club won when he started on the mound.
His other pretty good outing came in Boston for his second start of the season. He allowed one run in five innings in an eventual loss. However, he walked three and threw 91 pitches.
This has been a theme with Kikuchi. He walks a ton, (6.1 BB/9 in 2022) and needs to work very hard to get through innings. In his other three starts, he has gone a combined 9.2 innings allowing eight runs while walking nine batters and averaging 76 pitches per outing. Three innings and 76 pitches are really not ideal.
Kikuchi’s inability to work deep into games has put a stressor on a Jays bullpen that has been middle of the pack thus far. What’s important to note is he’s had some difficult opponents in the early going like the Astros twice, the Yankees twice, and the Red Sox, but that’s also what happens when you’re in the AL East. The Rays are always good, the Yankees are always good, and the Red Sox are usually good. The Jays will need Kikuchi to be better in his starts against the high-quality competition.
Kikuchi has good stuff which has helped him post an 8.7 K/9 in the early going but he is in the ninth percentile in average exit velocity and the seventh percentile in walk rate according to baseball savant. He’s having trouble locating his stuff and when he does, it gets hit awfully hard.
Kikuchi was an All-Star last year after a solid first half with the Seattle Mariners but he struggled in the second half and seems to be picking up right where he left off to finish the 2021 season.
There is still time to rebound and Pete Walker has had success fixing struggling pitchers in his past but things are not looking great so far.