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Blue Jays: It’s time to move Yusei Kikuchi to the bullpen

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 15: Yusei Kikuchi #16 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after being taken out of the game against the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth inning at the Rogers Centre on August 15, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 15: Yusei Kikuchi #16 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after being taken out of the game against the Baltimore Orioles in the fourth inning at the Rogers Centre on August 15, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /
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This past offseason, the Toronto Blue Jays lost two starters in Robbie Ray and Steven Matz to the free agent market but gained Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi to replace both pitchers. Entering the season, the Blue Jays had arguably one of the deepest rotations in the league, featuring Gausman, Kikuchi, Alek Manoah, Jose Berrios, and Hyun Jin Ryu.

Fast forward to today and the rotation is just not shaping up to be as dominant as we all thought it was going to be. Ryu is out for the year (and maybe all of next) after undergoing Tommy John surgery while both Berrios and Kikuchi have struggled to find consistency this season. Manoah and Gausman are fortunately having Cy Young calibre campaigns and Ross Stripling has even emerged as a valuable member of the rotation. The current starters own a 4.11 ERA on the season, with both Berrios and Kikuchi bringing down that value.

After last night’s start against Baltimore, the writing is on the wall when it comes to Kikuchi: he needs to be moved to the bullpen. As unfortunate as it sounds, with the Blue Jays neck and neck in the AL Wild Card race and have now dropped to third, with both the Jays and the Rays sitting 0.5 games back of the Mariners. Every game moving forward will have huge playoff implications and simply put, Kikuchi’s start is just not cutting it anymore. This sentiment was even felt by Blue Jays manager John Schneider following his latest start, “everything is on the table right now… We’ll figure that out in the next couple of days.”

Through 20 starts, the southpaw owns a 5.25 ERA with a 1.518 WHIP and a 5.94 FIP through 82.1 innings pitched. The strikeouts have been there when he can find the zone at a 9.9 K/9 clip but the problem has been just that, his command has been abysmal, sporting a 5.4 BB/9 and sitting in the 5th percentile in BB%. Even after a few weeks on the IL back in July, the Jays starter continues to struggle with the command and also the untimely long ball.

Blue Jays starter Yusei Kikuchi got roughed up by the Baltimore Orioles last night and it’s time to consider moving him to the bullpen.

Opposing batters have also been barrelling his offerings, owning an 8.9 H/9 this season and sitting in the 1st percentile of average exit velocity and barrel %, with opponents hitting to a .244 batting average with a 91.6 MPH average exit velocity. The Jays are 6-14 when the Japanese product starts and he has only hit the 5.0 innings pitched mark eight times this year (40%). He has just three quality starts on the campaign and currently owns a -1.0 bWAR.

Looking at the remaining schedule and the tight playoff race, it is unfortunate that Kikuchi is struggling and you do genuinely feel bad for him, but this club is a playoff calibre team and his starts are just not going to cut it, especially with such a tight Wild Card race in the AL.

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Are all of his losses solely his fault? No, the bats have been silent as of late and it’s hard to win ball games when your team is only putting up a few runs each night, as well as some defensive miscues allowing additional unearned runs on the scoreboard.

However, Kikuchi also hasn’t been pitching quality outings when it is his turn on the bump, so even if the Jays put up five to six runs and don’t make any errors, they still have to fight to win when the left-hander allows four or more runs and isn’t able to pitch deep into the game, making the bullpen work harder to make up for his short outing.

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Considering Ross Stripling is scheduled to return tomorrow and the club does have another starter in Mitch White in the fray, the Blue Jays will have to make a tough decision in four days’ time of whether Kikuchi gets another start or if they need to make some adjustments in the rotation.

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