This is a guy that fans are certainly ready to bid farewell to, though the front office surely isn’t yet. Kikuchi was signed to a three year deal last offseason with the intention that he’d be a potential high upside arm at the backend of the rotation. Having come off of an All-Star season that saw a great first half and a lackluster second, there was genuine hope Kikuchi could be a capable back-end starter. With 2021 being the first season off of a shortened 2020 season, an assumption could be made that he just tired during the second half.
What followed was nothing short of a disaster, and a frustrating one at that. Kikuchi was often visibly tentative on the mound, scared to use his fastball, and was sporadic in terms of his ability to find the strike zone. To add to the frustration, Kikuchi was genuinely one of baseball’s best starting pitchers in May. Over five starts, the Japanese lefty accrued a 2.36 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP and 10.5 K/9. It’s quite the conundrum what exactly happened to lead to such a dramatic dip in performance. Regardless, this unsustained success was a far cry from what he offered the rest of the season, and he was forced to leave a rotation that desperately needed another experienced arm down the stretch.
Kikuchi was eventually moved to the bullpen. This move was made in conjunction with the emergence of Ross Stripling and the acquisition of Mitch White. While his ERA of 4.91 as a reliever doesn’t necessarily jump out at you, his strikeout numbers were other-worldly; a staggering 16.2 K/9 over 18.1 innings showcased just how good Kikuchi’s stuff could be.
Unfortunately for Jays fans, I don’t see Kikuchi departing any time soon. He’s entering the second year of that three year contract, and as of this being written he will have a shot to win a rotation spot come Spring Training. The Blue Jays have brought in Chris Bassitt, but the fifth spot in the rotation appears to still be up for grabs.