Toronto Blue Jays 2023 Season Preview: LHP Yusei Kikuchi

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays
Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages

Next up in our Toronto Blue Jays 2023 season preview series is left-handed pitcher Yusei Kikuchi.


Addison BargerAnthony BassChris BassittBrandon BeltJosé BerríosBo Bichette, Cavan BiggioMatt ChapmanAdam CimberHagen DannerSantiago EspinalMatt GageYimi GarcíaKevin Gausman, Chad GreenVladimir Guerrero Jr.Thomas HatchSpencer Horwitz, Danny Jansen, Leo Jimenez, Kevin Kiermaier

Before we get into this, here's a quick refresher on the projection models we'll be looking at.

STEAMER42 G (18 starts), 8-7 record, 3.86 ERA, 121 SO, 46 BB in 117 innings pitched

ZiPS27 G (21 starts), 7-6 record, 4.49 ERA, 113 SO, 48 BB in 110 innings pitched

2022 stats: 32 G (20 starts), 6-7, 5.19 ERA, 124 SO, 58 BB in 100.2 innings pitched

Coming off an All-Star Game appearance in 2021, last season was a nightmare for Kikuchi, who was never able to find any rhythm as a starter and was eventually moved to the bullpen toward the end of the year. He will look to bounce back in the upcoming campaign and hopefully earn himself a full-time role in the Blue Jays rotation.

It always felt like Kikuchi would be a bit of a project when he got to Toronto, but not many people thought his first season would go as poorly as it did. His 5.19 ERA was the fourth worst among all American League pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched (just behind teammate José Berríos) and his -1.1 rWAR was the worst among American League pitchers with at least 70 innings pitched. To say that 2022 was a disaster would be an understatement, but the silver lining is that he enters 2023 with little to no expectations.

If you watched Kikuchi at all in 2022, one thing that was abundantly clear is that his stuff isn't bad. He's got a four-seamer that touches the upper 90s, a slider and changeup that have some good movement, and a really good cutter that he rarely used last year. The main issue was that these pitches require good control and last season that just wasn't there. Per Baseball Savant, Kikuchi was in the first percentile for average exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and barrel percentage, which means he was getting hammered more than any other pitcher. This was mostly due to putting the balls in hittable locations, which led to his horrible numbers. Judging by their projection, it seems like ZiPS is expecting more of the same in 2023.

I don't think it's impossible that Kikuchi has the same season he did last year, but I would be very surprised if we didn't see a season more like the one STEAMER is projecting. Kikuchi has some solid stuff, and if he can just refine it during the offseason, I truly believe that he could be a solid pitcher for the Blue Jays. Last season his K/9 of 11.1 was the fifth best in the American League among pitchers with at least 100 innings, and was ahead of guys like Corbin Burnes, Max Scherzer, and Justin Verlander. If he can just clean up his control, Kikuchi could be a real force for the Blue Jays.

While it seems like STEAMER sees Kikuchi in a bit of a hybrid starter/long reliever role, he has a chance to solidify himself as the Blue Jays' fifth starter this season. With only the top four spots locked down to start the year until Hyun Jin Ryu's return, Kikuchi could earn himself a full-time spot in the rotation should he play well to start the season. It might seem strange to be so optimistic about a player who struggled so immensely last season, but Kikuchi has the tools necessary to be a legit MLB starter, and he's got a shot to be the biggest breakout on the team this season.

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