Can Blue Jays Yusei Kikuchi Find his Rhythm in 2023?

Blue Jays Left-Handed Pitcher Yusei Kikuchi Mid-Wind Up Set to Deliver Next Pitch
Blue Jays Left-Handed Pitcher Yusei Kikuchi Mid-Wind Up Set to Deliver Next Pitch Photo credit: G Fiume/Getty Images

The Toronto Blue Jays continue to chip away at their offseason. As we slowly get closer to Major League action, Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins and Team President Mark Shapiro continue to make additions to the roster. The Chad Green signing last week was certainly a step in the right direction. With most of the offseason surrounding the Blue Jays’ bullpen depth, let’s take a look at one of the team’s biggest pitching questions, can Yusei Kikuchi find his rhythm? Any contending team needs to have a strong rotation, which usually will lead to a better bullpen. Getting deeper starts from your opening arms, lessons the innings you need from your late-inning bullpen guys. A reliable fifth starter could lead to a lot of success when competing for a division title. 

We already know the front four of the Blue Jays’ pitching rotation is pretty locked up. Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman lead the way as the front two, followed by some mix between Jose Berrios and Chris Bassitt. I’m comfortable with Berrios having a bounce-back season, Manoah and Gausman building off last season, and the addition of former Mets arm Chris Bassitt. The real question mark, though, is what happens at the back. The Blue Jays’ front end of the rotation has the ability to be not only one of the best but the best league-wide if they can get things right. The fifth starter role for the Blue Jays has some fun names, but today let’s begin with Yusei Kikuchi!

Blue Jays’ left-handed pitcher, Yusei Kikuchi, is the most likely option for the fifth starter role. Starting as a starter last season, Kikuchi had serious ebbs and flows in his starts. However, after the struggles kept piling and piling up on the 31-year-old, Yusei was eventually moved to the bullpen. Now, Kikuchi’s 2022 season with the Blue Jays was rough.

The Blue Jays left-hander had a 5.19 era through thirty-two games, including one save. When Kikuchi got hit last season, it was hard contact right off the bat that got the 31-year-old in trouble. According to Baseballsavant.mlb.com the left-hander ranks in the one percentile of HardHit percentage, one percentile in Barrel percentage, and third percentile in walk percentage. Those numbers are absolutely not what you want to see from your starting pitcher, regardless if he’s the last pitcher in the rotation. 

On the bright side, there is hope with Yusei Kikuchi. I’m a bit more optimistic than most, but ranking in the seventy-seventh percentile in strikeout percentage and eighty-fifth percentile in whiff percentage, it’s clear Yusei has the tools to succeed in the Blue Jays rotation. The 31-year-old has a four-pitch arsenal that carries a four-seam fastball, slider, changeup, and cutter. Yusei heavily relies on his fastball and slider much more than his other pitches, throwing his four-seamer 50.6% of the time and his slider 30.7%. 

What’s interesting in my analysis of Yusei Kikuchi is how well his changeup numbers are. Now his four-seam fastball can be a weapon when located properly, the 31-year-old ranks in the sixty-eight percentile in fastball velocity and fifty-nine percentile in fastball spin. These are not eye-catching statistics, but per Baseballsavant.mlb.com that’s above average by a good margin. Going back to his changeup though, opponents only had a .166 batting average off of it with one home run. Those numbers are much better than his .252 batting average on his four-seam fastball and his .288 batting average on his slider.

I understand that Yusei only uses his changeup pitch 13.3% of the time, but those numbers are promising. I think if Kikuchi can find a way to mix in his changeup more, lessening the use of his four-seamer for more effectiveness could help significantly. Obviously, I don’t want him to drive completely away from his repertoire, but perhaps using his changeup could lead to more success down the road. It’ll be key for Kikuchi to bounce back, with a price tag as high as his, that’s one expensive relief pitcher. 

Thanks for reading! For more baseball content, follow me on Twitter at ITR_Anselmo.

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