Yusei KikuchiThe first two seasons of the Major Leagues didn’t go as well as the Mariners or the left hander himself expected. After establishing himself as one of Japan’s top pitchers by pitching a 2.77 ERA in about eight seasons (2.51 in his last three years), he tried out as an international free-agent. water as one of the most coveted talents in today’s memory.
Beyond his excellent numbers in Japan and his arsenal of what many scouts believe in MLB caliber offerings, Kikuchi is a free agent at just 27 years old. Unlike most of his countrymen, he sought his first opportunity in North America while strong in the midst of his prime time. The left-hander’s level of interest and intrigue can easily be seen in the size and structure of his contract. Kikuchi hired Boras Corporation to represent him as he watched him jump into the major leagues and eventually got a four-year, $ 56MM guarantee from the Mariners.
Simply put, Kikuchi’s first year in the Majors didn’t go well in every respect. He remains healthy, but Kikuchi struggles to adjust from pitching every sixth day in NPB to every fifth in MLB. The Marines, at times, looked for ways to get him to rest for an extra day, and they even gave him a few brief starts on the plot. (He just missed an inning on an April 26 “start,” for example, as he adjusted to his new job.)
The numbers are not there. He made 32 starts but grew to a 5.46 ERA and 5.17 SIERA. His 6.9 percent walking rate is slightly better than the league average, but Kikuchi also has a below average 16.1 percent attack rate and is tagged for a whopping 36 home runs. run in 161 2/3 frames. It wasn’t a good debut. Mariners fans might have hoped that a second season would yield better results as Kikuchi overcame his adjustment period, but he came back with a 5.17 ERA on 47 innings (nine starts). He understands that brings a fair criticism.
However, there is also good reason to believe that the Kikuchi season in 2020 marks something of an important point While the ERA is not good, there are signs of a future breakout. not properly concealed.
Kikuchi’s average four -seam speed jumped from 92.6 mph to 95.1 mph in 2020, and he began using an effective cutter that wasn’t in his repertoire in 2019. His strikeout rate jumped from 16.1 percent in 2019 to 24.2 percent, and his ground-ball rate from 44 percent in ’19 to 52 percent in 2020. No more home run problems plaguing him in 2019; Kikuchi provided just three round-tripers in 47 innings. Despite improvements in most of its underlying statistics, however, Kikuchi has blocked a high 10.3 percent walk rate and a 59.9 percent strand rate as a move.
As suggested by many indicators, Kikuchi looks like a different pitcher in 2021. He started 15 games and rode with a 3.18 ERA, 25.4 percent attack rate, 8.5 percent walking rate and best career 53.8 percent ground-ball rate in his first career Nod All-Star. Kikuchi allowed three or fewer runs on 13 of his 15 starts, with the only exception being a couple of five-run hiccups in his third and fourth starts of the season. In his past 11 trips to the hill, Kikuchi has logged a 2.33 ERA while averaging 6 1/3 inings per start.
The change is inspiring, though keep in mind that it’s the same in 2020, if his tone is better than the ERA showed, maybe not at all Kikuchi it well He has benefited from a modest .221 average on balls in play and a huge 82.9 percent strand rate that, like his 2020 mark, seems unsustainable (in the other direction). However, if you combine Kikuchi’s 2020-21 results, it’s a pretty looking pitcher without a lot of red flags: 140 1/3 inning, 3.85 ERA, 3.97 SIERA, 25 percent attack rate, 9.1 percent walk, 53.1 percent ground- ball rate. The combined .251 BABIP is a bit short of expectations, but few pitchers can boast a combination of no bats, solid control and strong ground-ball tendencies.
All of this is all the more famous given Kikuchi’s aforementioned unique contract structure. He secured a technical $ 56MM from 2019-22, but the Mariners have a crucial decision at the end of the season. They can choose to work out a quartet of one year, $ 16.5MM options all with each other – effective four years, $ 66MM extension. Otherwise, Kikuchi has a $ 13MM player option that he can turn down to try free agency. (He could make the Seattle qualifying offer at that point.)
The Mariners are in the later stages of a multi-year rebuild and will definitely seek to contend starting in 2022. But as they begin to see a growing number of prospects for the position emerge. at the MLB level, pitching is never sure. Justus Sheffield still aspiring to establish itself as a consistent producer. Logan Gilbert looking sharp after some bad releases early in his MLB career. Chris Flexen proved to be a wise signing to date. Marco Gonzales battling injuries in 2021 and a step back. Priority is paramount George Kirby and Emerson Hancock isn’t expected to be far behind Gilbert in terms of MLB readiness, but the spin could use some strength – which Kikuchi has provided up to this point in time.
As such, there is good reason for Mariners to want to continue Kikuchi, even if the question of whether that four years, $ 66MM price point proves to be happy. The team will have only $ 19MM delivered on payroll in 2022 starting in 2022, so Seattle will definitely be able to continue Kikuchi and still make another notable increase in rotation through free agency or marketing this winter. The $ 66MM price point is almost in line with the recent deals signed by Nathan Eovaldi (four years, $ 68MM), Miles Mikolas (four years, $ 68MM), Dallas Keuchel (three years, $ 55.5MM) and Alex Cobb (four years, $ 57MM). If Kikuchi continues to pitch almost to his current level, a deal with that scope would not be fair to free agency.
That’s also particularly important to keep in mind, because if the Mariners chose not to get their last set, Kikuchi now serves as a lock to override the $ 13MM player option, which is how well he tunes in. He probably also turned down a qualified offer, based on the strength of what he had done.
Other teams may want to sell Kikuchi away from the Mariners who have a strong trade offer, but if he’s well-established to bring in a lot of sales value, that probably means he’s good enough too. pitching for the Mariners who are looking very much for a four-year extension. Selling a player with such an unmatched conditional option can also be complicated. It’s hard for Seattle to get enough money when the best -case scenario has the exclusive right to extend Kikuchi at a notable rate.
There’s also a downside for a winning team that is unbeatable; Kikuchi who have sustained a considerable damage in the months following a trade, he is likely to use the $ 13MM player option. The Marines have already taken that risk by issuing the initial contract-but they haven’t separated the young talent in addition to taking that risk. The rest of the club is doing just that, which weighs on the potential return on a sale.
We’re only halfway through the time point, so there’s still time for Kikuchi to make this decision more straightforward – there could be continued management or a return to his form in 2019-20. Despite the fact that he has started making the four-year route option / extension look feasible and it is itself a testament to the strength of his time. He went from looking like a possible mistake in front of the office to the potential pitfall the Mariners envisioned signing him first.