The Los Angeles Angels are potentially in the market for another Japanese starting pitcher, Yusei Kikuchi, but should stay away from the signing.
Last winter, the Los Angeles Angels won one of the most exciting sweepstakes in sports and signed coveted Japanese prospect, Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani is perhaps the biggest star to come out of Japan and proved in his rookie year why he is worth the hype.
Although he did not pitch much and will not pitch again until 2020 because of Tommy John Surgery, Ohtani was elite when he was on the mound and proved that he could be a consistent producer at the plate as well.
He really is this generation’s Babe Ruth. Personally, I had no doubts in his pitching ability but I did doubt his performance at the plate. I am happy to say that Ohtani blew my expectations out of the water.
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Now, this winter, there is another coveted Japanese pitcher on the market in Yusei Kikuchi. While Kikuchi is not the dual-threat monster that is Ohtani, he is one of the most electric arms to come out of Japan.
Kikuchi has a great fastball that tops out in the high nineties that he locates with ease. His go-to pitch is his slider, which truly is a wipeout slider and can get both left-handed and right-handed batters outs.
The southpaw looks the part and is electric on the mound. In 2017, Kikuchi tossed 187.2 innings to the tune of a 1.97 ERA. Last year, the innings went down to 163.2 and his ERA went up to 3.08.
A 3.08 ERA certainly is not bad and Kikuchi has a career 2.81 ERA and 8.0 K/9. However, the downtick in innings is what is concerning and is ultimately why the Angels must stay away.
While Kikuchi did still put together a decent year’s worth of work, he was dealing with shoulder pain throughout the season that has plagued his entire career. While Kikuchi was still pumping the ball in the high-nineties, he has missed a lot of time with shoulder injuries.
Before 2017, Kikuchi’s career-high in innings pitched was 143. He was shut down prematurely in 2013 and made his debut a year late in 2011 because of shoulder pain. While everything is seemingly checking out right now, it is obvious to see why the Angels would be concerned.
Not only has Ohtani’s elbow significantly derailed plans but the Angels have dealt with too many injuries in the starting rotation the past few years to count. Because of that, the front office is seeking out reliable starting pitching; I cannot say that you can call Kikuchi a surefire reliable option.
There is a natural connection there because of Ohtani and because of the Asian market in Orange County (19.9% Asian, second-most behind white). Throw in the fact that Kikuchi was spotted at an Anaheim Ducks game, in Ducks gear nonetheless, and it seems like he is going to be an Angel.
However, if the Los Angeles Angels stick to their guns and only bring in reliable arms, Kikuchi will find a different MLB home.