General

Kodai Senga, Potential Strikeout Machine

Before the 2016 season, I tabbed Senga as my breakout candidate for 2016. Fast forward 6 months, and the right-hander has emerged as one of the best pitchers in NPB.

In his breakout 2016, Senga, struck out batters at a higher clip than any other qualified hurler, checking in at 26.6 K% (Shohei Otani missed the cut by three innings, thanks to a blister that sidelined him for the majority of the second half). To contextualize, the Pacific League as a whole recorded a 18.1 K%.

His other numbers don’t look bad, either: 52 runs (49 earned), 125 hits, 16 home runs, 181 strikeouts, and 53 walks in 169 innings (681 batters faced). His 69 RA-, which is quite nice, ranked fourth-best among qualified pitchers.

Senga’s repertoire, which is captured in the video above, mostly consists of a four-seam fastball that averages 147 km/h (91.3 MPH) and is thrown 52.2% of the time, a slider (78.6 MPH, 17.7% usage), and a splitter/forkball (82.3 MPH, 20.3% usage). The latter of the three is his go-to strikeout pitch with bat-missing ability. Thanks to the offering, dubbed by fans as the “ghost fork”, Senga recorded a 11.4% swing strike rate, the third-best mark among qualified pitches. He also throws a cutter and curve, but they are used much more rarely.

The biggest concern with Senga is a shoulder injury that limited him to 22.2 innings in 2014. Despite spending the last two seasons without a major injury, his health status raises question marks.On top of the health issues, Senga showed struggles handling the Rawlings-made baseballs used in MLB (believed to be more slippery than the Mizuno-made ones used in NPB) in the recently held WBC warm-up games against the Mexico and the Netherlands national teams. But one other concern–whether or not Senga could stick in the rotation–is all but gone after his impressive 2016.

At just 23-years-old, Senga, who was an unknown until a local sports store owner recommended the then-high-schooler to a Hawks scout, has plenty of time to address the issues and prove his health status. He won’t make the jump to the big leagues anytime soon, but is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Stats courtesy of Delta Graphs

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Kazuto Yamazaki

Kazuto Yamazaki

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