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The Season That Was: Yusei Kikuchi

A look at Kikuchi’s 2023 season.

Wild Card Series - Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins - Game Two Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Blue Jays signed Yusei Kikuchi back on March 12th, 2022. It was a three-year, $36 million contract, front-loaded, with Yusei getting $16 million in the first year and the next two at $10 million.

His first season with the Blue Jays wasn’t great. He started the season in the rotation and was moved to the bullpen in mid-August. He finished the season with a 5.19 ERA but had 124 strikeouts in 100.2 innings. Unfortunately, he also had 58 walks.

We hoped for better this year but didn’t know if we should expect it.

Standard Pitching
32 11 6 3.86 32 32 0 0 167.2 165 78 72 27 48 0 181 4 0 7 700 110 4.12
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/17/2023.

I think it is fair to say that he had a much better season than we expected.

Baseball Reference has him at a 1.8 WAR. Fangraphs 2.6, giving him a value of $20.8 million to the Jays.

He had a .314 BABIP (.292 last year). 77.8% of baserunners were left on base (72.8% last year).

Yusei’s FIP was 4.12, and xFIP 3.77.

His line drive rate was 22.0% (up from 19.1% last year). Ground ball 39.7% (down from 43.9% last year). Fly ball rate is 37.0% (up from 30.3 last year). And 15.3% of his fly balls left the part (last year, it was a league-leading 23.7%).

Kikuchi’s strikeout rate was 25.9% (down from 27.3%), and his walk rate was 6.9% (way down from last year’s league-worse 12.8%).

His soft contact rate was 15.2% (up from 12.9), and hard contact was 36.0% (down from 41.1).

Yusei was better vs. left-handed batters (.214/.270/.435) than right-handed batters (.266/.321/.435).

He had a higher ERA at home (3.97 to 3.77 on the road), even though batters hit him much better on the road (.281/.325/.444) than at home (.226/.295/.404).

And he was better in the second half (3.39 ERA, .254/.312/.356) than in the first half (4.24, .257/.310/.481).

Kikuchi by month:

  • April: 4-0, 3.00 ERA in 5 starts. Batters hit .240/.283/.420 in 27 innings.
  • May: 2-2, 5.83 ERA in 6 starts. Batters hit .298/.370/.595 in 29.1 innings.
  • June: 1-0, 2.28 ERA in 5 starts. Batters hit .180/.226/.360 in 27.2innings
  • July: 1-1, 3.91 ERA in 5 starts. Batters hit .293/.364/.404 in 25.1 innings.
  • August 1-1, 3.03 ERA in 5 starts. Batters hit .230/.263/.319 in 17.1 innings.
  • September: 2-2, 5.02 ERA in 6 starts. Batters hit .283/.342/.434 in 28.2 innings

It was not exactly consistent, but it was a good season.

The Jays were 21-11 in his starts. The team averaged 5.68 runs/start in his games. They scored 3 runs or less in 9 of his starts. 2 runs or less in 8 games.

Days of rest:

  • 4 days: 4.22 ERA in 12 starts.
  • 5 days rest: 3.63 ERA in 10 starts.
  • 6 or more days rest: 3.26 ERA in 6 starts.

Time through the order:

  • 1st time: Batters hit: .252/309/.391.
  • 2nd time: Batters hit: .256/.305/.455.
  • 3rd time: Batters hit: .266/.331/.443.

His best start, by GameScore, was on June 25th, at home against the A’s. A 75 GameScore, 7 inning, 2 hits, 1 earned, 2 walks and 8 strikeouts.

His worst start, April 9th (his second start of the season), at L.A. against the Angels, a 26 GameScore, 4.1 innings, 9 hits, 6 earned, 1 walk and 6 strikeouts, with 3 home runs allowed.

He averaged 5.2 innings per start.

I’m unsure whether we should call him the Jays comeback player of the year or just the Jays' most (only?) pleasant surprise of the season.

Yusei never seemed to gain John Schneider’s trust. John seemed to have a pretty quick hook with Kikuchi. I can understand why, but I thought, at least by midseason, he should have given Yusei more of a benefit of the doubt.

Good things can happen if you half your walk rate and almost half your home run rate.

It will be interesting to see what happens next year. With Bassitt, Berrios, Gausman and Kikuchi. Any of them could turn out to be our number one guy next year (not discounting the chance that Manoah comes back strong or that Ricky Tiedemann earns a spot in the rotation and turns out to be as good as he looks).

It is pretty amazing that, in this season of a high rate of pitcher injuries, we had 4 guys go 31 or more starts each. The odds of that happening again next year?

Fangraphs tells us he threw a:

  • Four-seam fastball 45.1% of the time, averaging 95.1 mph.
  • Slider 37.3% of the time.
  • Change-up 9.7%.
  • Curve 7.8% (something he hasn’t thrown since 2019.

Before the season, we asked:

  • If the over/under on Kikuchi’s innings is 117 I’d take....most of us (53%) were wrong picking the under.
  • Kikuchi will have more starts or relief appearances...most of us (55%) were wrong picking relief appearances.
  • If the over/under on Kikuchi’s ERA is 4.00, I’d take the....most of us were wrong (71%), taking the over.
  • Will Kikuchi be a Blue Jay right to the end of his contract? 53% said yes. He still has a season left, but I don’t see why he wouldn’t be.


For his 2023 season, I’d grade Yusei Kikuchi an

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