Yusei Kikuchi Free Agent Posting (Fantasy Baseball)
We have seen numerous aces come to Major League Baseball from Japan over the year. Most recently, it has been Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish, but before then, we had Hideo Nomo and Daisuke Matsuzaka. We may have another as soon as next season. Today there have been reports that the Seibu Lions will post 27-year-old left-handed fireballer, Yusei Kikuchi, for MLB teams to potentially purchase from the club then negotiate a big league contract. So who is he and how useful could he be to your fantasy team? Let’s take a look.
The 6’0″ lefty has been known to pump an upper-90s fastball in past hitters with multiple MLB-level breaking balls to his name. Granted, the command of his pitches needs some refinement, but that is by no means the biggest concern. Rather, Kikuchi has dealt with a series of shoulder concerns several years ago and they resurfaced last season which explains his numbers plummeting from all-world to merely being among the better pitchers in Nippon Professional baseball. While he may not quite have the true-ace type of stuff Shohei Ohtani or Yu Darvish offered, there is enough upside that we could be looking at a top-30 fantasy pitcher sooner than later. It will all be dependent on his health and obviously if he even decides to sign with an MLB club.
Will he Sign?
In 2010, Kikuchi flirted with the idea of being the first Japanese high school player to sign with an MLB team. He has long wanted to play in America and while you might assume that means he will definitely be here within the 30-day negotiation period, it isn’t exactly a lock.
- The Lions have to be willing to accept 25% of the MLB contract. If it is not enough, he will return to Japan next season.
- Kikuchi would become an international free agent independent from his Japan team in 2020. If he wants to gamble on himself, he may opt to refuse the MLB team contract and chase bigger money in two years.
- The timing is not ideal for the Lions or Kikuchi since he is coming off his worst season since 2014. It is entirely possible that either the Lions and/or Kikuchi believe they deserve much more money than they will likely receive since they may view him as a world-beating ace with off-the-charts strikeout numbers and a sub-2.00 ERA. Meanwhile, MLB teams might see a 3.08 ERA with mediocre strikeout numbers and potential shoulder concerns.
With all that said, these cases tend to work themselves out. He was posted after all, and apparently at the request of Kikuchi himself. That almost always means that the player signed. All it takes is one team to fall in love with his repertoire and go crazy with the bidding. I’m betting it happens and that the winning team will be the Milwaukee Brewers. Their rotation is the weak spot and they neither have deep pockets or prized prospects to use toward acquiring a proven MLB starting pitcher. They do, however, have a short window to try winning a championship so expect them to buy a lottery ticket in effort to keep pace for the Dodgers and Cubs of the world. I’m imagining he signs a short-term team like Miles Mikolas did last season to prove himself: Two years, 23.5 million dollars.
2019 MLB Outlook
Much of this will obviously depend on his landing spot. If he pitches for a team like the Rays or Dodgers, we will see far fewer innings. If the Rockies or Rangers add him, we are looking at a streamer with trouble in home games. On the flip side, San Francisco or San Diego could turn little known minor leaguers into Derrick Rodriguez or failed veterans like Edwin Jackson into useable pieces so who is to say what they would make of an ace-like arm. For the sake of the discussion, let’s just say he signs with a major league average organization in a major league average ballpark.
Typically when you attempt to translate production in one league to Major League Baseball, you take the most recent samples possible. We can’t compare him to Yu Darvish because the NPB was so different even just seven years ago. Darvish striking out over 200 batters with a sub-2.00 ERA was unheard of at that time. It no longer puts you in that same category, so let’s take a look at the two most recent NPB imports.
2015-2017 NPB: 424.2 IP, 2.18 ERA, 1.46 BB/9, 7.48 H/9, 8.01 K/9
2018 MLB: 200.2 IP, 2.83 ERA, 1.30 BB/9, 8.34 H/9, 6.55 K/9
2015-2017 NPB: 326.0 IP, 2.15 ERA, 3.04 BB/9, 5.58 H/9, 11.01 K/9
2018 MLB: 51.2 IP, 3.31 ERA, 3.83 BB/9, 6.62 H/9, 10.98 K/9
2016-2018 NPB: 495.1 IP, 2.51 ERA, 2.74 BB/9, 6.60 H/9, 9.03 K/9
2019 MLB: ???
Both of the pitchers above were young like Kikuchi, but both pitched in pitcher-friendly parks. Adding in their ballpark factors to the equation, the league to league translations spit out these numbers for Kikuchi in 160 innings next year.
160 IP, 3.49 ERA, 2.77 BB/9, 7.58 H/9, 8.27 K/9
Whether or not he stays healthy is up in the air. The same is true for whether or not he returns to 2017 form or continues his backward slide. With that said, that is his median projection and gives us a fantasy pitcher similar to Zach Wheeler who is expected to be a top 150 pick. Based on what we saw from fantasy owners last year regarding both Mikolas and Ohtani, it seems likely that Kikuchi will be drafted near the end of fantasy drafts, if at all. Don’t forget his name on draft day because if you can grab another Wheeler-type arm late in drafts, you’ll have a major upper hand on your league-mates.