Washington Nationals: Yusei Kikuchi a name to watch this winter
By Blake Finney
With the Washington Nationals on the lookout for another starting pitcher, perhaps one wildcard name to keep an eye on is Yusei Kikuchi.
It’s one of the world’s worst kept secrets that the Washington Nationals are hunting for a rotation upgrade. We take a look at whether Yusei Kikuchi could be a name to look out for for the team this winter.
The Japan Time confirmed that the Seibu Lions will post Japanese left-handed starter in early December. After he is posted, major league teams have 30 days to make him an offer, then if he accepts, the Lions get a fee corresponds to the contract value as compensation.
While the Nationals have never usually been in on Japanese players who come over such as Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, they never really needed starting pitching in those situations as they do now after a poor season for the rotation.
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The 27-year-old is widely considered the best pitcher in Japan currently, so his desire to come to America to further his career is hardly a surprise. In his eight seasons in professional baseball, which includes a short stint with the Melbourne Aces in Australia, he has compiled a 74-48 record with a 2.81 ERA in over 1000 innings of work.
Kikuchi isn’t quite as much of a strikeout artist as Tanaka and Darvish were during their time in Japan, but he will still rack them up at a good rate. The left-hander has a career 8.0 K/9 compared to Darvish’s 8.9 K/9 and Tanaka’s 8.5 K/9 in Japan. He may not take the league by storm as the former two did initially, but his stuff will play and he profiles as a likely number two or three type starter in the majors.
He offers an impressive repertoire that includes a mid 90s fastball and a devastating slider which will be complemented by a curveball and splitter. His favorite strikeout pitch is probably his fastball which he can command supremely on the corners and freezes hitters with the combination of location and velocity. You can see a brief showing of his stuff below.
MLBTradeRumors predicted a six-year, $42 million deal for Kikuchi from the San Diego Padres, which would come out as $7 million per season. It may cost a little more to acquire the lefty, but it doesn’t seem likely to exceed $10 million per season. For comparison, some pitchers that MLBTradeRumors had exceeding Kikuchi’s annual average are Gio Gonzalez, Matt Harvey, and Anibal Sanchez.
While gambling on a Japanese pitcher can be risky, the upside would be much higher than a similarly priced pitcher in free agency. With the success of some of the pitchers coming over from Nippon Professional Baseball, he looks like he would be a wise investment for the Nationals.
Yusei Kikuchi is the wildcard in this year’s starting pitching market after the headliners in Patrick Corbin and Dallas Keuchel. The Washington Nationals would be wise to look at the scouting report on him and consider entering the fray.