We all knew it was going to happen, but the Seibu Lions of the NPB officially announced that they will make 27-year-old LHP Yusei Kikuchi available to all Major League clubs via the posting system. How does that work? Who is Yusei Kikuchi? Where will he sign? I’ll try and get to all of that here.
The first thing we need to discuss is the actual posting system itself. This will be the first year of the new posting system that was agreed upon by Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball. Starting on December 5th, all 30 MLB clubs will be able to negotiate a contract with Kikuchi and his agent, who is some guy named Scott Boras that you may have heard of. The blind bidding of the past is gone. So is the former posting fee process in which the NPB team could set a release fee up to $20mm. Instead of having a set release fee, the amount of money the Seibu Lions will receive is indexed to what the lefty signs for. Whichever club sings Kikuchi will make a separate payment to the Seibu Lions.
Also, it is important to note that the process for Kikchi will be significantly different than what we saw for Shohei Ohtani. Kikuchi is already 27, and he turns 28 in June, so he will not be subject to the same bonus restrictions as Ohtani. Whoever signs Kikuchi is free to sign him for whatever they please. The distinction here is it will be a Major League contract, as opposed to the Minor League Ohtani signed.
The 27-year-old left-handed starter made it known that he wanted to pitch in the big leagues since his amateur days in Japan. In fact, he almost signed with a MLB club after high school in 2009. Kikuchi has been a very good starter in Japan since he joined Seibu’s rotation in 2011, but there are some durability concerns. Here are the numbers, courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
At first glance Kikuchi’s 2017 season sticks out as a bit of an outlier with the bump in strikeouts. I watched as much video as I possibly could on youtube and came away with a few observations. The first being that he commands his fastball well, but pitches to the heart of the plate a lot. That will have to change at the big league level. The fastball was in the 92-95 MPH range and his best pitch was a slider that he can throw multiple variations of. The harder/tighter version will probably be classified as a cutter here. He also mixes in a big, loopy curveball and a changeup.
Daniel Brim over at dodgersdigest.com broke down down Kikuchi here, and he touched on some potentially troubling issues. He noted a significant velocity drop from 2017 to 2018, which might explain that drop in the strikeouts. It could be linked with a bout of “shoulder tightness” that cost the lefty most of May. The shoulder also cost Kikuchi some time in 2013. On top of that, he’s had a history of blisters and a “right side” injury that cost him some time over the years.
There are other options on the left-handed starting pitching market, and teams will have to determine whether they prefer Kikuchi to guys like Patrick Corbin, or Dallas Keuchel. I expect almost every team to be in the mix for Kikuchi, as it is rare for viable starting pitchers at his age to hit the open market. When he signs we will have another post breaking down his fantasy value. As far as recent Asian imports go, Kikuchi is more Kenta Maeda than he is Darvish or Ohtani.