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Should the Red Sox Pursue This Japanese Star?

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Sometime in December, the Seibu Lions of the Japan Pacific League will post their star pitcher Yusei Kikuchi onto the Major League free agent market.

While Dave Dombrowski has not commented on the team’s interest on Kikuchi, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com described the team’s in Kikuchi as “lukewarm”. Should the Red Sox be lukewarm on Kikuchi or should they try to pursue the Japanese star?

Kikuchi’s career started in 2011 with nine starts with the Lions. While the southpaw posted a high 4.14 ERA, his ERA never went above 3.54 in his later seasons. In 2012, he started 12 games and posted a much lower 3.10 ERA, but maintained a high 1.230 WHIP.

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In 2013, Kikuchi drastically improved, going 9-4 while significantly dropping his ERA and WHIP to 1.92 and 1.139. Throughout the 17 starts, Kikuchi struck out 92 batters and threw three shutouts. While 2014 saw Kikuchi’s ERA raise to 3.54, his ERA did not go above 3.00 until 2018, where he posted a 3.08 ERA and 1.033 WHIP.

Kikuchi’s best season was easily in 2017. Kikuchi started a career-high 26 games while going 16-6 with a 1.97 ERA and .911 WHIP. Kikuchi also set career highs with his 217 strikeouts, six complete games, and four shutouts.

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His primary pitches include a slider and a fastball that averages at 93 mph but peaked at 98 mph. Kikuchi’s struggles this year came from his slider not being as dominant as it was in 2017, along with Kikuchi trying to work on using his changeup and curveball more.

One issue with Kikuchi could be his continued shoulder problems throughout his career.  Due to the shoulder issues, the 27-year-old did not pitch enough innings to qualify for the ERA title until 2016, and while he started 23 games during the 2018 season, more shoulder issues limited Kikuchi to only 163 innings pitched.

The most likely reason that the Red Sox may have little-to-no interest in Kikuchi would be because he is a left-handed starter. The Red Sox starting rotation already features three lefties, Chris Sale, David Price, and Eduardo Rodriguez. While Rodriguez could theoretically be moved into the bullpen, Rodriguez has been a reliable starter throughout his career, so keeping him in the starting rotation would be useful.

While Kikuchi may have been a dominant starter in Japan, the lack of space in the starting rotation along with the shoulder problems makes the case for the Red Sox to pass on the star.

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