Opening day is just 18 days away which means it is time to preview Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi.
After a rocky rookie campaign, Kikuchi bounced back in year two. The southpaw’s 3.30 FIP would have landed 17th in the league, just a touch above Marco Gonzales.
Mariners southpaw Yusei Kikuchi has better days ahead
While Kikuchi’s 5.17 ERA isn’t exactly elite, the FIP suggests that he’s due for some better days ahead. Kikuchi’s K/9 improved from 6.46 to 9.00 and his HR/9 dropped from 2.00 to 0.57 between 2019 and 2020.
So far this spring, Kikuchi has been solid throwing five innings and giving up just two earned runs. But the one concern may be Kikuchi’s control. While he improved in many ways in 2020, his BB/9 increased from 2.78 to 3.53.
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Couple that in with the three walks in the spring, and there is cause for some concern. Kikuchi’s three worst outings last season came when he didn’t have his control. In those three games, Kikuchi gave up 15 earned runs and walked 14 in those 12.1 innings.
Scott Servais hasn’t yet announced the schedule of the M’s rotation, but in all likelihood, Kikuchi will slot behind Gonzales, James Paxton, and Justus Sheffield as the M’s No. 4 starter. In the instance that Kikuchi can be an effective fourth starter, Seattle will potentially have an imposing rotation. And as we’ve seen in past years, a lethal rotation can make up for other shortcomings when it comes to putting together a competitive club.
Ideally, Kikuchi will maintain his K/9 while also decreasing his BB/9. Something around the 2.3 to 2.4 range would be good for the M’s and for Kikuchi’s confidence. Preferably, we want his ERA to drop below 4.00 but if he can at least maintain a similar FIP, he’ll have the opportunity to be a useful middle-of-the-rotation arm for Seattle.