With the Rays’ signing of Japanese Slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, there have been questions on how his NPB success will translate to the MLB.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo has reportedly inked a two-year deal with the Rays @TBTimes_Rays joined @MadDogUnleashed on #HighHeat to discuss how the deal for the 28-year-old Japanese slugger came about. pic.twitter.com/G8OnChAKhP— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) December 13, 2019
If you missed out, our own Homin Lee has a great write up of Tsutsugo and Shogo Akiyama as targets minutes before the news broke.
From Homin’s piece:
If Tsutsugo can be a third base version of Smoak instead of a left field version, he could be a good addition for Rays. At ESPN, Jeff Passan compared Tsutsugo to Kyle Schwarber, while Eno Sarris found offensive comparisons to 2019 performances from J.D. Davis, Ji-Man Choi, and (if his power does not translate) Brandon Belt.
That sounds pretty good! But Brandon Belt, Kyle Schwarber and even our own Ji-Man Choi are full time players, and with another left handed bat, it seems difficult to find at bats for everyone.
We all know that the MLB is the highest level, and players that do come up from NPB and KBO do have some struggles against MLB caliber pitching. Lets do some comparisons for the last few NPB players to succeed at the the MLB level to see if there is any concern. For this, we looked at the season before the player was posted and came over to MLB
|Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (3B/1B/OF)||4000||0.285||0.382||0.528||21.03%||13.43%||205||10|
|Shohei Ohtani (1B/DH/P)||1170||0.286||0.358||0.500||27.01%||10.17%||48||5|
|Nori Aoki (OF)||5563||0.326||0.401||0.455||10.98%||9.51%||110||10|
|Tsuyoshi Nishioka (SS/2B)||3525||0.293||0.368||0.438||13.13%||9.30%||55||8|
|Kosuke Fukudome (RF/SS/3B)||4503||0.299||0.394||0.534||11.37%||12.68%||192||9|
Honestly, when I originally was researching NPB players to include I thought, “Well it’ll be fun to compare to Ohtani, but there's no way he’s close”, but on the surface, its a lot closer than I thought. Granted this is very basic and surface level, but the power and on base skills do seem real.
How did those players do in the MLB?
|Shohei Ohtani (1B/DH/P)||792||0.286||0.351||0.532||26.80%||8.80%||40||136||2|
|Nori Aoki (OF)||3044||0.285||0.35||0.387||8.50%||7.70%||33||105||6|
|Tsuyoshi Nishioka (SS/2B)||254||0.215||0.267||0.236||17.30%||7.10%||0||38||2|
|Kosuke Fukudome (RF/SS/3B)||2276||0.258||0.359||0.395||17.7||13.5||42||102||5|
Here is where Ohtani is not like the others, with his stellar production consistent across NPB and MLB.
There have been takes suggesting that Tsutsugo will be a platoon bat, maybe as a power platoon paired with newly acquired Hunter Renfroe.
It is difficult to find absolute splits, but upon further research thanks to Google Translate (and Homin), I found a website that has more in depth stats from NPB. I was able to compile left and right splits from the 2015, 2016, 2017, & 2019 NPB seasons:
Tsutsugo’s splits definitely favor facing RHP, with about 600 more PA in the 4 seasons we studied, however when he does have to face LHP, he hits well (0.984 OPS vs LHP; 0.942 OPS vs RHP), striking out less against LHP compared to RHP.
If we dig deeper, we can see how Tsutsugo’s plate discipline played in the NPB, and gain a rough idea of his weak spots.
“How to interpret the values in the frame:
At Bats - Hits
The dark gray 9 zones are the strike zones. The viewpoint is that seen from the pitcher. “
The above charts are from the 2019 season, and we can see again that he seems to do better against LHP, with his weakest batting average being up and away. With RHP he was attacked, and struggled more, inside; this is strange as usually left handed batters would feast on inside pitches from right-handed pitchers.
On the surface, there is some concern with Tsutsugo’s batting average against RHP. His average below the NPB strike zone is worse against RHP than LHP. I’ve read and heard that the NPB strike zone is smaller than MLB’s, but haven’t found any resources confirming that. If NPB umpires do indeed caller a tighter zone then we could see improvement in Tsutsugo’s plate discipline and his OBP might translate well to the MLB.
In the traditional sense, Tsutsugo doesn’t look like a platoon hitter. In fact, he almost looks like a reverse split and if his NPB stats are any indication, could be used as a faux RHH against LHP. He very well could be an every day player, especially if his bat makes up for his supposed defensive short comings.
There have been some concerns with Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh’s defensive skills, and Baseball Reference has his record as follows:
|NPB (5 seasons)||NPB||77||570||537||27||6||49||0.989|
|NPB (3 seasons)||NPB||108||222||50||166||6||10||0.973|
|NPB (6 seasons)||NPB||512||798||766||22||10||4||0.987|
I’m still wary of putting Tsutsugo at the hot corner, due to his size and limited range. He is reportedly working out this offseason with Nolan Arenado; perhaps that will pay off. If Tsutsugo’s bat plays everyday, I would expect him in LF/DH/1B to give Choi, Meadows and Yandy a day off.
Let’s be clear: success in the NPB more often than not does not translate well to the MLB. Pitchers in the MLB are getting better every season, moreover, with rising fastballs and disappearing curveballs. I would expect the transition to be very difficult for Tsutsugo, but the Rays have access to that same data and are the leaders in exploiting a hitters strong suit (See: Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi). I, for one am excited to see the exit velocity on a MLB ball the 1st time Tsutsugo does this: