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Kodai Senga Thread


Eminor3rd
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The long-awaited SoftBank Hawks ace, Kodai Senga, is finally free. There's a TL;DR at the end.

After begging his team to post him for at least five years to no avail, he used his domestic free agent leverage last offseason to get him an extension with opts outs every season, and after one year -- to absolutely no one's surprise -- he announced his intent to exercise promptly after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs.

Senga is NOT the typical NPB import starter -- he's had the best raw stuff in Japan for most of the last decade, rivalled only by Ohtani and just recently by the 20-year old phenom Roki Sasaki. By contrast, his control is not strong. I've had a pleasure of watching a TON of his innings over the last five years, here's my personal breakdown:

Summary:

He's a 30-year old, mid-sized, true three-quarter right hander who bends the bill of his hat at nearly a 90-degree angle.

Arsenal/Stuff: 

  • 4-Seam Fastball -- sits 96 - 100, has topped out at 102, and holds the velo well into the late innings. Legit MLB plus
  • Slider -- very bendy, usually relatively hard, high-spin rate, two-plane slider. Gets strikes by locking guys up rather than by deceiving them, also likes to backdoor lefties with it. Think more like a Chris Sale-style slurvy thing rather than a Carlos Rodon-style late-breaker that drops out of the zone but looks like a fastball for the first half of it's trajectory. It's not as good of a pitch as either of those aforementioned comps, but I think it's a pitch that will be plus at times but often play down when he's not locating it. (NOTE: Sometimes he seems to try to throw it soft, maybe this counts as a cutter as I've seen people write that he has one over the years, but whatever it is he shouldn't do it because the slows his arm way down and it just doesn't move a ton, which I've always imagined should telegraph the pitch.)
  • Splitter -- This is his best pitch, it even has a nickname: "The Ghost Fork." This is, effectively, your Rodon slider: goes straight until it gets like 50-60% there and then just abruptly shifts 30 degrees down with a bit of fade. Incredibly effective in conjunction with his hard fastball. MLB plus pitch.
  • Curve -- It's a hard, tight breaking 12-6 that doesn't drop quite far enough to be a consistent swing-and-miss offering. This is effective as a show-me pitch, good for grabbing strike one and for the element of surprise 5-6 times a start, but it's not going to carry any of his appearances.

Command/Control:

Not good. It's not Nuke LaLoosh or anything, but he misses the glove as often as he hits it, and often by quite a bit. Early in his career he would meltdown occasionally with walks, but it's more "wild in the zone" these days. I'm am nothing even remotely close to qualified to diagnose mechanical issues, but if I was a betting man, I'd wager that a lot of his challenges stem from his pretty extreme "head whack." Notice how violently his head jerks as he starts his follow-through, especially on fastballs:

 

He's crushed the NPB because his stuff has been overwhelming, and even though it's good even for MLB, it's a real question as to whether it'll be dominant enough to make up for the location issues, particularly if he's going to continue to be a starter. I will say, from what I've seen he very rarely HANGS anything, but his pitches frequently end up in places they should not.

Health/Durability:

He's been nicked up a bit the past few years, but the injuries have been scattered and the serious ones haven't been arm-related (though a couple have been shoulder-related, mostly earlier in his career). The most notable was a freak accident of years ago, he had started the year on the DL for some vague reason, and in what I want to say was his FIRST start back, he got drilled by a comebacker and landed awkwardly on his ankle, resulting in some kind of sprain or fracture that cost him like half the season. Doesn't seem to have had any long-term effect on his stuff.

He holds his velo very deep in starts. I've seen him hit 100 in the 8th inning multiple times. Interestingly enough, he was somehow not drafted as an actual prospect (he was picked up as a "development squad player," which is essentially the MLB equivalent of an undrafted free agent) and began his career as a reliever, so he's got relatively fewer innings on his arm than the typical 30-year old NPB ace.

Other Notes:

  • For whatever it's worth: A couple years ago, Hawks broadcasts used to show spin rate on every pitch along with velo. It was amazing, and I hate that they stopped. But I used to compare his rates with what Statcast showed, and every pitch was comfortably above MLB average.
  • I am legitimately worried about his control, but I can't help but think that if he fails as a starter, he could be a very safe bet as a high-leverage reliever because you so rarely see a starter's arsenal in that role these days
  • Unlike a lot of NPB pitchers, he does NOT like to f*** around with breaking balls high in the zone. I think this is one of the things that helps him get away with the poor control.

If he would have been posted at 26 or whatever when he originally started asking, he'd have been a $100-200m arm with no doubt. At 30 with a touch of injury-history, I think he's looking at a shorter deal but still with some real money because the spin and velo are legit. The arsenal isn't nearly as deep, but the stuff is every bit as good as Darvish/Ohtani when they came over. You never know, but I tend to doubt that there's much that can be done to substantially improve to location stuff, just given his age and the head-whack thing.

If you only watch one video, watch this next one -- real good look at the splitter and a close-up of the head-whack at 1:22:

TL;DR -- MLB #2 starter-level stuff/arsenal, 7th-inning reliever-style control. I think a LOT of teams will be in at 3 years/$45-60m because he's a very safe bet to be a contributor -- even if he can't start, he can almost certainly set-up or close -- but if some sees something they think they can fix that would improve his control, I wouldn't be shocked if they gave him up to 5 years.

The White Sox will, unsurprisingly, not even kick the tires.

Edited by Eminor3rd
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My first (joking thought) was that Oscar Colas should use his SoftBank Hawks creds to recruit Senga. Then I was like "wow, they're some sticklers, huh?"

Turns out they haven't posted anybody and, man, imagine if they had Ohtani when he was posted.

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On 10/16/2022 at 1:10 AM, Quin said:

My first (joking thought) was that Oscar Colas should use his SoftBank Hawks creds to recruit Senga. Then I was like "wow, they're some sticklers, huh?"

Turns out they haven't posted anybody and, man, imagine if they had Ohtani when he was posted.

Yeah, they’ve been known to manipulate service time, too (most recently with Yuki Yanagita). Also, I don’t know if you remember but Colas had to sue to be let out of his contract, claiming they misrepresented the terms. He essentially just left Japan and signed somewhere else, and the Hawks really only settled with him because he refused to come back to the country. 

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3 minutes ago, pettie4sox said:

Eminor should be in the Sox FO.

When have they ever paid attention to a single Pacific Rim scouting report since Takatsu and Iguchi?

Not even sure who authorized the Tanaka offer.

Never seemed to be close to a seat at the table for Ohtani.

Mostly were in on Colas in Japan due to the Cuban Connection.

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1 hour ago, Bob Sacamano said:

I'm going to guess Padres. Some team that will have holes in the rotation after this post-season.

Will add Nick Martinez back in the rotation with Pomeranz returning to pen...Morejon, Baez or Weathers #5 now but will undoubtedly add 1-2 FA's.  Rodon wouldn't be a shocker here.

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On 10/15/2022 at 11:41 PM, Eminor3rd said:

The long-awaited SoftBank Hawks ace, Kodai Senga, is finally free. There's a TL;DR at the end.

 

Not gonna lie - I had a mini heart attack when I misread "TL;DR" as "TLR."

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3 hours ago, bmags said:

Every NPL developed pitcher screams arm issues.

Yu Darvish has had a long, productive career. 

Tanaka was fine for the majority of his Yankees' tenure, albeit not a superstar by any stretch of the imagination. 

Then you have the Ohtani situation. 

TJS surgery almost seems unavoidable for any high velo starter these days. 

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4 hours ago, bmags said:

Every NPL developed pitcher screams arm issues.

Yeah, the concept of babying someone's pitching arm is a relatively recent phenomenon in Japan.

You still see "ace" pitchers at Koshien (annual high school baseball tournament, akin to basketball Final Four) throwing an ungodly number of pitches... and society glorifies these guys.

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2 minutes ago, joejoesox said:

how long did Matsuzaka pitch in the US before having serious arm issues? 

Matsuzaka got through most of 2 seasons fairly healthy. His first season, 07, wasn't all that great, with an ERA of 4.4. In 2008 he was really effective and 4th in the Cy Young voting, but missed 1 month of the season with a back injury. Things went to crap for him after the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He suffered a leg injury either before or during that, and only pitched 60 innings that season afterwards. He was not awful in 2010, ERA in the mid 4s again over 160 innings, and then went down for TJS in 2011.

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  • 3 weeks later...
4 minutes ago, Bob Sacamano said:

Does every pitcher who comes over from that league have TJ surgery within the first 2-3 years they come over?

You could say that about the PCL or International League, I feel like.

One difference other than the size of the baseballs in NPB vs. MLB I thought was that in NPB they use a 6-man rotation with Mondays as regularly scheduled off days for all teams.
So you end up with effectively a 7-day cycle vs. a 5-day cycle in the big leagues.

Could be wrong on that though.

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2 hours ago, JoeC said:

You could say that about the PCL or International League, I feel like.

One difference other than the size of the baseballs in NPB vs. MLB I thought was that in NPB they use a 6-man rotation with Mondays as regularly scheduled off days for all teams.
So you end up with effectively a 7-day cycle vs. a 5-day cycle in the big leagues.

Could be wrong on that though.

Didn't know that.  Bigger, smaller?

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