The Toronto Blue Jays off-season was mostly about the signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu and rightfully so. But, one signing that kind of flew under the radar was the two-year deal they signed with 32-year-old Shun Yamaguchi.
Yamaguchi has spent his entire career playing in Japan but was posted this off-season where many teams were interested in his services, but it was the Blue Jays who landed the right-hander. In his career he has started games and has also come out of the bullpen so what his role in Toronto was uncertain at the time of signing him.
Now, after a shortened spring training, Yamaguchi seems destined for the bullpen, but what can Blue Jay fans expect out of him when the 2020 season starts?
Yamaguchi started his professional career out at age 18 where he was playing for Yokohama and struggled mightily. He started five games and had a 6.43 ERA but as he got older and gained more experienced he has success. Last season, he pitched in 28 games where he had a 2.78 ERA along with a 1.171 WHIP.
The right-hander throws five pitches, a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, splitter, slider, and cutter. According to Deltagraphs, which is Japan’s version of Fangraphs, Yamaguchi’s splitter was the most effective pitch in the NBP among pitchers with 80-plus innings. He also limited his fastball use last season to just 43.7 percent, the lowest of his career. His fastball averages around 90 MPH but he is someone who uses location to get strikes rather than blowing pitches past batters.
If Shun Yamaguchi does indeed pitch out of the bullpen, the Japanese pitcher would serve as a long man of sorts but also could see high-leverage situations. He has the pitching repertoire to have success in the bullpen as he can mix it up and go several innings if needed. He also should be the sixth starter, meaning if a starter went down it would most likely be Yamaguchi filling in. So, Jays fans should expect the right-hander to be around 90-110 innings pitched if a full season is played.
Yamaguchi also seems likely to have success out of the bullpen due to his command. Last season, he averaged just 3.2 walks per nine innings and his career average is 3.4. He also averages 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings. He rarely lets the ball get out of play as in Japan he allowed just 0.8 home runs per nine innings which is the equivalent of what Ryu pitched to last season in Los Angeles, while Yamaguchi edged him in strikeouts per nine.
Shun Yamaguchi is also a solid fielder for a pitcher and can help get outs if balls are grounded near him. So, Jays fan can expect a reliable pitcher either out of the bullpen who can go multiple innings or pitch high leverage if needed. But, Yamaguchi could also be the team’s fifth starter and be someone who goes five or six innings every start and puts the team in a position to win.
So, Blue Jays fans should no doubt like what they see out of Yamaguchi when the season starts sometime in the coming weeks/months.