Blue Jays 40-man Roster Review: Yusei Kikuchi is entering a contract year after a great 2023 season

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Brennan Delaney
2 months ago
There was no better turn-around for the Blue Jays than this player had in 2023.
The Blue Jays signed Yusei Kikuchi to a three-year, $36 million deal in mid-March, 2022. It was a surprising move, as the left-handed pitcher had shown glimpses of promise in the past, including an all-star appearance in 2021. However, he had a 4.97 ERA and a 4.93 FIP in 365.2 innings in three seasons with the Seattle Mariners.
To say that his debut season with Toronto was bad would be an understatement. In 2022, Kikuchi finished the season with a 5.19 ERA and a 5.62 FIP, along with a career-high 27.3 K%, but also a career worst 12.8 BB%.
It got so bad that the Blue Jays eventually had to move him to the bullpen, where he had an “improved” 4.91 ERA and a 4.15 FIP, with the latter actually being somewhat solid. However, Kikuchi once again showed glimpses of promise, as he had an extraordinary K% of 39.8%, while his BB% dropped to 10.8%.
 The 2023 season is the year that Kikuchi figured it all out. Kikuchi had a 3.96 ERA and a 4.12 FIP, with the former being a career-best and the latter being his second-best season in that regard. Despite having a 9.72 K/9 compared to an 11.09 K/9 the season prior, Kikuchi’s 25.9 K% wasn’t far off his 2022 total, a 27.3 K%.
He was even better with the other two parts of FIP. Kikuchi’s 6.9 BB% was tied with his career-best that he set in 2019. In total, he had a 19 K-BB%, beating his previous career-high of 15.2% set in 2021.
Moreover, Kikuchi allowed 27 home runs, which is tied for his second-highest in his career. But when you factor in that his 167.2 innings were the most he ever pitched in a season, Kikuchi’s HR/9 rate of 1.45 was the second-lowest of his career. It was only surpassed by his 0.57 HR/9 in just 49 innings pitched in 2020.
The 2024 season will be Kikuchi’s last season on his contract. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility he will be traded to capitalize on his value, as the Blue Jays are apparently signing Yariel Rodríguez and are expecting a bounce-back season from Alek Manoah.
Still, the 2024 season will be a big one for Kikuchi, as he’ll need to pitch as well as he did in 2023 to prove that it wasn’t just a fluke. If he does, Kikuchi can capitalize on two straight good seasons and get paid during the 2024-25 off-season.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads @Brennan_L_D.


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