NPB Week: Kodai Senga
The international posting periods have begun! This week we look at 5 names from the NPB who could make an impact in the MLB.
The History of Kodai Senga:
Born on January 30th, 1993 the right-handed pitcher began his professional career at 19 years old in 2012, though he was drafted and signed as a developmental player as a 17-year-old two years earlier during the 2010 NPB Draft.
The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks signed Senga to a 4.4 million yen contract on April 23rd, 2012 for the 2012 season to make the budding Japanese superstar a "registered player" in the NPB and he made his debut a week later on April 30th, though he would only pitch twice in Pacific League that season. He would then force his way into a mostly-full season in the Pacific League from then on, though in his early years he was mostly used a reliever and had dealt with many injuries. His 2013 season ended early after a left flank (lower back) strain, in 2014 it was a right shoulder injury, and his 2015 season started late for Senga as he was still rehabbing from the same injury. During this time, he won the Japan Series (2015), was an All-Star (2013), and he tied a relief record for scoreless innings (34.1) during that 2013 season.
Starting in 2016, Senga transitioned full-time to becoming a starting pitcher, during which he set an NPB record (since broken) for development players with 12 wins on the season. Things only got better for Senga in 2017 as he became an All-Star again and led the Pacific League in winning percentage while going 13-4. He was also- with teammate Takuya Kai- part of the first battery of development players to win the Japan Series. In 2018 he continued to show signs as a solid starter and was a pivotal piece in the rotation as the Hawks won their 4th Japan Series in 5 years.
Going into 2019, Senga tried (but failed) to get posted for a chance to go to the MLB, though instead of pitching poorly he put up his best season to date as the Hawks won their 3rd straight Japan Series. Senga also pitched a no-hitter that season, was an All-Star, led the Pacific League in strikeouts, won a Mitsui Golden Glove, and was a Best Nine player. In 2020, Senga and the Hawks won the Japan Series yet again for their 4th in a row and 6th in 7 years. Senga led the Pacific League in wins, ERA, and strikeouts en route to a 2nd straight Golden Glove and Best Nine honors for Senga. He also unsuccessfully campaigned to get posted again after the season.
Unfortunately for Senga, his 2021 season saw flashbacks to his early years as a left ankle injury kept him from the field for a few months, and thus any major awards at seasons end. However, his status as a certified ace at this point helped him sign a 5-year extension with the Hawks (with an opt-out after the 1st year) going into 2022. And, under this contract he put up arguably his best season during the 2022 season. Senga after the season then exercised that first year opt-out in his contract as he had now obtained international free agent rights and has formally announced his intentions to pitch in the MLB in 2023 and beyond.
The Stats of Kodai Senga:
Given how Kodai Senga's career to this point has featured some different "eras" let's look at this stats in a couple different ways: his overall stats, his relief "era", and his starting pitching "era".
Combined over his 11 years in Japan (2012-2022), Kodai Senga has pitched in 224 games to a record of 87-44 (.664 WP%) and a 2.59 ERA over 1089.0 innings. During this time, he has pitched 8 complete games with 3 shutouts while pitching to a 1.115 WHIP (800 hits, 414 walks) and striking out 1252 batters.
During his "relief era" (2012-2015), Senga pitched in 76 games to a 4-7 record (.364 WP%) and a 2.21 ERA over 106 innings. During this time, he has 1 save and 20 holds while pitching to a 1.075 WHIP (65 hits, 49 walks) and striking out 135 batters.
During his "starting era" (2016-2022), Senga pitched in 148 games to a 83-37 record (0.692 WP%) and a 2.62 ERA over 983.0 innings. During this time, he pitched his 8 complete games and 3 shutouts (1 no-hitter) while pitching to a 1.119 WHIP (735 hits, 365 walks) and striking out 1117 batters.
Should The Yankees Sign Him?
So far this offseason, there have been a plethora of teams connected to the Japanese ace pitcher. This list includes the San Diego Padres and New York Mets- two teams he has already met in person- as well as the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, and Toronto Blue Jays. Just under half the teams in the MLB have expressed or been linked to the right-hander in one way or another. This is great for the Senga camp as his free agency is not via "posting", so he'll have plenty of time to drive his price up as more teams show interest.
I'm not worried about that however. If the Yankees are (or should) be interested in a player they will (or could...or should) offer the best price. I couldn't care less who else is interested. Truthfully, I am also not worried much about his injury history. Over an 11 year career he's had 3 injuries to the back, shoulder, and ankle. That's not a concern or reason to walk away.
Instead, there is one main thing that holds me back from being "all-in" on Kodai Senga. The first is that he's only thrown more than 150 innings in a season twice (2016, 2019) and has only started more than 25 games once (also 2019). I don't think that learning to pitch more innings, and in more games would be impossible for Senga, but there is a reason that very few players from Japan are able to make the NBP-to-MLB transition and succeed. While his stuff may be electric, the culture shock and step-up in competition is not something that is easily bypassed.
If I was the Yankees I would want to meet Kodai in person to learn about his inner fire. His gut. What drives him. If he's a warrior, he'd be my type of guy. I can only imagine he is- heck, this is his 3rd attempt at trying to get to pitch in America- and would love to have another pitcher with that spirit on the mound. I'd love to have him, maybe on a 4-5 year deal, but there is another pitcher I'm very interested in.