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Players to be Posted: Tomoyuki Sugano

The Yankees were kings of the international free agent market for much of the 1990’s and 2000’s through finding great players out of Japan and Cuba. This offseason, 3 players from Nippon Professional Baseball are expected to be posted. Today let’s look at Ace Pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano.

 

The History of Tomoyuki Sugano:

Tomoyuki Sugano was one of the top pitching prospects in Japan coming out of college, where he went 37-4 with a 0.57 ERA for Tokai University. Yet, he did not sign with a team immediately afterwards. Due to the interesting structure of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) draft, multiple teams can select a player, which would then lead to a lottery to see who receives negotiation rights for the player. This happened to Sugano, who was selected by both the Yomiuri Giants- whom he wanted to play for under guidance of his uncle and Giants Manager Tatsunori Hara (a NPB Hall of Famer)- and the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters- who previously promised they would not draft him. While the Fighters won the lottery, ultimately Sugano decided to turn down their offers and instead opted for another year of college. However, Sugano was not allowed to continue to pitch in the collegiate league and instead joined the Industrial League, where he pitched for a season.

He was then selected uncontested by the Yomiuri Giants in the 2012 NPB draft (Side-Note: The Fighters selected Shohei Ohtani this year instead of trying for Sugano again), and quickly showed why he was a highly sought after pitcher. He won the Climax Series MVP (equivalent to an ALCS/NLCS MVP) during his rookie year in 2013, made 6 consecutive All-Star games from 2013 to 2018, won the Central League MVP in 2014, and the Eiji Sawamura Award (equivalent to a Cy Young) in both 2017 and 2018. In 2018 he also pitched to a triple-crown while leading the Central League in Wins, ERA, and Strikeouts and recorded a No-Hitter in the 2018 NPB Postseason against the Yakult Swallows.

As a pitcher, the now 31 year-old Sugano stands at 6’1” and 210 pounds. He boasted a 98 MPH (157 KPH) fastball during his collegiate years, but has not since due to ligament damage in his right elbow from the 2014 season. Sugano now has a 5-pitch repertoire featuring a 4-seam (high of 96 MPH in 2016), Sinker (more realistically a Shuuto pitch in Japan), a Slider, Curveball, and a Forkball. It’s hard to get a read on the velocity ranges of these pitches, but the video below does feature many of them from a 2020 start. His wind-up is original (again, you’ll have to see the video below), but you can’t argue with the success and likely deception it allows him to have over batters.

 

The Stats of Tomoyuki Sugano:

Over his NPB career from 2013-2020, Tomoyuki Sugano has pitched in 196 games while recording 101 wins and 49 losses (.673 WP%). He has thrown 1360.0 innings, which comes out to almost 7 innings per game played. He has a career ERA of 2.32, WHIP of 1.035, and RA9 of 2.63. Combine that with 1216 strikeouts to only 265 walks and you get a K/9 of 8.0, a BB/9 of 1.8, and a K/BB of 4.58. All very good numbers, however that’s indicative of a 8-year career.

While the 2020 season may not be the best for analyzing MLB talent, the NPB did have close to a normal length season featuring 120 games instead of the normal 143. This is a great thing for Sugano, who had another great season.

Sugano pitched in 20 games (starting all of them), to a 14-2 record (.875 WP%), pitched 137.1 innings (about 7 innings per start), had a 1.97 ERA, a 0.888 WHIP, 131 strikeouts, and 25 walks. He also allowed just 8 home runs, had a K/9 of 8.6, a BB/9 of 1.6, and a K/BB of 5.24. Again, all of these numbers are great. While a Eiji Sawamura Award was not voted on this year, these numbers are both in-line with his previous winning seasons in 2017 and 2018.

 

Should the Yankees/MLB Be Interested?

Tomoyuki Sugano was officially posted by the Yomiuri Giants on November 25th, according to Patrick Newman of the NPB Tracker, but he hasn’t been heard of much on the radar by MLB teams at this point, largely due to his age as he’s entering his age-31 season. He does project as a 3rd-man in a rotation in the MLB and has gotten some ties to the Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, and Chicago White Sox.

For the Yankees however, this would be an intriguing move. They do have plenty of rotation spots currently open after the likes of Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and J.A. Happ all became free agents. Beyond Gerrit Cole and the duo of Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt, the other two current internal options look to be Jordan Montgomery, Domingo German, and potentially Luis Severino in the summer. Sugano would provide, if his projections are accurate, that perfect #3 spot in the rotation. At the right price, given his great track record I would be inclined to take a risk. I’m also a lot more bold on Japanese players but I think he could come on a short and team-friendly contract.

For a good comparison on age and contract we can go back to last offseason when the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Shun Yamaguchi (who I was not high on) from the Yomiuri Giants into his age 33 season. The Blue Jays ultimately came to terms with Yamaguchi on a 2-Year/$6.35 Million deal. While that’s a little low, as top players in the NPB tend to sign for around $7 million per year, I can see a very similar deal in terms of years coming in the MLB. Given Sugano’s age, the risk of going from the NPB to the MLB, and the really poor pitching market that would bring it down. Would a 2-Year/$15 Million get him into the MLB? I think that’s likely.

For me, I think Sugano would be a good piece for the Yankees to think about. They’re going to want to go into 2021 with a staff that has some degree of pedigree beyond Cole, and while Sugano has no MLB experience, he has excelled in the NPB. Pair him with Tanaka- who I think the Yankees will bring back on his own 2 or 3 year deal- in the middle of the rotation, and I think that would also help him best integrate into the MLB with another player who has had success in that same transition. I’m interested.

(Side-Note: While Tomoyuki Sugano’s birthday is October 11th, which is the same as mine, this has not factored into my decision making on thinking the Yankees should be interested in him.)

 

Videos:

 

Article By: Ethan Semendinger

Date Published: November 30th, 2020

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