The Texas Rangers are pursuing several starting pitchers in the free-agent market, and that includes Japanese starter Kodai Senga, an accomplished starter in the NPB in Japan who is testing the U.S. market for the first time.
Fox Sports did a deep dive into Senga and his appeal to Rangers general manager Chris Young, as well as others, could be best described in two words — ghost fork.
That’s what Pitching Ninja calls his split-fingered fastball. While Senga’s fastball can top out at 96 miles per hour, his split-finger — or forkball — can dramatically change speeds, decelerating down to about 85 miles per hour. A look at his pitching rate from 2022 shows that he used the pitch about 20 percent of the time.
Fox then compared Senga to the rest of the starters in the Majors and found that pitch puts him in a unique subset. Per Fox, just 10 starting pitchers used a split-fingered fastball at least 10 percent of the time. That set of pitchers includes Senga’s countryman, Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, and new Rangers starter Jake Odorizzi.
But even Ohtani’s split-fingered pitch is different than Senga’s. Ohtani throws a four-seam split fastball, while Senga throws a two seam. But the change in the velocity of Senga’s split-finger/forkball compared favorably to that of current pitchers like Ohtani, Kevin Gausman, Tony Gonsolin, Nathan Eovaldi and Tyler Mahle.
Gausman’s current contract might provide a mirror as to what Senga might get as a free agent. Gausman signed a five-year, $110 million deal with Toronto last offseason.
Senga, 29, is no spring chicken. But Fox made the point that he’s younger than most of the top free-agent pitchers on the market, including some of the ones that the Rangers are rumored to be pursuing — Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander. Carlos Rodón, who is also on the Texas radar, is also 29.
Senga’s accomplishments also makes him intriguing. He pitched in the same league as Ohtani and former Rangers starter Yu Darvish.
Senga won five Japan Series championships and was a member of Japan’s gold-medal winning 2020 Olympic Team. He’s pitched for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks for a decade. He’s been one of the NPB’s most decorated pitchers during that time, with three All-Star Game appearances and leading the Pacific League in strikeouts twice. He was also on the 2017 World Baseball Classic All-Tournament Team.
The Rangers have experience in luring Japanese starts to Texas, too. Fox did the research. Fifty-nine players have migrated from NPB to MLB since Hideo Nomo made the jump in 1995. The Rangers are one of six teams to sign at least four of them. Boston leads with eight.
Because of Senga’s success, he is reportedly looking for a player where he can win right away. The Rangers are trying to be that kind of team in 2023.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard
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