The best pitcher in Asia right now? It’s not Ohtani or Ryu Hyun-jin, it’s this guy with the ‘big time’ signs.
The best pitcher in Asia this season, and perhaps in the last three years, has been Shohei Ohtani (29, Los Angeles Angels). After undergoing elbow ligament reconstruction surgery (Tommy John surgery) in 2018, shortly after reaching the major leagues, Ohtani has been a full-fledged pitcher and hitter since 2021.
After going 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 23 games in 2021, Ohtani went 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 28 games (166 innings) last year. Ohtani finished second in American League Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting and fourth in Cy Young Award voting. This year, he went 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA in 132 innings over 23 games.
In three years, Ohtani has started 74 games and pitched 428⅓ innings, compiling a 34-16 record with a 2.84 ERA. His Cy Young Award-worthy performance as both a hitter and pitcher is a testament to his greatness. For the time being, however, Ohtani will not be on the mound. In his start against Cincinnati on Aug. 24, he was pulled early due to elbow pain and was later diagnosed with a torn elbow ligament, ending his season as a pitcher.
While the decision to undergo surgery has yet to be made, Ohtani has already undergone elbow surgery once before. Even if he has another surgery after this season, he won’t be able to pitch in 2024. He won’t be able to return to the mound until late 2025. That’s why Ohtani’s name won’t be on the list of Asia’s top pitchers for a while.
So who are the best starting pitchers in Asia this season without Ohtani? San Diego’s ace Darvish Yu, Toronto’s Yusei Kikuchi, who has rebounded this year, and Genta Maeda and Hyun-jin Ryu, who have both returned from elbow surgery. But when it comes to overall contributions, the name of Senga Kodai, 30, must be mentioned. The 30-year-old has been a bright spot for Mets fans who have been depressed by the team’s disappointing debut season.
Senga, who signed a five-year, $75 million contract with the Mets before the season, started the season as the team’s third starter. Famous from his days in Japan, the “ghost forkball” was a big deal in the United States. He was expected to push the team’s rotation behind legendary pitchers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, but now he’s the team’s ace. With their chances of making the postseason slipping away, the Mets traded away Scherzer and Verlander. Senga is the anchor of the Mets’ rotation.
Senga struggled early in the season with his strikeouts. He had to adjust to even the most basic of pitches and mounds, including a rainout that cost him a spot in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) a season ago. But as the season went on, he became more consistent. He’s got a solid fastball (averaging 95.7 mph) that’s backed up by a solid forkball. His command is also becoming more reliable.
As of April 4, Senga is 10-7 with a 3.08 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 143⅓ innings pitched in 25 games this season. His ERA is third in the National League. His ability to strike out a whopping 11.05 batters per nine innings raises expectations. The fact that he’s gotten better as he’s gone along could be evidence of adaptation. Senga had a 3.31 ERA in his first 16 games. In the second half, his ERA is 2.68. Notice the drop in strikeouts.
Forked balls were a thing of the past. This season, batters have swung and missed at a whopping 60.2% of them. That’s the highest in the league for a single pitch. His BABIP is just .113. While he can’t scare hitters with his fastball, he has the ability to make things easy on them once he gets 2S. The Mets need to fill the void left by Verlander and Scherzer for the long term, and Senga, who still has years left on his contract, could be a great addition.
New York Mets manager Buck Showalter also praised Senga, saying, “I’m excited for him to carry over what he pitched this year into next year,” and added, “I don’t think he’s going to win an ERA title, but I’d like to see him finish under 3.00, I think that would look good, he’s got a lot of weapons.”먹튀검증
As for Senga himself, he’ll need to get through the next three years in order to make a splash in free agency. Senga signed a five-year deal with the Mets. However, he has an opt-out clause if he throws more than 400 innings in the first three years (2023-2025). That leaves him with one last chance for a big payday. At his current rate, he’s worth $15 million a year. It wasn’t just the phantom forkball. Senga’s true colors may be just beginning.