First Pitch: The Yoshi Tsutsugo Experiment

I don’t think Yoshi Tsutsugo has really been given a good chance in Major League Baseball.

I typed that up before his first start with the Pittsburgh Pirates, knowing that this first impression might make that sentence look incredibly profound or incredibly putrid.

Consider the track record for Tsutsugo:

**He had a .900-range or better OPS in his final six years in Japan.

**His first season in the Majors and in America came during the COVID-19 shortened season. He had a .708 OPS in the majors over 185 plate appearances.

**The Rays gave him a limited look in 2021, and the Dodgers gave him an even more limited look. He struggled in both.

**He has been destroying the ball in Triple-A over his last 104 plate appearances, to the tune of a .370/.471/.704 line with seven homers.

I would argue that this is the first sign of success that we’ve seen from Tsutsugo in America. That’s not true though.

In his final 102 plate appearances in the majors last year, Tsutsugo hit for an .812 OPS with the Rays.

That number, however, was sandwiched between a .585 OPS (83 PA) to start the 2020 season, and a .462 OPS (87 PA) to start the 2021 season.

The numbers didn’t get better with the Dodgers, and Tsutsugo went to Triple-A.

The numbers didn’t really get better in Triple-A either, with a .479 OPS over his fist 76 plate appearances.

Then, Tsutsugo hit his stride, getting a walk or a hit in 24-of-26 of his final games, with that monster 1.175 OPS.

Small sample sizes.

Arbitrary endpoints.

They’re fun to dream on.

So, let’s dream.

Let’s say that Tsutsugo was posting a .900 or better OPS in a league that would be rated at least Triple-A. In his MLB debut, he got off to a slow start, then finished the year with an .812 OPS in more than half of his playing time. He struggled in his sophomore year, but is now mashing in Triple-A.

There are two possibilities that I see.

The first is that Tsutsugo isn’t good enough to hit in the majors. This seems to be the most likely outcome. It’s the most likely outcome for most players moving up from Triple-A. His defensive limitations mean that if he isn’t hitting, he has zero value.

The second possibility is that Tsutsugo is good enough to hit in the majors, but hasn’t shown this yet. He showed a brief look at the end of last season, and has been heating up in Triple-A. He has years of success in Japan. The outlier in his career would be the struggles in early 2020 and the first half of 2021.

Let’s say Tsutsugo finishes the 2021 season with that .812 OPS he put up with the Rays down the stretch in 2020.

All he has to do is upgrade over Colin Moran to be a worthwhile pickup. Moran has a .755 OPS this year, and the height of his Pirates career has been a .797 OPS in 2020.

Moran is also arbitration eligible two more times, while Tsutsugo would seemingly be under a deal that would maintain his team control beyond 2021, at a cheaper price than Moran.

It’s not like the Pirates really need to worry about cost with their low payroll, but you can see how easy it would be for Tsutsugo to give Moran a challenge.

The more likely outcome is that he joins the ranks of Nogowski and others in 2021 Triple-A Trial Obscurity.

But, in a season where there’s not much to look forward to each night, finding a reason for optimism with a likely obscure pickup becomes a time-honored activity.

What do you expect from Tsutsugo? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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