5 Things to Know About the New York Mets’ New Japanese Pitching Ace
The New York Mets have embarked on a frantic spending spree since they learned former ace Jacob DeGrom would not be returning, instead opting for a 5-year, $185MM contract with the Texas Rangers. In the span of just a few short days, Mets owner Steve Cohen has signed 39-year-old, high-mileage Justin Verlander (2-year, $86.66M), journeyman starter Jose Quintana (2-year, $26M) and reliever David Robertson (1-year, $10M).
They've also reportedly agreed to a 5-year deal with Japanese star Kodai Senga, worth $75MM, pending a physical. Verlander, Quintana and Robertson have all been around the block and we can sort of guesstimate what their contributions will be. But the 29-year-old Senga is relatively unknown to American audiences. So what can Mets fans expect?
Below are 5 things to know about Kodai Senga:
HE'S A 10-YEAR VETERAN
Senga has been playing in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, Japan's highest level of pro ball, for 10 years. The Fukuoaka SoftBank Hawks drafted Senga as their fourth pick back in 2010, and he started pitching for them the following year.
HE CAN HIT TRIPLE DIGITS ON THE GUN
Senga's fastball velocity has risen steadily since he was first signed as a teenager, and he routinely reaches 98-99 mph. But according to the radar gun, his top speed during the 2022 season was 101.9 mph. The right-handed flamethrower uses a three-quarters arm slot when delivering.
HIS PITCHING REPERTOIRE IS VAST
In addition to his aforementioned fastball (both two-seam and four-seam), Senga employs a forkball, cutter, slider and curveball. According to his 2022 stats, half of his strikeouts came on his forkball. Japanese media has labeled this pitch the "ghost fork" because of its impressive downward action and ability to "disappear" from the strike zone.
HE'S AN OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST
Senga was part of the gold medal-winning Japanese roster during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. (You might remember these Olympic games were actually held in 2021 in front of nobody, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.) Japan defeated the U.S. in the quarterfinals that year.
HIS RESUME INCLUDES A NO-HITTER AND TRIPLE CROWN
During the 2019 season, Senga fanned 12 batters for the 91st no-hitter in Nippon Professional Baseball history. That year he logged a 2.79 ERA over 180 1/3 innings, striking out a total of 227. The next year he was even better: he lead the Pacific League in wins, ERA and strikeouts to take home the pitching Triple Crown.
As any baseball fan knows, it's hard to predict how a star coming from Japanese pro ball will fare in the Major Leagues. For every Ichiro Suzuki, there's at least three Hideki Irabus. Still, it seems Mets fans have a lot to look forward to in 2023 with Kodai Senga.