If you missed the news yesterday, it’s been reported that the Cincinnati Reds and Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama have agreed to a 3-year deal. Nikkan Sports was the first to report the agreement, just before noon. Things were initially unconfirmed, and there were some contradictory reports that the deal wasn’t yet done and the price was rising, but after a few hours other sources confirmed the agreement.
Adding Shogo Akiyama to an already crowded outfield leaves open plenty of unanswered questions. How does he fit in with Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino, and a group of about five other potential outfielders vying for playing time? The Reds believe he can play around the outfield according to what General Manager Nick Krall told the Cincinnati Enquirer back at the Winter Meetings.
Trying to figure out exactly where and how Akiyama fits in is one question. But the other question is how he will perform – particularly at the plate – when he is on the field. As was noted last week when discussing possible comparisons, there have only been five players from Japan make the transition to Major League Baseball in the last decade that have gotten 200 total plate appearances in the majors. One of those players happens to be Kenta Maeda, who is a pitcher. That leaves just four players who are actual hitters. Nori Aoki had 3044 plate appearances and hit .285/.350/.387 as a Major Leaguer. Shohei Ohtani is next on the list with just 792 total plate appearances. Munenori Kawasaki and Tsuoshi Nishioka are the other two players and the both struggled with the transition, both slugging under .300.
The decade prior saw more players make the move from Japan to the Major Leagues, but there’s some small issues with trying to make a comparison between those players and the players today. The first big issue is that prior to the 2011 season the baseball in Japan was a bit different than the one that’s been used ever since. The ball moves differently now than it used to.
The other big issue is simply that there really aren’t many players to look at who have come over recently. But since players also go from the US to Japan, it is a little bit easier to at least have some statistical models to use. Of course, stat models miss plenty of things – such as the difference in how the game itself is approached between the two leagues. Pitchers throw harder in the United States as a whole. And in Japan pitchers tend to work backwards far more often than pitchers in the US.
With that said, the statistical models are as good as we’ve got right now. Clay Davenport had the Cincinnati Reds projected as the winners of the National League Central last week with his projections for 2020. He’s not just projecting Major League players, though – he also has translations and projections for players in Japan. His projections for Shogo Akiyama moving forward certainly look good. Davenport has projections for the outfielder over the next six seasons, but let’s focus on the next three since those are the ones that will take place in a Cincinnati Reds uniform.
Last season with Seibu saw Shogo Akiyama hit .303/.392/.471 with 31 doubles, four triples, and 20 home runs in 143 games. It was his worst offensive season in the last three years. At least in 2019, his home ballpark played as hitter friendly. Great American Ballpark isn’t quite as hitter friendly as the reputation suggests – but it is power friendly. It boosts power, but suppresses all other types of offensive output.
Rotowire’s Senior Editor Jeff Erickson had two different projections last night on twitter. His first one, after some feedback, felt like it was too friendly – in particular with the power – and he adjusted things.
Now, the runs and RBI totals don’t really matter much in the projection. Where he will hit, and how the players around him perform matter quite a bit in how those turn out. What does matter is the slash line and the home runs – those are things that he has control over. The first projection would be very good. That’s an .860 OPS. The second projection isn’t quite as good, but an .809 OPS would still be an above-average bat for an outfielder.
For now, those are the projections we have to look at. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS have not come out for Shogo Akiyama (or the 2020 Reds). The Marcel Projection System that’s available at Baseball Reference is only showing up for players who have been in the Major Leagues before, so there’s nothing available here, either. The projections we do have, though, seem to suggest that Akiyama is going to be an above-average hitter.