Shogo Akiyama has carried a high average at times when he was playing in Japan. In 2015 he hit .359. In 2017 and 2018 he hit .322 and .323. Last season saw him hit .303. While I think everyone agrees that the Major Leagues are a step above the professional leagues in Japan, there’s still high level play there. One of the selling points for the Cincinnati Reds signing the outfielder was that he could bring more contact, and more average to the team as the league as a whole is making less contact and hitting for less average.
Statistical translations from Japan to Major League Baseball are tough. The game is a bit different. Sure, baseball is baseball, but Japan tends to have pitchers with lower velocity, who work backwards – throwing more offspeed stuff rather than relying on the fastball to set up the breaking stuff. It’s similar, but not quite the same as trying to translate minor league numbers to Major League numbers. With both you have some base to work with, but always have to wonder if the little things done in the Major Leagues will be too different to make the straight statistical translations work. That, of course, doesn’t mean that people aren’t trying to make those projections, though.
We have seen what the ZiPS projections had for Shogo Akiyama, and the system spit out a solid, but unspectacular line over the course of his contract with the Reds. In 2020 the system projected the new Reds outfielder to post a .764 OPS, with a gradual decrease in the next two seasons. The projections from Clay Davenport were a bit better, projecting the outfielder for a .794 OPS in 2020, an .803 OPS in 2021, and then a .790 OPS in 2021. Nothing wrong with any of those projections – that’s a solid hitter who is probably a bit better than the league average.
But in the last few days the crew at Baseball Prospectus has been dropping the PECOTA system on us. You need a subscription to get the projections, but I do actually have one of those and so I took a look at just how the projections were for the Cincinnati Reds. There were two projections that stood out to me – one was for how good it was, and the other was for how lackluster it was.
The one that stood out in a good way was that for Shogo Akiyama. The 50th percentile projection, which is the one you will see publicly, because it’s the most likely one to come true, pegs the new Cincinnati outfielder to hit .316/.372/.461 on the season. That’s an .833 OPS. The .316 average is the second best projected batting average in Major League Baseball, trailing only Nolan Arenado in that category.
Finishing second in the league in average would be an outstanding outcome for Akiyama and for the Reds. Both sides would be thrilled with that. But that is just the beginning of the fun with the PECOTA projections. Unlike the other projection systems, which mostly do have different “percentile outcomes”, PECOTA actually shows us what those outcomes are. It’s always the 99th percentile outcomes that are incredibly fun to look at. These are basically the outcomes that are the most outrageous “in a world where literally every single thing goes right for this player based on his seemingly true world talent, and luck goes the most insanely perfect way for them too, would they produce this outcome” lines ever. They are for fun. They aren’t meant to be taken as anything beyond that – they aren’t going to happen.
But! Boy are they fun. To give some perspective on that 99th percentile outcomes, we can look at the output for Mike Trout. In his 99th percentile projection he has a .408/.549/.928 line with 68 home runs. That’s pretty wild. And it’s real fun. Sorting the various categories in this outcome section of the spreadsheet came up with something even more wild than that. Well, maybe.
The 99th percentile outcome for Shogo Akiyama, to steal the quote from Baseball Prospectus’ Harry Pavlidis, is a Fever Dream. You can head over to the batting average column in excel and sort largest to smallest. Remember, this is the 99th percentile – basically the most insane best case scenario for everyone in the game – so the numbers are going to be crazy here. There are six players who have an average between .400 and .410. And then there’s Shogo Akiyama. His average is at the very top of the list. At .480. No, that’s not a typo. Four hundred and eighty.
The Major League record for batting average in a single season is .440 by Hugh Duffy back in 1894. He had himself a season that year, leading the league in hits, doubles (51), home runs (18 – and while he didn’t lead the league in triples, he had 16 of those, too), average, and OPS. He also drove in 145 runs and scored 160. At least when it comes to average, the “Fever Dream” version of Shogo Akiyama would shatter the record with his .480 mark.
The second half of this article is just for fun. It’s unrealistic for so many different reasons. But it sure is fun to think about. Even at the expected production from Shogo Akiyama from the PECOTA system, it would be a heck of a deal for the Reds. There are a lot of questions around exactly how the team will use Akiyama. They’ve mentioned that he can play everywhere in the outfield. And as a left-handed hitter, along with Jesse Winker, the organization could do plenty of mixing-and-matching of positions and lineups with Nick Senzel, Nick Castellanos, and perhaps Aristides Aquino or Phillip Ervin throughout the year. While perhaps not having a full on platoon, mixing-and-matching could certainly help the numbers for everyone involved if they are playing more against their strengths.