When you look at the triple-slash line of Shogo Akiyama today it’s not a pretty sight. The Cincinnati Reds outfielder is hitting .239/.354/.291 with just nine games remaining on the season. Of course, this season is unlike any other – it’s just a 60-game season in a year in which very little has gone right in this world we live in.

For Shogo Akiyama and the Cincinnati Reds, 2020 was supposed to be special. The Cincinnati Reds are one of the oldest franchises in baseball. They were also the only team to never have a Japanese player on their team. All of that changed in the offseason when the team signed Akiyama to a 3-year deal. For the outfielder, he was bringing his family to the other side of the world in order to play baseball at the highest level. And then the world changed, and mid-spring training the baseball world shut down. It wouldn’t return until late July, and it looked a bit different than baseball ever has before. No fans. Rules on what you can and can’t do both on the field, off of the field (both at the stadium and away from it), and the options available away from the game were limited.

To say that the start of the season was a struggle for Shogo Akiyama would be an understatement. Through 27 games, from the start of the year through August 28th, the outfielder hit .183/.264/.232. That was a span of 91 plate appearances and he had 21 strikeouts and he walked eight times. That’s a solid walk rate, but the strikeout rate was pretty high for a hitter who had been showing no power at all.

In the 18 games played since then by the Japanese-born outfielder things have looked very different. Shogo Akiyama is hitting .327/.478/.385. The power is still not showing up. Everything else, though, has been completely opposite of what he had done in the first stretch of the season. In the 68 plate appearances over those 18 games he walked 14 times with just eight strikeouts.

Here’s how the two stretches compare:

Looking at the information two things really stick out. The walk rate and the strikeout rate. The walk rate, as noted already, was solid in that first stretch – but it’s been elite in the last 18 games. Strikeouts have also fallen to a very impressive rate of 11.8% in this stretch. The Major League average walk rate this season is 9.2% and the average strikeout rate this season is 23.2%.

What has led to the change in both the walk rate and the strikeout rate? At first glance, there wasn’t something that really explained it. His rate of chasing pitches out of the zone between those two stretches was essentially unchanged – 28.8% to 29.1%. The rate at which he was swinging at pitches inside of the strikezone also remained essentially unchanged – 63.8% to 63.5%. The adjustment wasn’t coming from improving his strikezone awareness.

But if we look at what’s happened when he’s been swinging – that’s where we start to see the different. Let’s look deeper at this data:

Range O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact%
1st 82 PA 67.7% 84.7% 78.4%
Ever Since 74.6% 93.8% 85.9%

When he’s swung at pitches outside of the zone Shogo Akiyama’s made more contact. When he’s stung at pitches inside of the zone he’s also made more contact. Overall, of course, his contact rate is up – and it’s up significantly in that time frame.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but in the latter stretch where he’s been making more contact when he’s been swinging, he’s also seeing fewer pitches in the strikezone and fewer 1st-pitch strikes.

In Japan, particularly in 2019, Shogo Akiyama’s strikeout rate wasn’t as low as it has been in this recent 16 game stretch. Last year while playing for the Seibu Lions he struck out 15.9% of the time. Back in the 2015 season his strikeout rate was as low as 11.6% on the season – essentially where he’s been at for the last three weeks with Cincinnati. It’s not likely that he can maintain this low of a strikeout rate, but he doesn’t need to do that in order to be successful, either. There’s some wiggle room between the 23% and the 12% he’s been at lately. The closer to that current rate, the better – but it doesn’t need to be quite that low for him to continue to find success in the batters box.

The slow start to the season has doomed the rookie season overall for Shogo Akiyama. In a normal season, a slow month to start a season could be overcome – but that’s just not the case at all in a season like the one we are watching. We’re seeing a well established player, albeit not in the Major Leagues, adjust his game. We’re even seeing the results from it. The overall numbers aren’t going to show it because of the small sample size of the 2020 season – but Akiyama has been figuring it out and he’s helped carry some of the offensive load for the Reds for the last three week as they’ve made a run at the playoffs.

This article was updated to correct some statistical mistakes.

35 Responses

    • Doug Gray

      This is kind of a good news bad news kind of thing. Looks like in the original image that had the OBP wrong, I simply forgot to correct the walk total when I changed that column from walks to walk rate.

      But I went back to Baseball Reference to double check everything, just in case. That’s when I noticed that they were missing 17 plate appearances for him on the season, so I had to make a few more corrections.

      Good looking out. Appreciate it.

      Reply
  1. Mark Moore

    It supports what I’ve seen of late. And with the actual OBP for the later sample higher than what you posted, he’s doing what we need as a lead-off hitter aside from crushing it over the wall (which I personally don’t look for in a lead-off hitter).

    Reply
  2. Still a Red

    He said recently that he’s had to adjust to the speed of MLB fastballs. I bet he’s also made some adjustments away from what-ever Zinter has been trying to impress on the players and gone back to what he knows how to do…contact…go with the pitch…protect the plate with 2 strikes. Interesting that you say he’s seeing fewer first pitch strikes…that only helps him even more. Forget the power, I’ll take Ichiro any day. I like he’s trying to get that extra base on a throw in from the outfield, although he’s been thrown out twice trying. A great catch last night on Iggy’s first batter…not made and Iggy’s in trouble. I think Shogo can turn out to be what we thought we bought.

    Reply
  3. Charlie Waffles

    Boy, hitting .327/.471/.385 from the leadoff spot sure looks nice. Akiyama looks so much more relaxed at the plate than he did earlier in the season. Another side of this is that it knocked Votto out of the leadoff spot where he was terribly unproductive.
    Now if the Reds can just get Winker and Senzel back on track with their hitting. Senzel has a lot of work to do on his hitting this off-season if he wants to be a starter in 2021. Winker can’t be another Jay Bruce where Bruce would have a torrid 6 week stretch, then be below average all the rest of a season and end up hitting .240 for the season.
    A lineup with a DH of Akiyama (LF), Castellanos (1B), Winker (RF), Suarez (3B), Votto (DH), Senzel (CF), Moustakas (2B), Stephenson (C), and Garcia (SS) looks good at first glance. It is balanced with 4 LH and 5 RH hitters. But something just seems to be missing. The offense needs something added and the additions of Stephenson and Garcia might not be enough to overcome the 2020 hitting woes. Looking for weak links in that lineup chain and fingers seem to point to Votto, and then Moustakas. And the Reds seem to be stuck with those two, and Votto’s 3 years and $75MM owed and Moustakas’s 3 years and $52MM owed.

    Reply
    • Matt WI

      Yeah, I’m worried about Senzel right now. Cowboy commented last night on the radio call that it’s hard enough to get timing back after missing so much time w/o the minors to help with rehab, and then add the stress and press of being in the playoff contention and feeling like you have to contribute.

      Reply
      • seadog

        Yes. This season for Senzel has been like a yo-yo. Play time and emotion wise. Another reason why Akiyama “owning” the lead off spot helps this team. I like Senzel in the 6/7 spot like last night. Takes a bit of pressure off him.

      • TR

        Seadog: you make a good point regarding Senzel. 6 or7 in the batting order is a more natural fit for a guy who can develop into a real good hitter.

      • earmbrister

        Matt, I hold your opinion in high regard re the Reds. That said, Senzel is one of the more promising bats in the Reds dugout. At the start of the year, there were too many Reds fans ready to cut bait with Winker and Senzel. These guys are legit hitters, and Senzel should win a GG in CF before his career is over. I share the concern that it will be hard for Senzel to get his timing back. But what is the alternative? If we can agree that Winker, Akiyama, and Castellanos should be in the lineup everyday, who is the 3rd OFr or DH? Brian Goodwin might be the 4th batter, but he’s hardly lighting it up (nor or any Reds players). Goodwin’s stats with the Reds:

        Reds YTD: .194/.250/.417
        Last 7 G: .200/.261/.550

        Now, he hasn’t gotten a lot of ABs. However, Senzel has started the last 2 games. The Reds need to chart a course and stick to it. Oscillating between the two (or another player) will not benefit anyone.

        Senzel has hit at every level as a prospect. He’s the future for the Reds, while Goodwin is more like a solid 4th or 5th OFr. Neither one should be high in the lineup, though both would hit in front of Garcia, and perhaps in front of the catchers if TS is not starting.

        If not Senzel, who?

  4. Optimist

    Hadn’t really noticed it until Doug points it out here, but if there is a MVA (most valuable adjustment award) Shogo gets it, and not for the on-field performance highlighted here. For all the off-field/crazy schedule stuff. Would have been easy to use the opt-out and wait till next year.

    Reply
  5. seadog

    His improvements at the plate are noticeable to the naked eye. I think he said it best himself— MLB pitching is just faster/better than what he was used to. Kind of like a high school kid going to play D1 as a freshmen. Just a different level of play. It takes an adjustment period. Hopefully he sustains and improved further

    Reply
    • Mark Moore

      Most of the Japan and Korean league play is categorized as AAAA if I recall correctly. Obviously some stars, but it’s somewhere below MLB caliber overall, especially when you get to the more elite pitchers.

      Reply
  6. Redgoggles

    It would be ideal if more of the Reds hitters would mimic Akiyama’s approach, especially with 2 strikes or in game situations that call for contact/hitting against the shift, etc. At minimum it would change up the scouting report and may help with future ABs, but I’ve seen every hitter go the other way at some point. I just don’t think they are being coached to do so. Scoring without the HR ball is critical, especially for the remainder of the season against better offenses.

    Reply
    • 2020ball

      I think eventually you’ll see a shift in hitting approach in the league overall. It may take a year or two, but there is likely an adjustment coming to counteract all the shifts.

      Reply
      • seadog

        Well said. The dynamic is always changing. I just don’t see the Reds adapting to it quick enough. Always seems like they are a week late to the party. I may be wrong. Hope I am

      • Charlie Waffles

        More RH hitters that can hit RH starters well will be one way to go. RH starters make up 78% of NL starters. And if they start to shift over to the left side, those RH hitters need to be able to hit well to the right side of the field also.
        Or get LH hitters that can hit well to the left side of the field. The shifts can be broken and beaten.
        This exit velocity BS is way overhyped, and the shifts exploit the swing for the fences mentality. Who cares if a ball exits at 107 mph when it is hit directly at a fielder and ends in a ground out, or worse a GIDP? Give me LH hitters laying down good bunts down the third base line all day. The shifting defenses are giving a LH hitter a free hit, but few take advantage of it, and instead hit the ball right into the teeth of the shift.

      • seadog

        Great point about bunts. Yes, it looks like they have “a free hit”. Problem is—these teams know (analytics). Votto/Moose/Winker. They can’t beat that throw to 1b. They never will. Akiyama might. This team is built to hit the HR. Not built beat any shifts. GABP plays into that.

  7. 2020ball

    Akiyama looks to be solidifying himself in the leadoff spot, which is great to see since that was what he profiled as coming from overseas. The power may never show up, but as long as he keeps the OBP up he’s very useful at the top of the order. That coupled with his strong fundamentals in the other parts of his game makes him a nice piece.

    Count me in the Shogo over Votto for leadoff camp now.

    Reply
    • jim walker

      The issue as I see it looking ahead is that Votto, Moose and Winker are 3 guys with 2 spots available for them; and, that is assuming the Reds are still in a DH situation in 2021 since the 2 spots are 1B and DH.

      Moose is just not up to the defense at 2B but is fine at 1B. Votto’s defense at 1B is fading faster than his offense. If Akiyama is the lead off guy, there goes Winker’s possible OF spot. Moving Akiyama to CF for Winker in LF would make the Reds weaker at 2 positions because Akiyama is no longer up to snuff in CF.

      Maybe they trade Winker as part of a deal for a CF? Then they could bring Senzel back to the infield at 2B, slide Moose to 1B and use Votto at DH.

      Reply
      • Sliotar

        Winker is 27, and is in the Top 25 in the NL for BB% and OBP.
        In 2021, he starts the first of 3 arbitration seasons.

        Teams do not trade players like that in today’s MLB. Too valuable, on the field and with the accounting books.

        The Moustakas signing was horrible, is still horrible … and will be even more horrible as the years go on.

        The DH spot may prevent some of the awful defense as he ages … but the Reds did not know the DH was coming when they signed him (pre-pandemic).

        He is already clogging a spot on the field … Reds front office was badly outplayed by Moustakas’s agent. Should have offered $1yr/20M or 2/40 .. why pay for his age 34 and 35 seasons?

        All this adds to the urgency of trying win it all this season … or next.

      • JB

        Why is Akiyama not up to snuff in CF? What has he done to lose that? He looked good out there when he played it.

      • Aaron B.

        I can see that Akiyama doesn’t have elite speed and so maybe isn’t as good as some of your westcoast centerfielders who are basically required to have speed in those big ball parks.. Akiyama is fine for small ballparks and probably more than average in even bigger parks, but maybe this is why they have been experimenting with Goodwin who has more foot speed. I don’t think any of this matters this team needs to score more runs period to have any chance whatsoever.

      • 2020ball

        Akiyama is a very good runner. His speed may not be flashy, but dont let that fool you.

  8. TR

    Stick with Shogo at lead off. It’s a tough position to adequately fill. He’s made a lot of progress in a short year at the ML level.

    Reply
  9. Charlie Waffles

    The Buccos have taken a 3-1 lead on the Cardinals. Bottom of the 4th. STL starting pitcher Dakota Hudson left the game early with elbow tightness. Could be a costly double loss for the Cards.

    Reply
    • Charlie Waffles

      PIT beat STL 5-1 tonight. Reds get a half game on STL. Every little bit helps.

      Reply
      • JayTheRed

        One day at a time , one day at a time… Sure would be swell if the Pirates somehow swept the Cards though.

    • magi210

      Burrows looks good. Wish the Oline could keep him upright.

      Defense looks really bad, except that one goal line stand.

      Reply
      • TR

        Offense is more exciting but without a good solid defense you don’t develop a winning tradition.

  10. Still a Red

    Moose has been less than expected…but he was out a few days, truncated season, etc. and he has come through with some really big run scoring hits! Have to think he is much more a threat than we’ve had at second base since Philips.

    Reply

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