While playing in Japan, Shogo Akiyama was never considered a power hitter. In the three years prior to signing with the Cincinnati Reds he hit 25, 24, and 20 home runs while playing in 143 games in each season. He wasn’t a slap hitter – there was some pop in his game – he slugged over .500 in two of those seasons and .471 in 2019 for Seibu. But in his Major League debut he struggled to hit, and to hit for power. In his 54 games played he hit just .245/.357/.297 and went homerless.

During the season Shogo Akiyama put the ball in play 121 times. Out of those 121 balls in play only one of them went further than 375 feet – a ground rule double against Kyle Hendricks on July 29th. The ball went over the head of the center fielder and bounced into the stands. The ball went 386 feet and was by far the furthest hit ball (hit or out) by Akiyama on the season. A 370-foot double on September 4th in Pittsburgh was the next furthest batted ball he had on the year.

If you followed along with the Cincinnati Reds season this year, you are likely aware of the turn around that Shogo Akiyama had during the year. On August 29th he went 1-4 in a double header with a walk and saw his line sitting at .186/.271/.233 on the season through 33 Reds games. But from that point forward he became a different hitter, posting a .319/.453/.377 line with 16 walks and 13 strikeouts in 25 games played. There was still no power, but everything else improved and improved dramatically.

The outfielder was recently on a television show in Japan, along with Kenta Maeda, speaking about their seasons. For Shogo Akiyama, he had mentioned the adjustment that he had made at the plate during the year. One of the hosts of the show asked if he could show them what he meant, and Akiyama not only did that, but he explained why that led to him not hitting for much power in 2020, and what he was looking forward to doing to change that in 2021.

To keep things simple – he altered the timing when he lifts his leg, helping his timing out. But, that change also meant that he didn’t have as much time to continue making more changes on top of that. He noted in the interview that he can next work towards making contact a little bit further out front which led him to say “then I can probably get more extra-base hits”.

Power, of course, isn’t everything when it comes to hitting. It sure doesn’t hurt if you’ve got it, though. It opens everything else up. If pitchers believe they need to be more careful to you, then you are likely to draw more walks. If defenses have to respect you, it leaves more green for hits to fall in.

Pulling the ball more, which is what would happen if Shogo Akiyama is able to do what he hopes and contact that ball a little further out front (and for those who didn’t click the link and watch the video, when he says out front he is referring to a few centimeters) should lead to a little bit more power. The pull side is where most guys show off their power. And in the 2020 season, at least, Akiyama went the other way (in the air, at least) than he did when he pulls the ball.

There’s a lot going on here, of course. And a 60-game season means that a lot of the data and information we are looking at certainly qualifies as a small sample size where things aren’t quite as reliable as if we had a full season of information and data. But after a slow start, Shogo Akiyama made an adjustment to big league pitching and at least for a month, it worked quite well. It wasn’t perfect, and he understands that and has plans to continue to adjust and try to improve. We’re still a little over a month away from the start of spring training, and nearly two months out from when games will begin and we can see if those adjustments – particularly in terms of power output – can be had against big league pitching. Still, it’s good to see that he’s already figured certain things out, he’s seen the results, and he’s got a plan to take that next step.

22 Responses

  1. LDS

    Here’s hoping. The Reds need all the help they can get. Maybe he can play shortstop.

    Reply
  2. CFD3000

    Between Akiyama and Votto making adjustments that showed real and ongoing positive results, and several hitters – Castellanos, Moustakas, Senzel and Suarez – underperforming in 2020, I do expect the Reds offense to be better in 2021. I’m cautiously optimistic.

    But I’m much more impressed by the sustained success of Doug Gray. Did anyone else catch a Japanese TV interview with Akiyama (and Kenta Maeda)? Then translate it and distill the key points for American Reds fans? I don’t think so. Is Gray’s OPS (Obliterating Pertinent Stories rate) sustainable? You wouldn’t think so, but here he is killing it in yet another offseason. Don’t sleep on Doug Gray folks.

    Reply
    • DaveCT

      We can no longer consider Doug to be a mere sleeper. He is now a bona fide candidate for bigger things in media. Slowly, methodically, Doug has increased his abilities and sharpened in skills. A fastball that once sat at 87-91 now averages 94 and touches 97, more than enough velocity to succeed in the Reds bullpen, perhaps enough to start. In addition he has sustained a rather filthy slider but now also boasts a very deceptive, tumbling changeup that is currently above average, flashing plus movement nearly as often as not. Continued improvement bodes well for his hometown team and this young man’s future.

      Reply
  3. west larry

    I really think Aikyama will be a better hitter based on his improvement late last year. Looks like he made significant adjustments to major league pitching. A couple other hitters will, hopefully, come off near career lows as well. Find a decent shortstop and the reds should be significantly better, especially as poorly as the central division seems to be. No padres, dodgers nor braves in this division.

    Reply
    • doofus

      Agree.

      The teams only played 37% of the regular season schedule. Because of the geographically limited schedule some teams played against tougher competition, others weaker. With 102 more games both the hitters and pitchers would have different end of season results/stats.

      I believe that the Reds are a better hitting team than 2020’s results. I still believe that JV is on the downside.

      Reply
  4. Jimbo44CN

    I would think he would start out as the every day left fielder, which is fine with me, but we still have a question at center, as clearly Senzel is having trouble staying there and underperformed this past year. I don’t know what the solution is for the infield unless the Reds go out and get Didi. As much as I like Kyle Farmer as a backup I am not sure if he would be a good every day shortstop. We will see.

    Reply
  5. Sliotar

    In 2020, Reds were 26th in wRC+ with the No. 1 batting position … 74 … well below league average. (FanGraphs)

    This is another area, just like the SS position … just having league average production would be a major improvement in 2021.

    Reply
    • Jim

      Just for fun, here is my starting lineup for our first game this year.
      Shogo
      Nick
      Jesse
      Eugenia
      Mike
      Joey
      Shortstop
      Tucker

      Reply
      • Jim

        Nick Senzel that is
        The other Nick will fill in on the team later

      • LDS

        I’d bench Votto before I benched Castellanos.

  6. CleatsOn

    Maybe he can add some power, but I’d be super happy with .320/.450 with no power in the leadoff spot. For sure. Or .300/.400 over the entire season would be awesome.

    Reply
    • Jim

      I hear you on Votto, but you have to have hope that he will get his hitting going again after a 3 year absence. I would give him a month or so and hope he will “Swing The Bat” instead of looking for a walk. If he dosn’t come around then play someone better. The other Nick will work himself into my lineup a little later.

      Reply
  7. TR

    I think Akiyama will do quite well against ML pitching is he’s in the lineup most games.

    Reply
  8. MBS

    I don’t care about power in the lead off. I do really care about OBP. I think Shogo could be an elite lead off hitter. I really don’t believe in Senzel anymore. Having said that, Senzel needs turns a corner, and remain Healthy. If that happens, then it could be the primer this offense needs.

    Reply
  9. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Dang, I don’t care about extra base hits. Just get on base! Screw the extra base hits. I wouldn’t mind simply seeing some seeing-eye singles.

    Reply
    • flyout. Vincent

      The players need to try to get hits rather than trying to knock the cover off of the ball. That would add to a lot more wins than just long flyouts.

      Reply
      • Frankie Tomatoes

        I can’t believe they never thought of that. This whole time they were up there thinking about not trying to get hits. That seems like a poor plan. You’re correct. They really should try to just get hits.

  10. rednat

    Shogo was a breath of fresh air for me. He was a table setter, shift buster and a guy that can hit the ball on the ground and low line drives to the left side.
    He was a big reason for the run at the end of the year for the reds to make the playoffs. I don’t think there is any need for him to change his approach to hit for more power
    .

    Reply

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