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.