Yoshi Tsutsugo has been a very productive minor league signing for the Pittsburgh Pirates. While it’s only been a few games, does he have a future with the club?
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed an infielder / outside corner kicker Yoshi Tsutsugo to an agreement with the minor leagues. So far, his first games with the Bucs have been exciting to watch. Entered the game on Friday, he beat .333 / .364 / 1.000 with the Pirates. In Friday night’s loss, Tsutsugo was 1-3 with a triple and a walk.
With the Pittsburgh Pirates, all but one of his hits went for additional bases. Certainly we are dealing with a very, very small sample. Tsutsugo only has 25 appearances in a pirate uniform. But is there any chance he could play a role in the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates?
Before hitting the big leagues, Tsutsugo was one of Japan’s biggest hitters. The left corner batsman has slammed 140 home runs in his last 4 seasons, his lowest hit percentage in those years being 0.511. In total, he hit the 200 home run milestone in Japan, hitting 205 long balls in 10 seasons.
Now in his first season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Tsutsugo has shown decent power and solid patience to the plate. It hit .197 / .314 / .395, .309 wOBA and 98 wRC +. Not large numbers by any means, but just slightly below average. This was due to its high walk rate of 14.1% and its isolated hit percentage of 0.197.
However, Tsutsugo had some bad luck in his rookie campaign. He had an expected hitline of .211 / .325 / .421 with an xwOBA of .325. His batting average on in-play balls was less than 0.250 to 0.230. Overall, his expected line would have been around the league’s average production. The 2020 average hitter had a .245 / .322 / 0.418 and .320 wOBA line. Almost identical base percentage, slugging percentage and wOBA.
Power or plate discipline was carried over to 2021. He started the year with the Rays where he had an OPS below 500, ISO below 0.100 and a walk rate of just 9.2%. A big drop in his 2020 season. After being released by the Rays, he signed with the Dodgers where things didn’t improve much. The Dodgers freed him again, that’s how he ended up with the Pirates.
There is no question about its raw power potential. Tsutsugo has an output speed of 90.3 MPH in the US, as well as a hard hit rate of 45%. Both are well above average, being similar to those of Jose Ramirez (90.6 MPH / 44.4%), Carlos Correa (90.4 MPH / 43.3%) and Brandon Lowe (90.2 MPH, 44.4%).
But while Tsutsugo rips the cover off the ball when he makes contact, he’s the type to kick the ball or the bust. He has a 43.2% loose ball rate in MLB and he has a measly 14.6% line workout rate. Its 15.9-degree pitch angle would be one of the highest in all of baseball. While fly balls have an average hit percentage of 0.720 and 142 wRC + this year, online workouts are by far the best possible hit ball result. They fall for one shot almost 70% of the time (batting average 0.686), have an even higher slugging percentage of 0.883 and 336 wRC +.
Of course, even if he cannot use the guidelines 100% of the time, a rate below 18% will not reduce him. Unless he has the power of a light tower, which Tsutsugo unfortunately does not have, he cannot continue to display under 18% line training rate and ball rate. flywheel greater than 40%. Going back to 2018, few batters have managed to consistently have a wRC + around or above 100 with both a line training rate below 18% and a flyball rate above 40%. Those who have are some of the strongest players in baseball like Pete Alonso, Matt Olson and Miguel Sano to name a few.
Now, Tsutsugo has shown some promise he could hit more line drives with the Dodgers’ Triple-A team before being released. He had a line workout rate of 19.8% while having a high FB% of 41.5%. Although only 180 plate appearances, it established a strong .257 / .361 / .507, .250 ISO and .363 wOBA line.
Now I doubt Tsutsugo could ever be the player he was in Japan here in the United States. I don’t expect that. But who can say he can’t be a solid bench batsman? Tsutsugo can play in multiple positions, having experience at first base, third base and left field. Defensively, he’s not bad either. Plus, his underlying numbers suggest an average league hitter in 2020. He has the raw power to be a good hitter, he just needs to stop looking for the long flyball all the time.
But if he can rack up 300-350 home plate appearances a year and hit .250 / .350 / .450 in a squad / timeshare with Colin Moran and Mason Martin at first base and designated hitter while providing some relief in the corners of the outer field. If he can get his LD% around 16% -18%, that’s not too exaggerated.
It’s on the optimistic side. I’ll be the first to admit it. Anyone can look good in such a small number of plate appearances. However, that is not unrealistic either. A solid platoon / bench bat with a bit of pop is something that could help the Pirates in the future. Right now, Tsutsugo appears to be one of those bats. Sure, he could wane over the next few weeks, but I don’t think he’s a John Nogowski player. There is more raw power as well as his resume in another country’s top baseball level.