Major League Baseball's offseason is well underway, and the hot stove should continue to heat up as the start of the Winter Meetings (Sunday, Dec. 4) approaches. CBS Sports has already sliced and diced the offseason markets by ranking this year's top 50 free agents as well as highlighting the top 20 potential trade candidates.
In our estimation, one of the most intriguing free-agent pitchers available is right-hander Kodai Senga, who ranked No. 23 on our top-50 list. Senga is expected to cross the Pacific Ocean after spending the first 11 seasons of his career with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league.
You might be wondering what makes Senga so enticing, and where might he land? For answers to those questions and more, continue to scroll down the page at a leisurely pace as we break down Senga, his game, and his potential suitors.
1. How has Senga fared in Japan?
Very well, as you'd expect from someone making the move to the United States.
In 275 career appearances to date, Senga has amassed a 2.42 ERA and a 2.92 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He's a three-time All-Star and a five-time champion. He also won a gold medal as part of Japan's roster in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, which were, of course, held in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senga is coming off a particularly strong showing in 2022, during which he started 23 times and posted a 1.89 ERA and a 3.18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His 148 innings pitched represented his largest workload since the 2019 campaign.
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2. What kind of pitches does Senga throw?
Senga has a broad arsenal, but the evaluators who have spoken to CBS Sports have often highlighted three of his pitches in particular: his mid-90s fastball, his forkball (sometimes referred to as a splitter), and his curveball. Those are also the three pitches that ball-tracking data indicates are most likely to fare well against MLB hitters.
Senga's fastball averaged 96 mph last season and he's able to elevate it up in the zone. His forkball, nicknamed the "Ghost Fork," is a monster pitch that coerced a whiff on more than 50 percent of the swings taken against it. (The forkball also had a chase rate north of 40 percent, suggesting it's effective bait below the zone.) Senga throws two kinds of breaking balls, a harder slider/cutter and a softer curve. The latter grades better on paper, although he'll likely continue to throw both in the majors.
At the risk of oversimplifying matters, Senga's success in the majors could boil down to his ability to stair-step elevate his fastball before burying his forkball.
3. Is there anything notable about Senga's mechanics?
Foremost, let's define "notable" to mean either aesthetically or performance-wise.
Senga's delivery does not include a wrist wrap, a popular tic with Japanese pitchers that scouts fear stresses the elbow and can lead to worse command and control. He's not completely out of the woods in that respect. Senga's operation does see his back elbow rise close to his back shoulder line, which can have similar negative effects. Whatever, you only live once and surface-level analysis like this doesn't always translate to what actually happens on the field.
Another interesting note about Senga's delivery is that he throws from a three-quarters arm slot. That, in conjunction with his short stature (he's listed at 6-foot), creates a 5-foot-9 release height and a flat plane to the top of the strike zone. His fastball's natural rise should play up when elevated because of that component.
4. Will Senga be subjected to the "posting" system?
Nope. Unlike last winter, when Seiya Suzuki had 30 days to reach an agreement with a team (the Chicago Cubs) while his NPB club received compensation based on his contract, Senga is a 29-year-old with enough service time to be a true free agent. That means he's not subject to the posting system or any of the nonsense that comes with.
5. Which teams are interested in Senga?
Almost every contender and pseudo-contender. We're talking about the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, and others, according to various reports. The New York Mets, in fact, have already met with him, according to The Athletic. It's probable, if not outright likely, that even more teams than we know have checked in with his camp.
Does Senga have a preferred destination? His agent Joel Wolfe hinted that he might have some parameters to narrow the field. "Senga's very open minded and would like to play in a big market with a team that wants to try and win right now," Wolfe told NBC Sports Chicago. "He has a great deal of interest in being in a big market."
There's no reason to doubt Wolfe's claims here. Of course, that doesn't necessarily thin the herd since most of the teams mentioned above are located in a big media market and have designs on contending next season. As such, we'll have to wait and see which team walks away from this winter with an intriguing veteran starter.