Seattle Mariners: Yusei Kikuchi is producing velocity and positive results

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 26: Yusei Kikuchi #18 of the Seattle Mariners pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on July 26, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 26: Yusei Kikuchi #18 of the Seattle Mariners pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on July 26, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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Yusei Kikuchi has been impressive early on for the Seattle Mariners, but can he keep it up?

Believe it or not, the two starting pitchers in baseball who have increased their fastball velocity the most from 2019 to 2020 are two left-handed pitchers entering their second season in the big leagues, one of them with the Seattle Mariners.

Baltimore Orioles All-Star starter John Means leads the way at an impressive 3.6 mph jump in velocity this season, pumping out 96 mph fastballs in his first two starts of the season. The next name on that list is Seattle Mariners starter Yusei Kikuchi at 3 mph.

The second-year man has touched as high as 98 mph with his four-seamer, a pitch that averaged 92.5 mph last season and now averages 95.5 mph.

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A new wrinkle in his repertoire has also added to his early-season success in 2020, a cutter. Kikuchi has thrown his cutter 45% of the time this season, producing a .143 batting average against (.060 expected batting average) and 37% whiff rate through two starts.

A sample size of two starts is extremely small, but Yusei Kikuchi has put his rookie season behind him and is out to prove himself in 2020.

His first start against Houston didn’t go very well. Lasting just 3.2 innings, Kikuchi gave up five runs on five hits, walking four and striking out four, but he turned it around in his next outing against the American League West leading Oakland A’s. Kikuchi tossed six shutout innings, giving up just three hits and one walk while striking out nine batters.

Overall, Kikuchi owns a 4.66 ERA but a 1.89 FIP and has already accumulated 0.4 fWAR in two starts. He was worth 0.2 fWAR in all of 2019. He has yet to allow a home run, has produced a 55% groundball rate, and has struck out 34% of hitters he’s faced.

Could the Seattle Mariners finally be getting the type of pitcher we all read about when Kikuchi first came over to the States? It’s early, but the early returns are positive and he’s going to get plenty of opportunities to showcase his stuff against good lineups this season.

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His next outing comes on Friday night against the Colorado Rockies in Seattle. The Rockies currently rank second in baseball in team batting average (.268) and third in slugging percentage (.438).