Why has Masataka Yoshida of the Red Sox struggled thus far? Three numbers that explain his MLB debut

Over the offseason, the Red Sox paid $90 million to sign the Japanese outfielder.

Let’s be honest. Overreaction and/or reinforcement of prior assumptions are prevalent in the genre of April analysis. Every team has at least 91% of its season left when it begins play on Friday. There is plenty of time for hot beginnings to cool and cold starts to thaw, so a player’s performance thus far may not be an accurate predictor of future results. Despite all of that, there are a lot of people in the league who are watching Boston Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida and thinking, if only to themselves for the time being, “told you so.”

Yoshida’s deal (five years, $90 million) was questioned by opposing analysts because they thought his above-average raw power would not transfer. They continued to believe that he would bat for average and reach base frequently, but that particular profile was cheaper elsewhere on the free-agent market. (Andrew Benintendi, for instance, agreed to a five-year, $75 million contract.) It’s way too early to say if those appraisers will be found to be correct. However, it is true to say that Yoshida’s debut to the majors was not particularly glamorous. He has batted in ten games.Two extra-base hits and a batting line of 216/.356/.324 (86 OPS+).

It makes sense if Yoshida is still experiencing discomfort from the shift. He was limited to playing in a small number of spring training games because of his World Baseball Classic participation for Japan. Even if he had completed an entire exhibition season, he would still be becoming acquainted with a new league and culture. Everyone responds to that tough situation at their own pace. It just so happens that Yoshida is one of the few fields where his performance is recorded and closely examined almost every night.

This weekend, when the Red Sox play home to Shohei Ohtani and the Los Angeles Angels, Yoshida is sure to come under more intense scrutiny, so we thought it would be a good idea to check up on him now. Three statistics that describe his performance are shown below.

1. Launch angle

Yoshida now has the lowest average launch angle of all qualified hitters at almost minus 8 degrees. Furthermore, just 15% of the balls Yoshida has batted have had launches angles between 10 and 30 degrees. 31% is the league average. Remember that a steeper launch angle is not always preferable. However, you also don’t want your batters wearing out the dirt in front of the plate, just as you don’t want them hitting the ball straight up into the air.

A batter’s extreme launch angle could be caused by a number of factors, including the swing route, swing choices, point of contact, bat speed, and others.

Due to the fact that he is hitting everything into the ground, including elevated pitches, we can rule out the swing decision factor in this situation.

For example, Yoshida launches pitches in the upper half of the zone at a minus-9 degree angle. Jean Segura is the next-worst batter among those who are eligible, with a score of minus-4.9. In that regard, just one other player is below minus-1 degrees. Whatever the precise problem with Yoshida’s swing is, it has remained a constant.

Only four qualified hitters—Raimel Tapia (2021), Wilson Ramos (2019), Eric Hosmer (2018), and Ian Desmond (2018)—finished the last five seasons with a negative launch angle. The OPS+ of 106 was the highest of the four. Two of the other three players had results below 85. You probably don’t want Yoshida to be linked with that group going forward, therefore.

2. Exit velocity

Again, evaluators’ main worry with Yoshida was his slugging output. He hasn’t yet dispelled such doubts, either with outcomes or procedures.

Yoshida had an 85.4 mph season-average exit velocity going into Friday. That statistic’s league-average speed was 88.8 mph. Yoshida was then hanging out with middle infielders Tony Kemp and CJ Abrams, both of whom had soft bats. Either of them shouldn’t be playing the corner outfield position. On 36% of his hit balls, he has achieved exit velocities of 95 mph or higher. Sadly, that is also lower than the league average (40%).

Masataka Yoshida’s initial home run in the MLB

104.6 mph to the opposite field against a fastball that was 3.46 feet high and traveling at 96.2 mph.

Fun fact: Off a pitch that powerful and that high, he is the only lefty in the pitch-tracking period (since 2008) to go opposing over the Green Monster.twitter.com/7UpnwQjLDi

— David Adler on April 4, 2023 (@_dadler)

How batters from other leagues will react to fastballs of the caliber found in Major League Baseball is one of the general worries organizations have regarding such players. These days, with players moving on from the Korea Baseball Organization, that worry is more prevalent. Yoshida hasn’t done well, though. When performance versus heaters is the only consideration, his exit velocity stats are noticeably worse: his average EV (84.9 mph) positions him in the 14th percentile.

Yoshida isn’t striking the ball with much force or at a nice angle. We always like to conclude on a good note, so what has he accomplished thus far?

3. Chase rate

The most advantageous aspect of Yoshida’s play thus far, in our opinion, has been his understanding of the strike zone. He chases the ball much less frequently than the league average (18.6% vs. 27.7%). He doesn’t swing very often, which contributes to some of that. In fact, he’s offered at less than 40% of the pitches he’s seen, placing him alongside other extremely choosy hitters like Steven Kwan and Max Muncy.

Of course, controlling the zone has benefits, one of which is putting oneself in beneficial situations. After that, you can focus on a certain pitch and, if you catch it, cause harm. Yoshida’s ball strikes aren’t strong enough or on a good enough plane to fully utilize his impressive eye.

Yoshida’s ability to distinguish between balls and strikes might help change the narrative around him and his contract if he can make the required adjustments, because, hey, there’s nothing but freeway ahead of him this season.