The collective July performance of the eight Japanese import players in Major League Baseball was buoyed by strong performances by Boston outfielder Masataka Yoshida and pitchers Kenta Maeda of Minnesota, Kodai Senga of the New York Mets, Shintaro Fujinami of Baltimore, and Yusei Kikuchi of Toronto.
Los Angeles Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani continued to amaze but didn’t quite live up to the sky-high standard he set for himself in the season’s first three months. Two of his countrymen, Yu Darvish of San Diego and Chicago Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki, also struggled to meet their high standards of performance in July.
Here is a more in-depth look at each:
Ohtani had some outstanding moments during the month, particularly on July 27 when he pitched a one-hit shutout in the first game of a doubleheader against Detroit – getting the first complete game of his MLB career – and then hitting two home runs in the second game of the twin bill. Check out this article for interesting facts and figures relating to this amazing performance.
However, his numbers as both a pitcher and hitter were significantly lower than those he put up in June.
In four starts, he was 2-2 during July with a 4.97 earned-run average, though he had a good 1.18 WHIP. Excluding the brilliant outing against Detroit, he allowed 18 hits, eight walks, and 14 earned runs in 16.1 innings. In his designated-hitter role, he averaged .394 in June with 15 home runs and 29 RBIs, but had corresponding July numbers of .282, 9, and 14. His batting average for the month was just .222 before he got eight hits in his final 15 at bats.
As a pitcher, Ohtani has a 9-5 win/loss mark with a 3.43 earned-run average and 1.07 WHIP.
At the plate, he ended July batting .305 for the season 39 home runs, 81 RBIs, and a 1.087 OPS. He leads both leagues in home runs, slugging percentage (.680), and OPS and has an outside chance to tie or break the American League home run record of 62 set last season by the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge. The Angels have 55 games remaining as of the end of the month.
Despite all the talk about the Angels possibly trading Ohtani prior to the deadline, the team said it would not, and that sets up an incredibly interesting off-season, as quite a few teams will no doubt bid for his services. The thought at this time is that he will not re-sign with the Angels, but that could change if they manage to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and do well. If he signs with another club, the Angels would get only a draft pick as compensation.
In the first season of a five-year, $90 million contract with the Red Sox (plus a $15.4 million posting fee to his Japanese team, the Orix Buffaloes), Yoshida has been inconsistent from month to month but has mostly been proving his doubters wrong. Though he was hitless in his last five games in July, he batted .314 for the month with an .844 OPS. That followed a .265 April, a .354 May, and a .269 June. For the season, he is averaging .304 with 12 home runs and 53 RBIs, and he has been effective against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers.
“It’s kind of like a video game,” Red Sox pitcher Kutter Crawford said of watching Yoshida hit. “He’s unbelievable. He’s a great hitter, great teammate, and he’s helping the team in a lot of ways.”
Boston manager Joey Cora added, “He’s good, man. There’s nothing else I can say.”
So far in his second season with the Cubs, Suzuki has not had the success of his countryman Yoshida. Suzuki averaged .319 in May while hitting five home runs and driving in 13 runs, but he hit just .254 in April, .177 in June, and .262 in July. He showed occasional flashes in July – such as a four-hit effort against Washington and three-hit outbursts against Milwaukee and St. Louis – but was hitless in 11 games and had only five multi-hit games.
After his four-hit game on July 18, Cubs manager David Ross said, “He’s got one of the best swings in the league. When you watch him, the consistency with that timing, when it’s there, he feels really good. Hopefully he can build off today.”
However, Suzuki batted just .191 between then and the end of the month. In his final eight games in July, he was just 3-30. For the entire month, he averaged just .240 with a .660 OPS.
His season statistics include a .249 batting average, eight home runs, 35 RBI, and a .713 OPS.
Like the Padres as a team, Darvish thus far has not had the season expected of him, particularly in the light of the $108 million contract extension he signed prior to the start of the season.
He was decent in April and had five quality starts in his first seven outings, but he posted a 5.74 earned-run mark in May, an ERA of 5.40 in his four starts in June, and followed that with an inconsistent July in which he was very good in three of his five starts and not so good in the other two. Against Philadelphia, Toronto, and Texas, he allowed just nine hits and one run in 18 total innings. However, he gave up 12 hits and one earned run in 9.1 innings in the other two outings.
If Darvish can find more consistency, it would further add to what has been an outstanding rotation for the Padres. Their overall team ERA of 3.68 is the best in MLB, and their .235 team batting average against is fourth-best.
For the season, Darvish is 8-7 with a 4.53 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. The latter mark is his highest since the 2018 season and the second-highest of his 11-year MLB career.
Kikuchi, too, has had bouts of inconsistency this season. After a very good April performance, he fell off in May with a 5.83 ERA and a bloated 1.67 WHIP. However, he rebounded very well in June and followed that with a 1-1 mark and 3.91 ERA in July, though he did allow 29 hits in 25.1 innings. His first two starts of the month were problematic, but, in his last three outings, he allowed just two earned runs in 16 total innings.
At this point, Kikuchi remains in the rotation, though he reportedly could be a more natural fit in the role of swingman.
For the season, Kikuchi is 8-3 with a 3.79 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, the latter significantly lower than his career mark of 1.39.
Senga has been another import with inconsistent performances, though he was selected to the National League All-Star team. July was his best month by far, as he posted a 1.93 earned-run average, allowed just 13 hits in 23.1 innings, and posted a WHIP of only 0.87.
During much of the season, he has had problems with his command and with getting ahead in counts, particularly in road games. He allowed 15 bases on balls in 26.2 innings in June and has given up 46 in 81.2 innings this season.
“If he can just tighten up on the walks…” Mets’ catcher Francisco Alvarez said through an interpreter, when asked about the experience of catching Senga.
However, Senga walked just seven batters in four July starts.
For the season, he is 7-5 with a 3.17 earned-run mark and 1.24 WHIP.
Maeda had a difficult beginning to his first season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2021, but there is reason for optimism after he returned from the Injured List and spent time in Triple-A on a rehab assignment. On June 23, he made his first MLB start since April 26 and went five strong innings against Detroit, allowing no runs, three hits and striking out eight. He followed that on June 28 with another solid performance (5 innings, five hits, two runs) in a loss to Atlanta.
He followed that with a strong July in which he had four quality starts in five outings. For the month, he was 1-1 with a 2.93 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Also, he struck out 39 batters in 27.2 innings.
According to one report prior to his going on the Injured List, “some of [Maeda’s] pitches have been stellar, but his fastball has bitten him hard this year . . . The splitter and slider are not the cause of Kenta’s poor start, but his fastball is looking a little suspicious . . .”
Perhaps, though, he’s overcome that. If Maeda continues to come back strongly, it will give a boost to the Twins, who had just a one-game lead in the AL Central Division as of July 31.
Seasonally, he stands 2-6 with a 4.53 ERA and 1.25 WHIP.
Fujinami, who signed a one-year contract with Oakland prior to the season, was traded to the Baltimore Orioles on July 19.
Despite a triple-digit fast ball, he was hit hard at the beginning of the season and moved to the bullpen in late April. However, he was 1-2 with a 3.97 ERA and 1.68 WHIP in June, and then went 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in July. That was a major improvement over his April and May performances – ERAs of 13.00 in April and 10.50 in May. He held opponents scoreless in nine of his 12 July appearances.
Though his long-standing issues with command have continued much of the season, he gave up just four in 14.1 innings in July – another encouraging sign.
For the season, Fujinami is 5-8 with an 8.08 earned-run mark and a very high 1.60 WHIP in 55.2 innings.