Roki Sasaki scout report: What to know about the Japanese phenomenon, his possible MLB debut date and elite heat

Roki Sasaki, a 20-year-old right-handed player who plays for Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines, pitched one of the best matches in professional baseball history on Sunday. He achieved the first perfect game in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in 28 years. He set new league records for strikeouts, both overall (19) and in a row (13). He showed arm strength at an average speed of almost 100 km / h on his fastball, and the grace to credit his start in part to the work of his catcher, a teenager named Kou Matsukawa.

Every time a relative unknown to the American public calls for attention, just as Sasaki did on Sunday, it will surely arouse curiosity. Who is this pitcher? What is he throwing? And will he ever come to the United States and follow the same path that two-way phenomenon Shohei Ohtani and the new outfield sensation Seiya Suzuki have done in recent years?

To validate this curiosity and to honor Sasaki’s performance, we here at CBS Sports decided to answer nine questions about him, his game and his future – or one question for each of the perfect frames he pitched during his masterful performance.

1. Where does Sasaki’s game rank historically?

One measure of Sasaki’s dominance is a Bill James invention called the Game Score. The premise is simple. The pitchers begin their start with a baseline of points. Every time they do something good, such as registers a line, their point total increases; every time they do something bad, such as giving up a race, their points total drops. At the end of their outing, they have a single number to encapsulate their work.

Sasaki’s game score on Sunday was 106. For reference, this is the highest match score for a nine-inning start in Major League Baseball since integrating into Kerry Wood’s performance with 20 strikeouts in May 1998. Wood struck out and hit a batter that day. , but he did not allow a race as part of his signature performance.

Woods game score that day was 105, one point less than Sasakis.

2. Is Sasaki always that good?

Sasaki may not have first entered the world of American baseball fans on Sunday, but he has pitched professionally with the Marines since last season. In 19 career outings, he has totaled an ERA of 1.78 and a 6.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He has beaten 31.4 percent of the batsmen he has encountered in his career. Keep in mind that NPB’s hitters are not as likely to strike out as their American counterparts. NPB’s league-wide K-rate is 21 percent this season, compared to the 23 percent sent by MLB hits in 2021.

3. How is Sasaki’s mechanics?

Sasaki’s delivery sees him drop the ball from a three-quarter slot. The most defining aspect of his surgery probably involves his high leg kick. He also has a wrist wrap in the early stages of his arm action, a common tic among Japanese pitchers that scouts see negatively because of its potential impact on command and health.

4. What paths does Sasaki throw?

On Sunday, Sasaki leaned heavily on two pieces of his arsenal: his fastball and his splitter (some sources have labeled it as a fork ball, but the lanes look more than not). These two accounted for 99 of his 105 seats, good for a consumption rate of 94 percent. He has other offers at his disposal, including two breaking balls.

5. Are there any MLB comparisons for Sasaki’s fastball?

In a word, no. According to data obtained by CBS Sports from Sunday’s start, Sasaki’s fastball averaged better than 99.5 mph and contained 19.8 inches of induced vertical fracture and 15.4 inches of horizontal fracture. It is an elite, unsurpassed combination.

For context, consider New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.

Cole’s fastball is perhaps the best in the majors. Last year, it averaged 97.7 mph and contained 17.9-inch induced vertical fracture and 11.9-inch horizontal fracture. Among pitchers with at least 200 innings thrown last season, Cole’s heater ranked in the 99th percentile in speed; the 80th in induced vertical fracture; and the 95th in horizontal pause. It’s a fantastic pitch, and even it can not match Sasaki’s numbers across the board.

The above numbers come with some caveats. Sasaki’s measurements almost certainly benefit from the differences between the American and Japanese balls. The latter is more tacky, provides a better grip and eliminates the need for adhesives such as pine tar or Spider Tack. In addition, Cole’s fastball has a more optimal spin axis.

Sasaki’s fastball is a monster that offers anyway, and it’s the instrument that should give him greater fame and fortune over the coming years.

6. What about Sasaki’s brand?

Finding comparisons for Sasaki’s splitter (or fork ball, again, depending on the source) is difficult for other reasons as the course is not as prevalent as the fastball. To know, only 29 big-league pitchers threw at least 100 of them last season.

Sasaki’s splitter checks in at 91.2 mph with 2.30-inch induced vertical break and 7.80-inch horizontal break. That speed would rank as the second fastest, just behind Hirokazu Sawamura of the Boston Red Sox. Sasaki’s break count, meanwhile, is best compared to Blake Parkers’ (2.9, 7.40). Parker’s splitter last season generated a 36 percent scent rate and an average of 0.232.

For those wondering, Shohei Ohtani’s splitter has about the same amount of induced vertical breakage as the Sasakis (2.40 inches), but comes in softer (88 mph) and with smaller runs (4.90 inches).

7. When can / will Sasaki come to MLB?

The question is whether Sasaki even would will have to get over. MLB is considered to be the best league in the world, but NPB is a strong No. 2 and not all players have the same priorities or desires. Some individuals prefer to stay in Japan for personal or professional reasons that outweigh competing against MLB talents.

Should Sasaki decide that he wants to pursue a career in North America, then he will have to make another important decision: How much is he interested in money? This is because the cruel irony of MLB’s rules for international free agents is that they discourage the world’s best players from joining the league as soon as possible.

Under the current agreement, players under the age of 25 (or with less than six years’ professional experience) are subject to the international bonus pool system, which also applies to genuine international amateur-free agents (such as the teens who sign each July 2nd). This policy greatly limits these players’ signing bonus potential and explains why Shohei Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels for less than the 30th pick in the draft despite being a phenomenon ready for major leagues.

Everything can be changed if MLB and the MLB Players Association accept an international draft. Let us for our sake assume that they do not. Sasaki had to figure out if he wanted to maximize his earnings. An affirmative answer would make him wait to take the plunge until after celebrating his 25th birthday and accumulating six years of professional experience, which puts him on his way to making his majors debut in 2027. Alternatively, he could request that his team “posts” him earlier than that. There is no guarantee that the Marines would commit.

There are, of course, fallible on all of this, but the sure assumption is that Sasaki is years away from being a realistic option for big league clubs.

8. How does the accounting system work?

It goes like this. NPB teams can “submit” a player for consideration in major leagues. MLB clubs then have 30 days to negotiate a deal with said player. If no contract can be agreed, the player returns to NPB. If the player obtains terms with an MLB team, then the NPB club receives a “release fee” based on the size of the contract. Basically, the system is in place so that big league teams cannot raid their overseas counterparts without these teams receiving some form of compensation in return.

To use a recent example, Seiya Suzuki’s contract with the Chicago Cubs is worth five years and $ 85 million. In accordance with the agreement between MLB and NPB, the Cubs were also to pay Hiroshima Toyo Carp a release fee of over $ 14.6 million.

Most of the NPB players who join the big ones do so through the posting system. To be an exception – and to be considered a true international free agent – an NPB player must have at least nine years of professional experience. These cases are rare, and it is highly unlikely that Sasaki will be one of them if he is to come to America.

9. What’s the story of Sasaki’s catcher?

As we noted in the introduction, Sasaki did a lot to praise his backstop, 18-year-old Kou Matsukawa, afterwards. “I think Matsukawa called a great game behind the record so I was able to just listen to him and make good pitches.” he said.

Sunday’s match marked just the seventh in Matsukawa’s professional career. He will not be celebrating his 19th birthday until October, and he only hits .167 / .167 / .250 in his first 26 record appearances. None of that meant on Sunday; the only thing that did was how his guidance from the squat helped Sasaki immortalize them both in baseball history.

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