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Meet The New Guy: Masataka Yoshida

The Red Sox have a new leadoff hitter.

Who Is He And Where Did He Come From?

He’s Masataka Yoshida, and the Red Sox just signed him to a 5-year, $90 million deal, on top of a $15.4 million posting fee paid to the Orix Buffalos (Ichiro’s old team, BTW, though at the time he played there, they went by the much cooler name of the Orix Blue Wave). He’s been a star in Japan and, for whatever it’s worth, he freaking idolizes Bryce Harper. Like, it’s not enough for him to just wear Harper’s #34, he has to go and do stuff like this:

What Position Does He Play?

He’s a left fielder, and, defensively speaking, he’s not known as a particularly good one. But it’s worth noting that, per Defensive Runs Saved, he was graded as above average going forward, but below average going back, so playing him in front of the Monster seems like it could optimize his defensive potential.

Is He Any Good?

Well, the first thing to know about him is that he is a plate discipline God. He has not put up an OBP under .400 since his rookie season. He also has elite contact skills, as, over the past two seasons, he’s struck out just 68 times. For reference, the Major League hitter with the fewest strikeouts over the last two seasons is Luis Arraez with 91 (though there’s a caveat here, in that the Japanese season is slightly shorter than its MLB equivalent; Arraez played an additional 36 games over those 2 years). He’s not a massive power hitter (he’s never hit 30 home runs in a season), but he has enough power complementing his on-base skills that he’s led the Pacific League in OPS each of the past two seasons. What’s more, he put those numbers up while reportedly being shifted quite a bit, which is less common in Japan than it has been in recent years in the States and, of course, will be banned next season.

Here’s some praise from former teammate Adam Jones that probably won’t lead to anyone overreacting at all:

I say he’s like the Japanese Juan Soto. He can hit the ball to all fields, all speeds. Like Juan Soto, he hits everything — and walks. He doesn’t swing out of the zone.

Okay! Sounds pretty good!

But here’s the thing, the ultimately unsatisfying answer to the question of “is he any good” is: we don’t know. Take the internet time machine back 12 months and you’ll find all sorts of praise about Seiya Suzuki that he hasn’t lived up to yet. Take it back even further and you’ll find countless people convinced that Ichiro would never make it in the big leagues. When it comes to hitters making the transition from NPB to MLB, we just don’t know.

The popular response to question of “how good is NPB” is to say that it’s somewhere between AAA and the big leagues, but that’s a reductive answer. There was no one in AAA who was good as Yu Darvish was before he came over, and the same was true with Hideki Matsui, and, certainly, Shohei Ohtani. The fact is that NPB contains some of the absolute best baseball players in the world, while simultaneously containing players who couldn’t make a big league roster. We don’t yet know where on that spectrum Yoshida falls, and we likely won’t know for a while.

Uncertainly is frustrating, and we don’t like it because it forces us to confront the reality that we have less control over the universe and our place in it than we like to imagine. But sorry, that’s just what comes along with being a human on planet Earth.

Show Me A Cool Highlight

It doesn’t get any cooler than a walk-off home run in the championship series, does it?

What’s He Doing In His Picture Up There?

Sternly reminding his bat that he doesn’t care how cool it looks, if it doesn’t get some damn hits soon, it’s going in the fireplace.

What’s His Role On the 2023 Red Sox?

He’s probably going to start the season leading off and playing left field, though he’s likely to see a lot of time at DH, as well. What this means for Alex Verdugo remains to be seen.