It’s not unusual to see a Thai restaurant. In fact, it’s estimated that there are over 5,000 spread throughout the United States. You likely pass by many of them every single day. Likewise, it’s not unusual to see a restaurant with cute little cafe lights strung over the sidewalk. Google wasn’t able to give me an estimate of how many of those there are, but you see them all over the place, too.
Nevertheless, I have a distinct memory of driving through Midtown Manhattan in the backseat of a cab one night, passing by a Thai restaurant with cute little cafe lights strung over the sidewalk, and flipping out at the sight of it. Ooo lights! Words I don’t know! What is that? So interesting! I must go there!
This was a standard neighborhood Thai joint, the type of place that delivers $15 plastic containers of Pad Thai around the surrounding area every night while doing little dining room service. There was nothing particularly special or interesting about it. And moreover, given how close it was to my apartment, I’d probably passed by it close to a hundred times without ever remarking upon it before.
And yet, on that particular night, seeing this Thai restaurant fired the synapses of my brain in a way that had never happened any of the other times I saw it. And I’m pretty sure I know why: I had just spent two weeks in India, and I was at that very moment driving back home from the airport.
Being in a foreign country changes the way your brain works, and my brain was still in India-mode when I passed by that restaurant. In a foreign country, you are on alert for everything. You take in everything. Your senses are heightened to the world around you in a way they simply aren’t at home, when you pass by the same people and places day after day, eventually becoming numb to your all-too-familiar surroundings
This is a wonderful thing! It’s why travel is so exhilarating.
But it’s also exhausting. It’s mentally and emotionally draining to constantly be bombarded with something new and different. It takes a real physical toll.
And it’s for this reason that we should never, ever read a damn thing into a Japanese player’s first month of Major League Baseball. This is now an OTM rule.
Masataka Yoshida had a pretty rough start to the season. After 13 games he was slashing a bizarre and bad .167/.310/.250. He had collected only two extra base hits, and the way he was hitting prompted you to wonder whether NPB gives out an award for the league leader in ground balls to second base.
But Masataka Yoshida was also, I am willing to bet, flipping out every time he passed by a Dunkin’ Donuts on Huntington Ave. Oooo, another one of those pink and orange places! That one smells good! Coolata! That’s fun to say! Coooooolaatttta!
That’s just what it is to be flung into a foreign culture. On top of facing pitchers he’d never seen before, getting to know his teammates, getting settled in a new city, constantly being surrounded by people he can’t even communicate with, and dealing with a nagging hamstring, he also has to deal with the mental exhaustion of being in a new country. He’s been on edge, on alert, his senses all too open to every little thing that surrounds him. For the past two months, Yoshida hasn't experienced ANYTHING mundane. And, frankly, we all need a little bit of the mundane to survive. The world would be just too much to take in without it.
But now it’s safe to say that Yoshida’s adjustment period is over. We as Red Sox fans finally know who he is as a hitter, and it is glorious.
Let’s see what it looks like in colorful graph form!
First , here’s a chart of every batted ball Yoshida hit before he started his current 13-game hitting streak.
Yuck! Just three measly line drives and more grey than a Just For Men commercial. [Ed Note: so it turns out that Dan is really bad at seeing colors. Like really bad. So just pretend he wrote something like “more magenta than your aunt’s lipstick kisses,” or maybe “more magenta than a printer that’s used up its yellow and cyan.” I don’t know, we can workshop it.]
And here’s what his batted ball profile has looked like over the past 13 games:
There we go! That’s a dude who’s spraying the ball. While he’d started the year rolling over one outside fastball after another, he’s now adjusted to the point where he’s hitting pitches on the outer third of the plate harder than pitches anywhere else in the zone:
And check out the difference in his spray chart that’s resulted from his improved approach (first 13 games on the top, subsequent 13 games on the bottom):
That’s the spray chart of a guy who is going to absolutely hammer the Monster.
And really, it shouldn't be a surprise that it took him some time to get going. It’s happened to other elite Japanese hitters who came before him. Hideki Matsui’s OPS sat below .700 for the first 32 games of his big league career, during which he hit just 2 home runs. Thereafter, he put up an OPS of .813 with 14 homers, before exploding with 31 homers the next season. Ichiro didn’t exactly slump out of the gate (he is a hitting genius, after all) but even he put up an OPS of just .789 in his first month in the Majors compared to .848 the rest of the year.
Playing Major League Baseball and adjusting to life in a foreign country are two very difficult things. Masataka Yoshida is being forced to do both at the same time. And remember, he didn’t even get much time down in Florida this spring, thanks to the World Baseball Classic.
After turning things around, his 162-game average now sits at .303/.391/.515 with 31 home runs, 37 doubles, and 81 walks to just 69 strike outs. Is he actually going to finish the year with numbers that good? That’s the stat line of a guy who gets MVP votes, and there weren’t a lot of people who were quite that high on him at the start of the season. But who knows? He still hasn’t had more than 5 at-bats against any one pitcher. He still hasn’t gotten to play in consistently warm weather. He probably hasn’t even tried a coolatta yet!
Give him a chance to really get used to big league life and then let’s see what happens. The Macho Man has arrived, and it is a wonderful thing.