Kodai Senga

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Kodai Senga (千賀 滉大)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Kodai Senga pitched in Nippon Pro Baseball and for the Japanese national team before making his MLB debut in 2023.

The Softbank Hawks took Senga in the fourth round of the 2010 NPB draft; the scout was Kazuo Ogawa. Senga had a rough introduction to the Pacific League in 2012 - 0-1, 9.64 ERA, 7 H, 8 BB in 4 2/3 IP. By 2013, though, he was contributing as a reliever for the Hawks (1-4, Sv, 2.50 in 51 G, striking out 85 in 56 1/3 IP). He became the eighth pitcher in PL history to strike out four batters in an inning - Tetsuro Nishida, Ryo Hijirisawa, Yosuke Takasu and Andruw Jones. He made the PL team for the 2013 NPB All-Star Games and acquitted himself well, being named the top player on the PL in a game 2 loss. [1]

Senga battled shoulder problems that limited him to 19 games in 2014 (1-1, 1.99). He pitched four games, three starts, late in 2015 and was excellent at 2-1, 0.40. He got into two games in the 2015 Japan Series. In Game 3, he relieved Kenichi Nakata with a 4-3 lead in the 5th, one out and Tetsuto Yamada at the plate; Yamada had already homered off Nakata twice. He greeted Senga with another long ball, becoming the first player with three homers in a Japan Series game. Senga did not allow another hit in 2 1/3 innings that Series and Softbank took the title. [2]

By 2016, he had his first at-bat (the PL uses a DH, but he got to bat an interleague game) and also got his first hit, off Randy Messenger. As a member of Softbank's rotation for the full season for the first time, he was 12-3 with a 2.61 ERA and 181 whiffs in 169 innings. He finished third in the PL in ERA (behind Ayumu Ishikawa and Yusei Kikuchi [3]), tied Kikuchi for fourth in wins and was second to Takahiro Norimoto in both strikeouts and strikeouts per 9 innings. Had Shohei Otani qualified (he just missed), he would have been ahead of Senga in both ERA and K/9. He got one third-place vote for the 2016 Pacific League Most Valuable Player Award. [4]

Senga debuted for Samurai Japan with a relief win in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He took over for Toshiya Okada in the 6th against Australia with a 1-1 tie and tossed two shutout innings, allowing only one hit (to Tim Kennelly) and fanning four before Naoki Miyanishi took over. When Sho Nakata hit a home run in the 7th, that put Senga in position to get the decision in what would be a 4-1 victory. [5] He got his only start of the Classic against Israel and allowed only one hit (to Sam Fuld) and one walk in five shutout innings but was matched zero-for-zero by Josh Zeid; Japan rallied to win after Zeid and Senga had left. In the semifinals against eventual champion Team USA, he entered in the 7th, relieving Tomoyuki Sugano with a 1-1 tie. He struck out Eric Hosmer, Andrew McCutchen and [{Buster Posey]] in order in the 7th. In the 8th, he allowed his only run of the Classic, giving up a one-out single to Brandon Crawford, a double to Ian Kinsler and a run-scoring grounder to Adam Jones before whiffing Christian Yelich. It was enough to make him the losing hurler in a tough 2-1 defeat. For the Classic, he was 1-1 with a 0.82 ERA, one walk and 16 K in 11 IP. He tied Sugano for the WBC lead in strikeouts and joined Zeid and Marcus Stroman as the All-Star pitchers, the lone Japanese player picked for the 2017 All-Tournament team. [6] He was the fourth Japanese hurler to make a World Baseball Classic All-Tournament team, following Daisuke Matsuzaka (2006, 2009), Hisashi Iwakuma (2009) and Kenta Maeda (2013). South Korea was the only other country that had produced more than one All-Tournament pitcher, with two.

Starting 2017 NPB All-Star Game 1 for the PL, he walked Yoshio Itoi then retired six in a row - Takashi Toritani (K), Hayato Sakamoto, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Alex Guerrero (K), Seiya Suzuki and Takahiro Arai. [7] He was 13-4 with a 2.64 ERA in the 2017 PL. He tied Rick van den Hurk for 4th in wins, was 5th in strikeouts (151, between van den Hurk and Chihiro Kaneko) and 3rd in ERA (behind Kikuchi and Norimoto). [8] He was 9th in voting for the 2017 PL MVP, between Sho Iwasaki and Taisuke Yamaoka). [9] He started and won Game 1 of the 2017 Japan Series, beating Shoichi Ino and the Yokohama BayStars, allowing one unearned run in seven. The Hawks took the Series. [10]

He fell a bit, to 13-7, 3.51 in 2018. He still tied Shuta Ishikawa and Mike Bolsinger for third in the league in wins, was second with 163 K (24 behind Norimoto) and would have been fifth in ERA had he qualified. [11] On the other hand, he allowed 21 gopher balls to tie Takayuki Kishi, van den Hurk, Hirotoshi Takanashi and Yamaoka for the most in the loop. In the 2018 Japan Series, he again got the nod from Kimiyasu Kudoh to start the opener. He got a no-decision against the Hiroshima Carp and did the same in Game 5, finishing with a 4.15 ERA as Softbank won the Series in six games. [12]

The right-hander started Game 1 of the 2019 NPB All-Star Games for the PL, as he had two years prior. He allowed two hits and fanned three before Kohei Arihara relieved. [13] On September 6, he threw a no-hitter against the Chiba Lotte Marines, hitting 98.8 on the radar gun. [14] He had his third consecutive season of 13 wins, going 13-8 with a 2.79 ERA. He struck out 227 in 180 1/3 IP and allowed 134 hits but walked 75. He led the PL in innings (9 2/3 ahead of Yamaoka), walks (3 more than Tatsuya Imai), shutouts (2) and whiffs (66 more than runner-up Arihara). He tied Yamaoka for second in wins (two behind Arihara) while only Ryota Ishibashi allowed more dingers. He was third in ERA, behind Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Arihara. [15] He won the Gold Glove, made the Best Nine as the PL's top hurler and was 5th in voting for the 2019 PL MVP, between Shogo Akiyama and Zach Neal. [16] In the 2019 Japan Series, he was the game 1 starter yet again; this time, Softban faced the Yomiuri Giants. He allowed only three hits in seven innings (though one was a Shinnosuke Abe dinger) to beat Shun Yamaguchi as Softbank pulled off a "three-peat". [17] He was picked for Japan's team for the 2019 Premier 12 but withdrew due to shoulder issues. [18]

The Aichi native reached 1,000 career strikeouts in 2020, the fastest PL pitcher to that mark and second-fastest in NPB history following Kyuji Fujikawa. [19] He was 11-6 with a 2.14 ERA and 149 K in 121 IP in the COVID-19-shortened season. He tied Ishikawa for the win lead, tied Yamamoto for the most strikeouts and won the ERA title by .04 ahead of Yamamoto. [20] He also led with 57 walks, one more than Wataru Matsumoto, as control remained an issue. He was the first PL pitching Triple Crown winner since Kazumi Saitoh in 2006. He again won the Best Nine and Gold Glove and finished second in voting for the 2020 Pacific League Most Valuable Player Award, behind teammate Yuki Yanagita. [21] He started Game 1 of the 2020 Japan Series, the first pitcher to start four straight Japan Series openers since Tsuneo Horiuchi (1969-1972). [22] He pitched seven shutout innings (3 H, 3 BB, 6 K) before Liván Moinelo took over; he got the win over Sugano as the Hawks swept the Giants. [23]

Senga made Japan's team for the 2020 Olympics (held in '21 due to delays due to the COVID-19 delay). He debuted against Team USA, relieving Koyo Aoyagi in the 6th with a 6-5 deficit. He struck out Nick Allen, Jamie Westbrook and Eddy Alvarez. In the 7th, he got Tyler Austin on a fly. Triston Casas doubled, Todd Frazier whiffed, Eric Filia walked and Mark Kolozsvary struck out. Yasuaki Yamasaki relieved as Japan rallied to win. In the Gold Medal Game, he relieved Masato Morishita in the 6th with a 2-0 lead over the US. He walked Austin, got Casas on a fly, struck out Frazier, hit Filia and retired Jamie Westbrook. Hiromi Itoh then took over; Japan wound up with a five-pitcher shutout. [24] He had a 10-3, 2.66 record in 2021 with 90 K in 84 2/3 IP. He tied for 6th in wins.

The veteran went 11-6 with a 1.94 ERA and 156 K in 144 IP in 2022, hitting a new peak of 101.9 mph. [25] He missed some time due to COVID-19. [26] He was second in ERA (.26 behind Yamamoto), tied Hiroya Miyagi for third in wins and was third in strikeouts (behind Yamamoto and Roki Sasaki). [27] He was 6th in voting for the 2022 PL MVP, between Yanagita and Go Matsumoto. [28]

Following the 2022 season, he indicated his interest in playing in Major League Baseball. Having just turned 30, he could do so as an international free agent and not via the posting system, which made him interesting to a number of teams looking for pitching. On December 10th, news sources reported that he had come to an agreement with the New York Mets on a five-year contract worth $75 million, although he needed to pass a physical examination before the deal was officially announced. This capped a week during which the Mets added fellow starting pitchers Justin Verlander and José Quintana as free agents, as well as reliever David Robertson and re-signed OF Brandon Nimmo. [29] He made his much anticipated debut on April 2nd as the Mets' starting pitcher against the Miami Marlins. He was nervous at first, giving up hits to the first two batters he faced while also throwing a wild pitch, then issuing a couple of walks before settling down by striking out Yuli Gurriel for his first career out. That started a string of retiring 15 of 17 batters, including seven others via strikeout, and he left after 5 1/3 innings, receiving credit for his team's 5-1 win. He was named to play in the 2023 All-Star Game then after the season was named to the 2023 MLB All-Rookie Team. He finished the year at 12-7, 2.98 in 29 starts, with 202 strikeouts in 166 1/3 innings. His ERA placed him second in the National League, behind only Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, while he was 8th in strikeouts.

Expectations were high heading into 2024 after his successful rookie season, but the Mets got some bad news just as spring training started as he was placed on the injured list with a posterior capsule strain in his right shoulder. He was certain to miss the start of the season, and probably much more as the team was unwilling to provide a timeline for his return.

Notable Achievements[edit]


Further Reading[edit]

  • David Adler: "Why Senga should be in Cy Young conversation", mlb.com, September 7, 2023. [1]
  • Anthony DiComo: "Mets, Senga reach 5-year, $75M deal", mlb.com, December 11, 2022. [2]
  • Anthony DiComo: "Flashing ghost forkball, Senga pushing hard in mound transition: Japanese star embracing challenges, acclimating to America early in camp", mlb.com, February 16, 2023. [3]
  • Anthony DiComo: "'As advertised,' Senga K's 8, gets 'W' in MLB debut", mlb.com, April 2, 2023. [4]
  • Brian Murphy: "Japanese ace Senga ready to explore MLB free agency", mlb.com, October 31, 2022. [5]

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