Are the Colorado Rockies really a fit for Yusei Kikuchi?

Sep 12, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi (18) throws against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fourth inning at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 12, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi (18) throws against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fourth inning at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Colorado Rockies could use another veteran pitcher in their rotation. Could Yusei Kikuchi be a potential fit?

When Jim Bowden of The Athletic penned his latest look at Major League Baseball free agents and potential best fits for them (subscription required), he listed the potential best fits for Kikuchi as the Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, and the Colorado Rockies.

Does free agent starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi make sense for the Colorado Rockies to pursue after the MLB lockout ends?

While, on the surface, Kikuchi could be a fit for the Rockies, it’s also a fit that doesn’t appear to be a perfect one.

The 30-year-old Kikuchi has pitched for the last three seasons for the Seattle Mariners, logging a combined 4.97 ERA in 70 starts covering 365.2 innings. Last season was his strongest with the Mariners, earning an All-Star bid as he posted a 3.48 ERA in 16 starts as opponents hit .204 against him. After the All-Star Game, however, Kikuchi struggled, logging a 5.98 ERA in 13 starts as opponents hit .300.

In his last seven starts, the ERA rose to 7.24 as his WHIP ballooned to 1.83 during that span.

MLBTradeRumors.com is predicting that Kikuchi will sign a two-year, $20 million deal. Would he be worth that for the Rockies? As Bowden says in his article, Kikuchi is one of two starters left on the open market (along with Carlos Rodón) who throws more than 95 mph. He also writes, “He’s generated significant interest in free agency because of the upside that comes with his raw stuff.”

That upside is a gamble for a Rockies team that in recent years hasn’t paid big sums for starting pitching (although let’s not forget the report that the Rockies “pursued” free agent starting pitchers Steven Matz and Alex Wood before they signed with other teams prior to the lockout). It’s also a gamble with Kikuchi seeing his hard hit rate last season at 47.2 percent, well above the MLB average of 39.2. However, the southpaw was also above the MLB average last season in ground ball rate, clocking in at 48.9 percent (average is 42.7 percent), which could play well at Coors Field.

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With the fifth starter slot open for competition and the Rockies still needing to find a way to replace Jon Gray in the rotation, Kikuchi could provide an interesting option. However, for the price, struggles by Kikuchi on the mound to end the 2021 campaign, and questions about harnessing his full potential, Colorado will likely steer clear of this pitching option.

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