Player Profile: Kyuji Fujikawa
If I had to pick a guy from Japan to take on a MLB team, I’d have to go with Yu Darvish. But if I didn’t want to shell out the bucks for Darvish, Hanshin Tigers closer Kyuji Fujikawa would be my pick.
Kyuji hasn’t gotten the same level of media attention as Darvish has, for good reason — he’s older (28), he’s a relief pitcher, he suffered from injuries early in his career, and he hasn’t played for a Japan Series winner yet. But Kyuji is in the fourth year of probably the most dominant run for a relief pitcher in NPB history. And given that NPB relief pitchers have a solid track record of MLB success, Kyuji might be a little bit of a safer bet anyway.
Kyuji’s numbers are pretty mindblowing. This season, he’s 2-1, with a 0.88 era and 23 saves. But Kyuji’s trademark is his ability to strike guys out, and he ranks ninth overall in the Central League with 50 K’s. In 30 innings. For comparison’s sake, the eight guys that are ahead of him are all starters and have pitched at least 65 innings. Kyuji’s strikeout numbers have been amazing for the last four years:
Other achievements include a 47 2/3 inning shutout streak in 2006, and tying the Japan record with 46 saves last season.
Kyuji’s primary weapon is a hard fastball with a rising action (looks like a 4-seamer). He usually sits at 92-93 but can gun it up to 95 on occasion. He also has a forkball with a sharp break that throws infrequently. Kyuji isn’t afraid of challenging batters and misses a lot of bats.
Kyuji requested to be posted to be the major leagues last off-season but his request was summarily denied by Hanshin’ management, who stated he was too important to the team’s competitiveness. Three major leaguers have come from Hashin: Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Keiichi Yabu, and Kei Igawa. Of the three, only Igawa was posted and according to Hanshin’s management he was an extreme exception (sports-navi, in Japanese). Injuries cost Kyuji roster time early in his career, so he won’t reach free agency for 3-4 more years. If he’s coming to MLB any time soon, it will be via the posting system. What happens next will depend on what Hanshin values more highly: the $10-15MM posting fee Kyuji is likely to attract, or having him on the team for 3-4 more years.
Kyuji Fujikawa on YouTube (in Japanese):
Kyuji vs Kevin Youklis (starts 30sec in)