How will Kodai Senga's skills translate from Japan to MLB?
Kodai Senga walked around Times Square in the crisp air and took in other parts of Manhattan, just like so many tourists. It was mid-November, but it wasn’t a vacation for this man from Japan. This was a recruiting visit.
The Mets were selling something: themselves.
“We talked about some of the tools that we have and some of the personnel that we’ve added, and just how we would kind of take care of him, for lack of a better word, just the support system around him,” general manager Billy Eppler said. “That was essentially the sales pitch.”
Senga was buying. He took a $75 million deal to pitch for the Mets.
The 29-year-old righthanded starting pitcher experienced his introductory meet-the-media session Monday at Citi Field. He made a statement and answered a few questions in English, but he mostly leaned on an interpreter.
Eppler took questions, too. But the biggest question remains to be answered:
How will Senga’s skills translate from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball to Major League Baseball?
Owner Steve Cohen and Eppler are banking that the answer will turn out to be "very well.''
They gave Senga a five-year contract — with an opt-out after three seasons — to be a new pillar in a rotation that has undergone a heavy makeover.
Senga’s stats stood out across 11 NPB seasons with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Overall, he went 87-44 with a 2.59 ERA and a strikeout rate of 10.3 per nine innings. He was 11-6 with a 1.94 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP in 2022.
The three-time All-Star brings along a signature pitch that has served him well. Hitters are about to meet the “Ghost Fork.”
“I’m excited to see it,” Eppler said. “I know the bottom falls out of it, comes out of the hand looking like a fastball. So it will be interesting to see how he acclimates.
“Let’s not forget there’s a lot of acclimation that comes with a pitcher coming from the NPB or coming from any foreign league. Our travel is different. Our strike zone is different. Our mounds are different. Our balls are different. And our hitters are different.”
The start frequency also is different — generally every five days instead of once per week.
“Instead of forcing the way I was in Japan over here, I want to really absorb everything I can from people to learn to adjust to be here,” Senga said.
Pitching in New York also is different. So is living here.
“The biggest challenge will probably be getting used to the culture here in New York,” Senga said.
The Mets scouted Senga for several years. Eppler, who first became aware of him in 2013, isn’t enthused only about Senga’s “impact-level pitches,” in the GM's words. He also likes Senga’s experience, toughness, work ethic, drive and resiliency, noting he worked his way up from a developmental league and became a big-game pitcher.
Senga pitched for six Japan Series title teams, including four straight from 2017-20.
“He knows what it takes to win,” Eppler said.
Buck Showalter joined Eppler and a few others in that meeting with Senga last month, and the manager made an immediate impression.
“At first, I thought he had a really intimidating face,” Senga said. “But after that, getting to talk to him, he was cracking jokes. I realized how comfortable I could be around someone like that.”
Soon enough, Showalter will see if he has the same great pitcher with the Mets or if something is lost in the translation.
“I understand I got a good contract here,” Senga said in Japanese. “I definitely want to live up to that for the fans and everyone here.”