Kodai Senga had a very shaky start to his MLB career in his first start on Sunday against the Marlins in Miami, giving up a single, wild pitch, double and two walks to face a bases-loaded, nobody-out, one-run-in jam. He then struck out Yuli Gurriel and Jesus Sanchez with his nasty forkball, nicknamed “ghost fork” in Japan, before getting Jon Berti to line out to limit the damage to just one run.
The 30-year-old right-hander went on for a successful debut for the Mets, allowing just the one run with eight strikeouts in 5.1 innings to pick up the win.
Senga was as advertised in spring training, posting 10 Ks in 9 IP and only 6 hits allowed, but 5 walks contributed to a 4.00 ERA.
Signed for five years and $75 million in December of 2021, he was penciled into the rotation from the start and it was never even a consideration that he start in the minor leagues.
Senga reached Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball as a 19-year-old in 2012 for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, becoming an excellent reliever for the next two seasons before starting to move to starting in 2015. Softbank won five of the next Japan Series championships with Senga as the ace. He posted a career 2.59 ERA with 1,252 strikeouts in 1,089 innings in his 11 seasons for Softbank.
So what can we expect from the 6-foot-1, 202-pound pitcher in his rookie season? Looking at his ATC projection, Senga is expected to have a tremendous rookie season with 10 wins, 158 strikeouts, 3.76 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in 148 innings. We’re betting that if Senga can get to more like 170 innings, it will be with 12 wins, 3.50 ERA, 190 strikeouts and a 1.22 WHIP.
Injuries are the main worry for Senga, who was sidelined by a sore elbow last season and struggled with tendinitis in his right index finger during spring training. Pitching in a six-man rotation in Japan, there’s always worries about pitchers’ durability when coming over to MLB. As long as he’s healthy, Senga should be able to stay in the rotation all season for New York, even if there is some managing of his workload so as to keep him fresh for the pennant race and possible postseason play.
As for the long-term future, Senga has the pure stuff to develop into an ace, especially pitching for the Mets with their strong overall team and pitcher-friendly ballpark. His 60-grade fastball averaged 96.8 mph in his first start and the 60-grade forkball can be a dominant strikeout pitch. Getting the most out of his 50-grade cutter and show-me slider would help him reach his ceiling as a sub-3.00 ERA, 200-strikeout stud.