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Pirates roll the dice on former Japanese star Yoshi Tsutsugo

Yoshi Tsutsugo can’t catch a break in the MLB... or can he?

Pittsburgh Pirates v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

For a player that was once regarded as one of the next great power hitters, Yoshitomo “Yoshi” Tsutsugo has had his fair share of struggles when it comes to fitting into the Major Leagues. While it’s not clear what led to his demise, but he has a chance to revitalize himself once again as the Pittsburgh Pirates signed him over the weekend.

Yuki Yamada of Senkai Sports first announced the deal in a tweet Sunday afternoon, and MLB insider Jon Heyman confirmed reports shortly after.

After being designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this year, the 29-year-old Japanese-born first baseman was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for either a PTBNL or cash considerations after posting a .167/.244/.218 line in just 26 games. The change of scenery wouldn’t benefit him as he regressed to .120/.290/.120 in 12 games with the Dodgers, according to Baseball Reference.

Needless to say, Los Angeles designated him for assignment following this stint.

We already know Ben Cherington is all for giving players second chances due to his recent slew of signings (i.e. Ka’ai Tom, John Nogowski, etc.), so it’s not surprising seeing him go after Tsutsugo.

Cherington sees the potential Tsutsugo has in the tank, especially given his numbers with the Nippon Baseball League . He hit .285/.382/.528 with more than 200 home runs in 4000 plate appearances. As part of those 200 home runs, Tsutsugo collected a career-high 44 in 2016.

One of Tsutsugo’s primary factors is his ability to hit for power - something the Pirates have struggled to do in 2021 - as he has collected a 44.4 percent hard-hit rate in his MLB career. He struggled at times, however, with getting pop off the bat. His average exit velocity with Tampa Bay in 2021 has not surpassed 89 miles per hour, but he was able to improve that in Los Angeles with a 91.5 average.

In both of his hits so far with Pittsburgh, he averaged out at 91.8 miles per hour.

The move to the NL Central could benefit Tsutsugo, as pitchers in the division don’t have as much velocity as those from the AL East and NL West, which was something many questioned when Tsutsugo first came to the MLB.

At a glance, New York, Boston and, at times, Toronto have pitchers that can reach high levels of speed behind their pitches, and so can those on San Diego, San Francisco and Colorado.

In the NL Central, the fastest starting pitchers include Luis Castillo (CIN), Carlos Martinez (STL), and Corbin Burnes (MIL).

With Tsutsugo finding a place where pitch speeds are significantly lower, he could find the groove he had in Japan. That is, if he’s not a pure bust, which could be possible.

In a rebuilding period, it’s worth giving him a shot to bring himself back to relevancy. If he fails, it’s not the end of the world, nor is it a drag on the team’s payroll. He’s already collected two hits in five at-bats for the Pirates, so who knows what the future holds for him with Pittsburgh.