A chance of scenery can revitalize a player’s career and turn a former disappointment into a catalyst on a playoff-contending team. Jose Bautista, Jake Arrieta, Max Muncy, and numerous others have not taken their additional opportunities for granted and have been driving forces on playoff teams for the past 10 years.
In a much smaller sample size, Yoshi Tsutsugo has channeled his former Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) success since signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates on August 15.
The 29-year-old spent most of his time with Yokohama, recording 205 home runs, 613 RBI, and hitting .285 with a .910 OPS in 10 seasons as one of Japan’s best power hitters.
Since signing a two-year, $12 million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays on December 16, 2019, Tsutsugo has yet to generate similar power production in the United States, until arriving in Pittsburgh.
Yoshi was traded from the Rays to the Los Angeles Dodgers in May after being designated for assignment, but only slapped three hits and two RBI in 25 MLB at-bats despite batting .257 with 10 homers and driving in 32 over 43 contests with AAA Oklahoma City.
A career below the Mendoza line hitter in the majors, Tsutsugo has seen time at first, third, left, right, and DH in 111 games recording a total .199 average, 15 home runs, 46 RBI, and .697 OPS in 316 at-bats, but the past may be in the past.
Over 22 games with the Pirates, Tsutsugo is slashing .286/.349/.768 with an eye-popping 1.117 OPS achieved in part to four doubles, a triple, seven home runs, and 16 RBI in only 56 at-bats. His seven cannonballs are fourth on the team, one away from being tied for second in less than 25 games.
The lefty batter has displayed a power surge over the last month easily driving the ball to gaps and over the fence. Despite a league average exit velocity and below-average hard-hit percentage, Tsutsugo has hit a ton of fly balls resulting in a chain reaction of fewer ground balls and more line drives.
His batted ball placement is average as well, with a low strikeout mark and an unsustainable number of home runs factoring into being an everyday threat in the lineup.
One knock on Tsutsugo has been a failure to catch up to the fastball and high-velocity pitchers. Of his seven Pirates longballs, four have come against the Cardinals and two against the Cubs.
Daniel Ponce de Leon
Outside of Reyes, the majority of these pitchers are either young players trying to prove themselves or older veterans who rely on breaking pitches to get outs. Their velocity is relatively slow compared to the new era of 95+ pitch speeds and elevated spin rates.
Obviously, Tsutsugo can’t control who’s pitching for the opposition and the type of repertoire they bring to the rubber, but it is still something to note when diving into Yoshi’s first strong stretch of big-league ball.
Persistent at-bats throughout the rest of 2021 will further prove if Tsutsugo has made an adjustment in his second year leading to a superior approach at the dish or if the stretch rivals brief Pirates folk hero John Nogowski as a AAAA player able to crush AAA pitching but not quite stick around in MLB.
He still needs time to prove himself despite being an enjoyable player to watch hit the ball over the fence considering his impressive strength. One extended hot streak could be the case for Tsutsugo, but he has earned his way into an end-of-season spot in the everyday order.
Tsutsugo could be a player to watch entering 2022 despite poor defensive abilities, with one of the most raw power bats on the 40-man roster.
Only time will tell if Yoshi can continue to smash his way into dependable plate appearances in Pittsburgh.