Behind Yuki Matsui’s early MLB dominance

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Credit: USA Today Sports

In a season that has showcased immense inconsistency, rookie Yuki Matsui remains a bright spot coming out of the Padres bullpen.

Unlike the typical high-leverage reliever in the back end of a team’s bullpen, the petite 28-year-old southpaw stands at just 5 feet 8 inches.

However, Matsui uses all 165 pounds of his frame to perplex hitters by pairing his fastball, which tops out in the mid-90s, with his splitter, curveball, and slider, the latter of which averages 31 inches of vertical and 24 inches of horizontal movement.

On April 30 against the Cincinnati Reds, Matsui’s slider generated four whiffs (67%), a testament to his disgusting Swing-and-Miss stuff.

In his first MLB season after 10 seasons in the NPB, the lefty leads the National League with 16 appearances and sports an impressive 2.35 ERA over 15.1 innings.

Matsui’s 1.109 WHIP manifests his pinpoint command and ability to limit walks, which carried him to his career 2.40 ERA in 659.2 frames in Japan.

Remarkably, Matsui became the youngest pitcher to reach 200 saves at 27 years and five months in NPB history.

What is clear is that Matsui’s success has carried over from Japan, something a number of foreign players struggle to replicate in their first years in MLB.

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The question becomes: what specific aspects of Matsui’s game that devastated hitters in Japan have carried into his early MLB success?

While many southpaws struggle with limiting hits to right-handed batters, Matsui continues to plague righties, flattening them to a rough .152 average and .482 OPS

Furthermore, hitters unlucky enough to find themselves in a left-on-left matchup with Matsui currently bat just .211 with a .501 OPS.

Behind his dominance against batters on either side of the plate is his .229 opponent weighted on-base average, ranking in the top 10% of baseball.

wOBA is a more precise measurement of on-base percentage as it uniquely factors the way a player reached based in its calculation. For example, a double is worth more than a single, as it is more likely to result in a run.

In the pitching context, the statistic measures the magnitude of opposing batters reaching base on scoring runs. As a result, Matsui’s .229 wOBA manifests how the southpaw limits hard contact and, as a consequence, extra-base hits.

As a whole, Matsui has yet to allow a home run, and opponents have notched just two extra-base hits in the early goings.

Unsurprisingly, the hurler allowed just 31 round-trippers in his entire NPB career and pitched to a ridiculous 0.4 HR/9.

After a much-needed series win against the Reds in which both the offense and pitching executed in the rubber match, the bullpen must continue to perform with positive momentum.

Emerging star Yuki Matsui will certainly continue to shine in the late innings.

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