The signing of Masataka Yoshida was one of the biggest storylines of the Red Sox’s offseason. The club gave Yoshida a five-year, $90 million contract and paid an additional $15.4 million posting fee to his Japanese team, the Orix Buffaloes. After the signing, there was a lot of talk that the Red Sox had overpaid for the outfielder.
Yoshida put an end to some of that speculation with his performance in the World Baseball Classic. For many MLB fans, the WBC was the first time they got to see Yoshida play, and he did not disappoint. He delivered clutch plate appearances and set a WBC record with 13 RBIs.
Despite his WBC success, coming to MLB from Japan must have been a major adjustment for Yoshida. Language and cultural differences aside, there is also a difference in the style of play. Yoshida’s time with the Red Sox was limited during spring training, and you could see he was still in the transition process as the season started.
Yoshida batted .167 with a .560 OPS through his first 13 games, and his launch angle (-9 degrees) and average exit velocity (85.4 mph) were below league average. Considering the difference in MLB and NPB pitching styles, it makes sense Yoshida struggled early.
MLB pitchers throw the ball much harder, on average, and work in a different way than Yoshida is accustomed to. A player’s ability to hit an MLB-caliber fastball is always one of the biggest concerns when they transfer from NPB to MLB.
Despite some of his woes at the plate, Yoshida had one of the lowest chase rates (18.6%) in the league to start the season.
“He swings at the right ones,” manager Alex Cora said. “There are some adjustments, and there’s things that he knows he needs to do to start hitting the ball hard in the air.”
The necessary adjustment came from Red Sox hitting coach Peter Fatse, who suggested Yoshida needed to open up his stance more. By shifting his right foot, Yoshida can read pitches better and react faster.
Since debuting the new stance, Yoshida is 11-for-23 in the Red Sox’s last six games with eight RBIs and three home runs.
Two of those home runs (including a grand slam) were hit in the eighth inning of the Red Sox’s victory over the Brewers on Sunday. Yoshida became one of only 58 MLB players to have had a multi-home run inning and the first Japanese-born player ever to accomplish the feat.
“I felt more comfortable in this series,” Yoshida said via a translator after the game. “I talked to the hitting coach about my mechanics and hitting form and found a better one…I feel more comfortable with the timing.”
There’s a lot of season left to play, but Yoshida’s recent performance is a good sign he’s starting to settle in. As he continues to get comfortable, his performance at the plate should continue to improve.