Mets meet with Kodai Senga, the Japanese star with a big fastball, ‘nasty’ splitter

The Mets recently had their much anticipated meeting with Japanese star free agent starting pitcher Kodai Seng in New York and it went well, industry sources said.

Several scouts and executives say Senga, a right-hander who will turn 30 in January, has the stuff to be a quality major league starter. He is coming off another great season with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball in which he went 11-6 with a 1.94 ERA. In 11 seasons in NPB, he has a 2.42 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings.

The Mets are one of several teams interested in Senga. But they make sense as a potential match for several reasons. One thing to keep in mind, industry sources say, is Mets GM Billy Eppler’s experience scouting and making good selections when it comes to Japanese pitchers. Masahiro Tanaka and Shohei Ohtani are two prime examples. The combination of Eppler’s experience and the resources owner Steve Cohen has invested in pitching development makes the Mets an intriguing team to recruit Senga.

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Additionally, the Mets have openings in their rotation. Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker are free agents.

The question is how much Seng is worth and whether he’s better than the Mets’ other hole candidates.

Some who have scouted Senga have been impressed with a fastball that can hit triple digits combined with an overturning splitter. The problem is that he will probably need to develop his third ball or breaking ball better. Still, a few found it impressive that in order to better prepare for the move to MLB, he had already started working with Driveline Baseball and becoming literate in advanced stats and metrics for pitchers; Japan is said to be behind when it comes to such pitching developments.

“He definitely has some good stuff,” said Brian O’Grady, a former Padres outfielder who spent 2022 playing for the Saitama Seibu Lions.

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O’Grady only had a handful of plate appearances against Senga — including a home run, a couple of walks and a strikeout — but he said he could definitely see Senga becoming at least a solid starter in the majors, even if there is some sort of expected adjustment as he pitches in new environment.

“It’s got a legit velo with some wear,” O’Grady said. “The manifold is also nasty. That combo is tough on hitters because the splitter starts so high that it can force you to chase a high fastball or splitter down. That makes it special.”

Senga is said to be interested in playing for a big-market team that is in a position to win and develop pitchers. It says something about him, some in the industry said, that he made it a point to personally conduct meetings across the United States rather than have teams come to him in one location. It was the first time he had been to New York, for example. It is not known how long it will take for Senga, who has no release deadline, to sign with any of the several teams that have shown interest in him.

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FanGraphs projected Senga’s salary to be around four years and $60 million. From an AAV standpoint, that’s a little less than the projection for someone like Bassitt (three years, $51 million). This should not be interpreted as a choice between them, only as an example. Another example is Walker who signed up at three years for $39 million. That’s where Eppler’s market expertise should be of value to New York. The Mets are casting a wide net for pitching help and will undoubtedly face some tough calls along the way. Maybe Senga will be one of them.

(2021 photo of Senga: Kyodo via Associated Press)



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