Yankees Could Look Overseas for Starting Pitching Depth

Tomoyuki Sugano

With three starting pitchers currently on the free agent market, the New York Yankees’ rotation is an area to address in the offseason. While there is a bevy of options available, expect the team to do their due diligence on Tomoyuki Sugano. Sugano, a 31-year old right-handed pitcher, is rumored to be getting posted by the Yomiuri Giants.

Sugano is an eight-year veteran of the Giants in the Nippon Baseball League. He is a two-time recipient of the Sawamura award, NPB’s equivalent of the Cy Young award. Although he is 31, he brings an impressive resume that is peaking the interest of MLB general managers after going 14-2 with a 1.97 ERA and 0.888 WHIP in 2020.

“Sugano is, probably, in the minds of some [general managers] in that class right below Bauer in terms of the appeal there,” MLB Network’s Jon Morosi said on Hot Stove Monday morning.

The Yankees need more starting pitching, and Sugano has shown potential to contribute as part of a MLB rotation. The Japanese product features a diverse pitch mix. His fastball averages 92-93 MPH, and he has multiple breaking balls that have good spin and a splitter that flashes plus depth.

In 2019, Will Hoefer of Sports Info Solutions, profiled him as a number-four MLB starter. However, that was also in the midst of the worst seasons of his career when his velocity was down and his home run rate spiked. In 2020, he rebounded to produce one of the best seasons of his career with some of those numbers correcting.

Sugano Career

Tomoyuki Sugano has compiled an impressive career overseas. For his career, he has a 101-50 record, a 2.23 ERA, and a 1.035 WHIP. He has three seasons with a sub-2.00 ERA, and his ERA in a given season has gone above 2.14 once since 2015. He has pitched well above league average in all of those seasons, with the exception of 2019. In that season, his 3.89 ERA was identical to the league average.

Sugano’s stuff has led to a K/9 of 8.0 for his career, and he shows great control with a 4.59 K/BB ratio.

There are plenty of examples of pitchers coming to MLB from NPB, with mixed results. Sugano’s track record bodes confidence, and he has shown flashes of what he is capable of against MLB players.

In a start against Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, Sugano allowed one unearned run while striking out six and walking one in six innings. The performance caught the attention of Jim Leyland and Andrew McCutchen who offered their praises. Leyland went as far as calling Sugano a “big league pitcher.”

Fit With Yankees

Morosi feels that National League teams on the West Coast make sense for Sugano. Regardless, he does not rule out the Yankees involvement in the process.

“We’re not sure if the Yankees are going to bring back Masahiro Tanaka,” Morosi said. “Sugano is younger, really good repertoire there. A lot of scouting interest in Sugano, so perhaps if Tanaka signs elsewhere, the Yankees replace him with Tomoyuki Sugano.”

Additionally, he brings great durability. He has thrown 37 complete games and 20 shutouts in his career. His average length per start sits a tad under the seven innings per appearance. The caveat is that NPB pitchers typically pitch in six-man rotations as opposed to the five-man  rotation used in MLB. Regardless, the Yankees expect to rely on lot of younger pitchers in 2021 without a lot of innings on their arms, and it will be beneficial to have another arm with experience pitching deep into games after Gerrit Cole.

In fact, out of Jordan Montgomery, Domingo German, Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, and Michael King, five candidates vying for the rotation, only Montgomery, German, and King have reached 150 innings pitched in a professional season doing so once each. Montgomery has not reached the mark since 2017 because of injuries while German did not pitch in 2020. Meanwhile, King could not secure a starting rotation spot, pitching to a 7.76 ERA between the bullpen and rotation.

Sugano exceeded that mark in his first six seasons, and he finished with 137 1/3 innings in a 2020 season abbreviated by ten weeks. Someone with Sugano’s experience would be a plus for the Yankees’ rotation.

Making A Run

The Yankees have experience in pursuing pitchers that come out of Japan. Tanaka’s seven years with the team saw him earn two All-Star selections and produce numerous clutch postseason performances. They also made a run at Shohei Ohtani ahead of the 2018 season, but Ohtani opted for the Los Angeles Angels.

After the abbreviated season led to a significant drop in revenues, the Yankees are reportedly looking to get under the luxury tax threshold.

There is no speculation on how much it will take to sign Sugano, but given his age, he will probably not command a contract that would put the Yankees in luxury tax trouble, as good as he has been. For reference, Shun Yamaguchi was posted after 2019, also at age 31 but without the same pedigree, and he earned a two year, $9,150,000 contract from the Toronto Blue Jays. Meanwhile, Tanaka signed at age 24 for seven years and $155,000,000. Because of his age and experience, Ohtani signed a minor league deal at 22 years old, and he has been making the league minimums while working towards arbitration. There is no guarantee on how much it will cost to sign a pitcher from Japan.

The Yankees are looking to rebuild their starting rotation. Given the available free agents and the pedigree of Sugano, looking overseas may be a viable option.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images