How Yusei Kikuchi is emulating Robbie Ray and why it’s working

Yusei Kikuchi is coming off his best start as a Blue Jay. On Monday against the Seattle Mariners, his former team, he threw six shutout innings, allowed just one hit, and struck out six. He did walk three batters, but that was the only blemish in what was otherwise a great outing. After the game, Kikuchi talked about the adjustments he had made and how he was trying to emulate what Robbie Ray did last season.

Yusei Kikuchi says he was aware of how much #BlueJays pitching coach Pete Walker helped Robbie Ray last year.
They’ve tried to emulate Ray with Kikuchi’s “big cutter”:
“Just creating that similar shape as Robbie Ray was the goal,” Kikuchi says.
— Ethan Diamandas (@EthanDiamandas) May 17, 2022

With the Blue Jays Ray made three distinct changes. He altered his mechanics, increased his fastball usage, and threw more pitches in the strike zone. Kikuchi is not someone who likes to make mid-season adjustments, but we have seen him already make changes in his short time with the Blue Jays.

The first clip is from Kikuchi’s first start with Toronto and you can see he has the hesitation in his delivery, which he used throughout his time in Seattle. In the second clip that hesitation is gone. That’s not the only change that he has made, however.

These two screen shots are at the apex of Kikuchi’s leg kick. In the first shot, you can see his hands are separated early and it appears you can see his hand and perhaps the ball below his leg. In the second slip, he keeps his hands together at the top of his leg kick and it looks to me like he hides the ball behind his leg longer. We can’t say for certain if hitters were able to see the ball before or if they were able to pick something up, but dropping the hesitation is a notable change and makes his overall mechanics much more fluid.
With these changed mechanics we have also seen Kikuchi change his pitch mix throughout his first six starts.

Kikuchi threw his four-seamer 64.4% of the time in his last start, the highest rate of the season and well above his season average of 51%. Kikuchi has a very good fastball; he averages 94.9 on the pitch and can run it up to 97 mph on occasion, making him one of the hardest throwing lefty starters. Batters this season have hit just .109 off of Kikuchi’s fastball and slugged just .217. He doesn’t get much swing and miss on the pitch, only a 9.9% swinging strike rate the lowest of his four pitches. What the pitch does though is get hit weakly in the air. The pitch has a 45.5% fly ball rate and of those fly balls, 40% …

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Author: Paul Berthelot / Blue Jays Nation

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