What’s up everyone! It’s the opening week of the MLB season and that means we get a handful of exciting debuts, and today, I’m going to cover the debut of Shintaro Fujinami for the A’s.
Before we dive in, I want to give some background on Fujinami and what we knew about him coming into this start.
Fujinami came to the A’s from NPB, where he’s been pitching since he was 19. Over the 10 seasons he was in NPB, Fujinami was pretty successful, posting a 3.41 ERA with a 9.2 K/9 over 994.1 innings pitched.
Reportedly, Fujinami throws six pitches—a four-seamer fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter, slider, splitter, and a curveball—and it was his splitter that at least impressed Shea Langeliers in spring training.
Speaking of spring training, Fujinami—who signed a one-year, $3.25 million deal with the A’s in the offseason—looked pretty solid in spring training, posting a 3.86 ERA and a 9.6 K/9 through five starts and 18.2 innings.
Coming into this start, I was personally very curious about Fujinami. We’ve got a guy who’s had some success in Japan, throws a broad array of pitches, and sort of went under the radar in a lot of drafts (his ADP was >400), so I was very curious to see how he’d do in his first Major League start.
So let’s dive in!
If you’ve ever read any of my GIF breakdowns before, you know I always love including a pitcher’s first Major League pitch. It’s just fun to look at what pitch a guy chooses to introduce himself to the league with. Here’s Fujinami’s to Taylor Ward:
Unsurprisingly, it’s a fastball. More often than not, that’s what you’ll see a guy use for his first-ever Major League pitch—it’s typically the pitch he can control the best and you definitely want to get that first pitch strike out of the way. And on top of that, we get a sneak peek at the velocity Fujinami can hit with a 98 MPH pitch.
After getting Ward to foul off another fastball, we get our first glance at Fujinami’s sweeper, which he absolutely hangs and almost gets into a lot of trouble.
Fujinami breathes a sigh of relief cause he knows that was like just a few feet away from being a home run on his third-ever pitch in the Major Leagues.
Then, on an 0-2 count, we get our first look at Fujinami’s splitter.
As you’ll see throughout this breakdown, Fujinami’s splitter is probably his main putout pitch, and while I do like this pitch for his first strikeout, there will be some better splitters coming up, don’t you worry.
Next up is Mike Trout and after fouling off a fastball, we get Fujinami’s fastest pitch so far, a 99 MPH fastball.
Right at the bottom of the zone coming in like a bullet, that’s a lively fastball.
Fujinami then buried a splitter in the dirt to get to a 1-2 count before giving us this absolute beauty.
Sweet baby jeez, a 95 MPH splitter, down and in, Trout whiffs and he’s gone. If you can fool arguably the greatest hitter in all of baseball like that, you know you’re doing well. Two batters faced, two strikeouts.
Next up, we get Shohei Ohtani, and on the first pitch, we get a look at Fujinami’s slider.
It ends up inside off the plate for a ball, but it’s a pitch that shows some promise, coming in at 89 MPH with some good movement.
Fujinami then gets Ohtani to whiff on another gorgeous splitter.
That’s just a nasty pitch, and again, when you can fool one of the best hitters in baseball like that, you should be feeling good.
Ohtani then hit the next splitter into the ground, first inning over with no problems.
First up in the second inning is Anthony Rendon and Fujinami misses his first two pitches with a 98 MPH fastball outside and a slider he tried to front door but missed on the inside. He then pumps a 97 MPH fastball inside and Rendon flies out to left, another out down.
Next up was Hunter Renfroe, and we get a little more of Fujinami’s slider with his first two pitches. Here’s the first one:
Fujinami gets really lucky getting a called strike there, but this is our best look at his slider so far. It just bloops right in there at 86 MPH, which is certainly a nice speed differential from his high-90s fastball and low-to-mid-90s splitter. If he can locate that pitch consistently, that’ll be a really nice third offering.
Fujinami then figures, hey, if I can get a strike called there once, why not twice?
And he sure does.
Now with an 0-2 count on Renfroe, Fujinami tries to speed him up, tossing this 99 MPH sinker way outside in the dirt.
Looks like based on where Langeliers was set up, that was supposed to be a backdoor sinker, and that would’ve been a great strikeout pitch after two outside sliders, but Fujinami wasn’t able to control the pitch well.
Fujinami then gets welcomed to Major League Baseball in 2023 with a pitch clock violation that puts him in a 2-2 count, and follows that up with a sweeper that Renfroe fouls off.
Then, Fujinami decides to go with ol’ reliable, his filthy splitter.
Ahhh much better. Yet another nasty splitter for a strikeout. If you’re keeping track, that’s five batters faced, three strikeouts so far, all three on splitters. That pitch is going to be a problem if he’s able to command it well.
Next up was Jake Lamb, and we get to see Fujinami crank it up to 100.
Now there’s a fastball with some serious zip on it. He couldn’t get it in the strike zone, nor could Langeliers catch it (though I don’t blame him considering he was set up outside and that pitch was way inside), but Fujinami definitely has some serious power.
Lamb then fouled off a slider and then whiffed on another nice splitter to set up a 1-2 count.
So now you’re in a 1-2 count, your splitter is working wonders so far, what do you do?
How about throw another splitter?
Yeah, that’ll work. That’s now six batters faced, four strikeouts. That’s a ratio I’ll take any day.
Fujinami’s looking pretty fantastic so far, but here’s where things start to unravel.
First up is Luis Rengifo who gets to a 2-1 count after a sweeper called for a strike then two splitters thrown outside for balls. Then, we get this pitch:
A beautifully placed backdoor slider to get the count to 2-2. You locate that pitch consistently, that’s going to be very hard to hit, and kudos to Fujinami for having faith in his slider behind in the count.
Fujinami then tossed a fastball way outside to get the count full and then a sweeper low and inside to walk Rengifo.
Next up is Gio Urshela who gets a slider way down and outside to get to 1-0, and then does this:
That’s actually a pretty well-located slider down and away that Urshela is able to juuuuuust poke out into centerfield for a hit, that’s some tough luck for Fujinami.
Next up, we’ve got Logan O’Hoppe who whiffs on a fastball on his first pitch. Then, Fujinami tosses another fastball up and outside that’s barely a ball to get to a 1-1 count. And then he does this:
Hangs a sweeper out to dry and O’Hoppe drives it for a base hit, one run scores.
Then we’ve got Taylor Ward and a similar story.
A slider hung over the middle of the plate, driven to center field for a base hit, and another run scores.
Next up we’ve got Mike Trout, who whiffs on a fastball low and away on his first pitch. Fujinami then throws two fastballs that just barely miss, getting to a 2-1 count, which he follows with a splitter that also misses.
I want to take a second to watch this splitter, because this typifies the main issue with Fujinami. Take a look:
Langeliers sets up for a splitter low and where does it end up? High and inside. If there’s one main issue Fujinami has had to this point, it’s consistently locating his pitches. And it’s not just commanding it within the strike zone, he’s not getting nickel and dimed on pitches that much. It’s controlling the pitches entirely.
Now in a 3-1 count, Fujinami throws a fastball that ends up low and outside the strike zone, walking the bases loaded.
Next up, we’ve got Shohei Ohtani who swings and misses on a 99 MPH sinker for his first pitch, and then sees a high fastball, also at 99 MPH that he’s able to drive.
This isn’t a terrible pitch, but Ohtani is just a great hitter, and that stuff is going to happen when you’re facing someone like him. Luckily, Seth Brown is able to get to the hit pretty quickly to limit the damage, but bases are still loaded and another run has scored.
Next up is Anthony Rendon and we get a nice front door slider from Fujinami.
That was outside the strike zone, but it was good enough to fool Rendon who whiffs on it and gets down 0-1.
Fujinami then throws another slider that ends up way down and outside for a ball, followed by yet another slider.
That is a really pretty slider, the second one we’ve seen in this at-bat. Personally, I would’ve liked to have seen it located just a bit lower where Langeliers was set up, but still, it worked great.
Unfortunately, the nice pitches stopped here as Fujinami hung a splitter up high.
Luckily it didn’t end up as a grand slam or an extra-base hit, but it was hit deep enough to be a sacrifice fly and another run scores.
Next up we’ve got Hunter Renfroe who works to a 1-1 count before we get another great Fujinami splitter.
That’s a fabulous pitch (that Renfroe fouls off of his leg), and yet another example of just how good that pitch can be for Fujinami.
Unfortunately, Fujinami followed that with a splitter in the dirt for a ball and a fastball up and in for a ball, working to a full count. And then he throws a slider for ball four.
Now, I want to give Fujinami some credit here. With bases loaded and a full count, I would’ve expected him to throw a fastball. In fact, I probably would’ve bet a lot of money he was going to throw a fastball. But the fact that he threw a slider, to me, says that he has a lot of confidence in his ability to command that pitch. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work there.
Next up was Jake Lamb, and we get a sweet slider from Fujinami.
Beautifully placed and Lamb foul-tips it for strike one.
Fujinami then threw a splitter low and inside for a ball, and then does this:
That is a fastball basically down the middle of the plate that Lamb unsurprisingly is able to drive into center field. Now, Esteury Ruiz definitely goofed up on the play, which I think helped the extra run to score, but there’s no way Fujinami should have been laying a fastball down the middle of the plate like that.
After that, Fujinami was pulled from the game.
Final line: 2.1 IP, 5 H, 8 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 55 pitches
So yeah, that’s not great.
This start showed me there is a lot to like about Fujinami and there are definitely some things he needs to work on.
Let’s start with the positives: his stuff is nasty. He had a 35% CSW on the day with a 43% CSW on his splitter and a 39% CSW on his slider.
I really like his repertoire. He’s got the high-velocity fastball that he complements well with the nasty splitter and a lower-velocity slider. We didn’t get to see the sweeper all that much, so I’m not sure exactly what to think about that pitch, but the other three I absolutely love.
But here’s where the problem is: Fujinami struggled mightily with control. There were plenty of times that Shea Langeliers was set up in one spot and Fujinami threw his pitch in a totally different spot. That’s really concerning.
When it comes to new pitchers, I always believe in trusting the stuff, and Fujinami absolutely has stuff. He’s got stuff for days. But the list of pitchers who have awesome stuff and can’t control it is a mile long.
I also wonder if Fujinami looks more like a really good reliever than a really good starter. This is one start, so I’m not going to say he’s destined for the bullpen, but that high-velocity fastball mixed with a nasty splitter and a slider would definitely work in the bullpen. We’ve seen Félix Bautista work with that exact pitch mix (though more of an emphasis on the splitter and higher velocity on the fastball) and it’s worked really well.
There’s absolutely potential for Fujinami to be a good starting pitcher, and I think the A’s are going to give him a shot (they’ve got no reason not to). For fantasy purposes, he’s someone I think you should keep an eye on and might be worth a stream in a favorable matchup, because he’s going to get strikeouts with his stuff. He just also might have a few walks and toss in a couple meatballs here and there.
All in all though, I like Fujinami, and he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on as the season goes on.