Ruki Sasaki Scout Report: What to know about the Japanese phenomenon, his potential MLS start date, and elite heat

Ruki Sasaki, a 20-year-old right-hand man who plays for Japan’s Chiba Lotte Marines, made one of the greatest matches in professional baseball history on Sunday. He made his first perfect Nippon Professional Baseball game 28 years ago. Set new league records for achievements, in total (19) and in a row (13). He demonstrated his arm strength averaging around 100 mph on his Fastball, and he credits his start in part to the work of his catcher, a teen named Kou Matsukawa.

Anytime someone unknown to the American public attracts attention as Sasaki did on Sunday, it is bound to spark curiosity. Who is this jug? What is he throwing? And will he come to the US one day, following the same two-way phenomenon Shohei Ohtani and new stadium sensation Seiya Suzuki in recent years?

To validate this curiosity and in honor of Sasaki’s performance, here at CBS Sports we’ve decided to answer nine questions about him, his game and his future – or one for each of the perfect tires he delivered during his outstanding performance.

1. Where is Sasaki’s game ranked historically?

One measure of Sasaki’s dominance is Bill James’ invention called Game Score. The premise is simple. Pitchers start with a baseline of points. Every time they do something good, like scoring a strike, their total score increases; Every time they do something bad, like giving up a run, their total score drops. At the end of their journey, they have number one to encapsulate their work.

Sasaki’s game score on Sunday was 106. For reference, the highest game score for a nine-game start in Major League Baseball since the merger belongs to Kerry Wood’s 20-strike performance in May of 1998. Wood succumbed to a hit and delivered a hit that day, but did not allow a run As part of his autograph performance.

Wood’s score that day was 105, one point lower than Sasaki’s.

2. Is Sasaki always this good?

Sasaki may have entered the world of American baseball fans only on Sunday, but he’s been training professionally with the Marines since last season. In 19 career outings, he collected 1.78 ERA and 6.14 average run-to-walk. He hit 31.4 percent of the hitters he’s encountered in his career. Keep in mind that NPB hitters are not as vulnerable to attack as their American counterparts. The NPB’s league-wide K average is 21 percent this season, compared to the 23 percent posted by the MLB hitters in 2021.

3. What does Sasaki’s mechanics look like?

Sasaki’s delivery sees him shoot the ball from a three-quarter hole. Arguably the most defining aspect of his operation is his high leg kick. It also features a wrist twist in the early stages of his arm movement, a common tic among Japanese shooters who view Scouts negatively due to its potential impact on driving and health.

4. What pitches does Sasaki throw?

On Sunday, Sasaki relied heavily on two pieces of his arsenal: the fastball and the dealer (some sources describe it as a thornball, but the pitches are more similar than otherwise). These two account for 99 of its 105 offerings, which is good for a 94 percent usage rate. He has other performances at his disposal, including two broken balls.

5. Are there any MLB comparisons to Sasaki’s fastball?

In a word no. According to data obtained by CBS Sports since the start of Sunday, Sasaki’s speedball averaged better than 99.5 mph and featured 19.8 inches of vertical induced breakage and 15.4 inches of horizontal break. This is an unparalleled combination of elite.

For context, consider New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole.

Cole’s speedball may be the best in the majors. Last year, it averaged 97.7 mph and featured 17.9 inches of vertical induced breakage and 11.9 inches of horizontal breakage. Among shooters who threw at least 200 rounds last season, Cole Heater ranked 99th for speed; eighty in induced vertical fracture; and 95 in the horizontal interval. It’s a great ground, and even it can’t match Sasaki’s numbers across the board.

The above numbers come with some caveats. Sasaki’s metrics almost certainly take advantage of the differences between American and Japanese soccer. The latter is bolder, which provides a better grip and eliminates the need for adhesives like pine tar or Spider Tack. In addition, Cole’s fast ball has a more optimized spindle.

Fastball for Sasaki is a beast that offers the same thing, the tool that should give him even greater fame and fortune over the coming years.

6. What about a Sasaki break?

It’s hard to find comparisons to the Sasaki spacer (or fork ball, again, depending on the source) for other reasons, because the pitch isn’t as widely used as the speedball. For wit, only 29 big-league bowlers threw at least 100 of them last season.

The Sasaki splitter clocks in at 91.2 mph with 2.30 inches of induced vertical breakage and 7.80 inches of horizontal splitter. That pace would take second place, after Hirokazu Sawamura of the Boston Red Sox. Meanwhile, Sasaki’s break numbers compare better to Blake Parker’s (2.9, 7.40). Parker’s intervening season produced a 36 percent whiff rate and an average of 0.232 vs.

For those wondering, the Shohei Ohtani splitter has the same amount of vertical induced cutoff as the Sasaki (2.40 inches), but comes in softer (88 mph) and with less running (4.90 inches).

7. When can/will Sasaki come to MLB?

The actual question is whether or not Sasaki will do it You want to come. The MLB is the top league in the world, but the NPB is a strong No. 2 and not every player has the same priorities or desires. Some individuals prefer staying in Japan for personal or professional reasons that outweigh the competition against MLB talent.

Should Sasaki decide that he wants to pursue a career in North America, he’ll have to make another important decision: how much he cares about money? This is because the cruel irony of the MLB rules governing international free agents is that they prevent the best players in the world from joining the league as soon as possible.

Under the current agreement, players under the age of 25 (or who have less than six years of professional experience) are subject to the international bonus system which also applies to true international amateur agents (for example, teenagers who sign each July 2). This policy greatly limits the possibility of signing bonuses for these players, and explains why Shohei Ohtani has signed with the Los Angeles Angels with less than the 30th pick in the draft despite being a phenomenon in preparation for the big league.

Everything is subject to change should the MLB and MLB Players Association agree to an international draft. For our sake, let’s assume they don’t. Sasaki will have to figure out if he wants to increase his earnings. A positive answer will keep him waiting to make the leap even after celebrating his 25th birthday and accumulating six years of professional experience, putting him on track to debut in the majors by 2027. Instead, he could ask his team to “publish” him before then. There is no guarantee that the Marines will be required.

There are obviously error bars in all of this, but a safe assumption is that Sasaki is years away from being a realistic option for the top clubs.

8. How does the paging system work?

go like this. NPB teams can “send” a player to be considered for the big league. After that, MLB clubs have 30 days to negotiate a deal with said player. If a contract is not agreed, the player returns to the NPB. If a player reaches terms with the MLB team, the NPB club receives a “issue fee” based on contract size. Essentially, the system was put in place so that the big league teams couldn’t raid their overseas counterparts without those teams receiving some form of compensation in return.

To use a recent example, Seiya Suzuki’s contract with the Chicago Cubs is worth five years and $85 million. As per the agreement between MLB and NPB, Cubs was also required to pay Hiroshima Toyo Carp a launch fee of over $14.6 million.

Most NPB players who join the majors do so through the transmission system. In order to be an exception – and to be considered a true international free agent – an NPB player must have at least nine years of professional experience. Such cases are rare, and it is unlikely that Sasaki would be one of them if he were to come to America.

9. What is the story of Mask Sasaki?

As noted in the introduction, Sasaki made sure to pay tribute to his assistant, 18-year-old Ko Matsukawa, after the event. “I think Matsukawa put in a great game behind the board, so I was able to just listen to him and do good pitches,” He said.

Sunday’s game was only the seventh of Matsukawa’s professional career. He won’t celebrate his 19th birthday until October, and he’s only made .167/ .167/ .250 in his first 26 games. None of that matters on Sunday. All he did was how his squatting guidance helped immortalize them in baseball history.

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