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Atlanta Braves Free Agent Target: pitcher Shintaro Fujinami.

A's Shintaro Fujinami battles wildness, limits damage in spring outing

The Braves have multiple reasons to look at the Japanese righty for a swingman role.

If there’s one constant in the offseason personnel moves by the Atlanta Braves (so far), it’s the need to acquire pitcher velocity.

By replacing softer-throwing relievers like Collin McHugh (avg FB velocity = 91.3), Kirby Yates (93.6), Jackson Stephens (93.0), and Brad Hand (92.6) with imports Jackson Kowar (96.9), Reynaldo López (98.2), and Aaron Bummer (94.4), Atlanta’s added an element of pure gas to their bullpen that they didn’t have in recent seasons.

Combine that with the return of Tyler Matzek (2021 avg velo = 96.0) and the promotion of relief prospect Daysbel Hernández (2023 AAA average = 96.2 mph), the Braves bullpen is a lot more dangerous with regards to pure velocity.

The signing of reliever Reynaldo López from the White Sox came with an additional wrinkle – he’s going to be stretched out to start. At worst, he becomes a multi-inning relief option, while if it works, you add another quality starting pitcher at a discount.

In the same vein, Atlanta should consider signing free agent pitcher Shintaro Fujinami. Originally signing as an international free agent with the Oakland Athletics, he struggled initially in his acclimation to MLB, eventually being moved to the bullpen by Oakland after only seven starts and then was traded to the Baltimore Orioles at the trade deadline.

On the full season, Fujinami’s stats…aren’t great. 7-8 record, 7.18 ERA in 79 total innings.

But when you dig into what he actually did, there’s reason to belief that Fujinami could be successful in a new environment.

First is his exceptional velocity – the 6’6 righty’s frame harnesses pure gas, throwing fastballs at an average of 98.4 mph, 97th percentile in all of MLB, and he touched 103 in relief late in the year.

The second is his most prominent secondary – the splitter. The same pitch thrown by top prospect Hurston Waldrep, Fujinami’s comes in at greater than 90 mph and is an absolute weapon.

The rest of the arsenal is suited to a starter’s workload – A cutter, a sweeper, and a slider (although the slider wasn’t thrown often – only seventeen total pitches out of the 1,404 on the season).

As a reliever, Fujinami was much better – 7-2 record and 10.1 K/9 innings, although he did put up a 5.14 ERA in total. But the environment can’t be ignored, either – Oakland was not a good team, especially early in the season. Down the stretch with Baltimore, Fujinami allowed 13 earned runs in 25 games, with 10 of those coming in four outings where his control failed him.

Most foreign pitchers struggle in their initial transition to MLB – Japanese pitchers coming stateside are required to learn how to execute with a new baseball, because Japan uses a pre-tacked baseball and MLB uses a mudded baseball plus the pitcher’s own applications of rosin.

Kodai Senga, Mets pitcher and the runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year, had a 4.15 ERA across his first five starts with eighteen walks before rebounding to finish with a 2.98 ERA on a bad Mets team that traded away most of their veteran talent at the trade deadline.

Having signed for one year and only $3.25M entering the 2023 season, Fujinami wasn’t tendered a contract by the Orioles and became a free agent after the season. He’d be an incredibly cost efficient (and high velocity) add to the bullpen who, if everything went right, could step into your rotation with a different look and arsenal from the rest of the current rotation.

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