Pittsburgh Pirates: Yoshi Tsutsugo’s 2022 Role
By Noah Wright
The Pittsburgh Pirates re-signed Yoshi Tsutsugo to a one-year deal. What role could he play for the Bucs next season?
The Pittsburgh Pirates resigned first baseman Yoshi Tsutsugo late Wednesday night. Tsutsugo agreed to a low-risk one-year, $4 million deal.
With Tsutsugo returning to the Pittsburgh Pirates for next season, what is he bringing to the Pirates?
Tsutsugo came over to the US back in the 2019-2020 offseason when the Tampa Bay Rays signed him to a two-year deal. Tsutsugo showed some pop with a .197 isolated slugging percentage, 8 home runs in 151 plate appearances, and walked at a strong 14.1% rate. But he struck out at a 27% rate and 99 wRC+. Not great numbers, but showed a strong ability to draw walks and hit for pop.
Tsutsugo started 2021 with the Rays, but after an extremely poor start, he was released and picked up by the Los Angeles Dodgers. His time with the Dodgers didn’t go much better and that’s when the Pirates picked up Tsutsugo.
The slugger hit .268/.347/.535 with a .372 wOBA, and 134 wRC+. He cut his strikeout rate to just 22.9%, but this didn’t drastically affect his ability to draw walks. He still had a healthy 10.4% walk rate. He hit 8 home runs in 144 trips to the plate with a .268 isolated slugging percentage. That comes to about 33 home runs in a 600 PA season.
The biggest thing that Tsutsugo brings to the table is power. Throughout Japan, he was one of the league’s best sluggers. He hit 95 home runs in his final three years while playing overseas. Since arriving in the Major Leagues, he has shown off a good amount of raw power. He has an 89.9 MPH exit velocity and a 41.8% hard-hit rate. Both are above the league average.
Tsutsugo walks a lot. So far in the 12.3% walk rate throughout 447 plate appearances. His 272% strikeout rate isn’t fantastic but is far from awful. Plus he cut it down to below 25% once he arrived in Pittsburgh. He’s consistently shown decent plate discipline and while he is a bit strikeout prone, so long as he keeps it around 25%, it won’t be a massive detriment. For reference, the 2021 league average strikeout rate was 23.2%.
Tsutusgo hasn’t played much first base in the Majors. He only has 188.2 innings played at the position at first base since arriving in the States. Most of his time in the field has been spent in the grass and third base. While he has a strong arm, he is only in the 32nd percentile in sprint speed, making him quite slow to maneuver some of the cavernous spaces that PNC Park’s outfield has. Plus, the Pirates are not about to move Ke’Bryan Hayes anywhere else. As a defender at first, he does the job. He had only -1 DRS and a +1.0 UZR/150 at first.
Tsutsugo brings what the Pittsburgh Pirates need: power right now. Sure, Oneil Cruz will eventually take over a regular role, Travis Swaggerty started to make some of the raw power that he was known for into game power (hopefully, the shoulder injury doesn’t sap that away), Canaan Smith-Njigba has big power potential, and Mason Martin, despite his strikeouts, has as much power as Oneil Cruz. But if service time is still a thing after CBA negotiations, none of them will start the 2022 season on the team’s Opening Day Major League roster.
Next season Tsutsugo is a guy who could hit .250/.350/.500 with 25-30 home runs. He gives the Pirates a good power threat that can slot into the line-up to start the 2022 season, something they need. Tsutsugo gives the Pittsburgh Pirates a good bat to go along with Reynolds. Hopefully, Hayes’ wrist doesn’t hold him back like it did last year and the Pirates’ prospects can help form a solid line-up. Even at the very worst, he can still be a good .750 OPS hitter with some power.