Mariners-Athletics Betting Preview: What to Expect Out of Yusei Kikuchi

Mariners-Athletics Betting Preview: What to Expect Out of Yusei Kikuchi article feature image
Credit:

Darren Yamashita, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Yusei Kikuchi

  • Yusei Kikuchi will make his Major League debut for the Seattle Mariners against the Oakland A's (Thursday, 5:35 a.m. ET).
  • What should we expect from the Japanese left-hander in front of a sellout crowd at the Tokyo Dome.
  • Sean Zerillo runs the numbers through his model to provide two small edges on the First 5 Innings odds.

I awoke at 5:28 AM this morning, two minutes before my alarm was set to go off. I had action on the Mariners five-inning moneyline, after all, and regular season baseball served as the smelling salts that I needed to start my day early on very little sleep.

Within minutes, the sweat was on and I was regretting major life decisions — Marco Gonzales served up a long home run to Stephen Piscotty and then Ryon Healy (unsurprisingly) threw wildly into left field from a shifted position (on a potential double-play ball) sending the Athletics out to a two-run lead.

Seattle rallied in the third, highlighted by an opposite-field grand slam from Domingo Santana to move ahead 5-2. In a fit of joy, I took my dog for her morning walk, abandoning all superstitious caution.

Once outside, I checked my phone to see that Khris Davis had cut the score to 5-4 with a two-run shot of his own. Feeling guilty for leaving, I tugged on the leash a bit and muttered, “come on girl, Marco needs us,” before we hustled back inside.

Gonzales settled in and the Mariners added two insurance runs before Tim Beckham put all doubt to bed and made my morning much flipping better:

Adjusting for Yusei Kikuchi

Yesterday (or this morning? last night? what day is it? what day is it in Japan?) I discussed how you can use xwOBA for pitchers (as provided by Statcast through Baseball Savant) to make a rough ERA calculation.

The pitching matchup in Game 2 of this series features popup specialist Marco Estrada for Oakland, and Japanese signee Yusei Kikuchi for the Mariners. With an xwOBA of .329, Estrada rates a shade better than Game 1 starter Mike Fiers (.333). His .329 xwOBA converts to an ERA of around 4.91.

Without any batted ball data for Kikuchi, I’ll use a composite projection. That projection places his wOBA a tick better (.307) than his teammate Gonzales (.308), and translates to a 4.27 ERA.

Kikuchi averaged 8 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and 3.3 walks per nine innings (BB/9) over 1,035 innings in Japan. He posted one outlier season in 2017, with a 10.4 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9, when he also saw an uptick in velocity.

However, there is no way to know how he will adjust to throwing an MLB baseball — which is slightly bigger than the ball in Japan.

Scouting Yusei Kikuchi

Kikuchi sits 92-94 mph with his fastball, above average (91.4) for a left-handed MLB starter. Although he was touching as high as 98 mph in 2017, I never saw that extra gear on the fastball during the three 2018 starts that I watched.

This is the fastball at its best:

His secondary arsenal consists of a slider, slow curveball, and changeup, though he seems to prefer the breaking balls to the offspeed pitch. The slider is the true money maker:

The curveball works as an offspeed version of the slider:

Certain MLB scouts believe that Kikuchi can be a number two starter at the MLB level. As I have mentioned before, Kikuchi reminds me of Patrick Corbin with more durability concerns (shoulder issues in May of 2018).

Reportedly, he preferred the Mariners over other clubs because they were the team most willing to adhere to his request to pitch every six days, as is customary in Japan, instead of MLB’s typical five-day schedule.

Here are my projections and suggested bets for Mariners-A’s: 

First Five Innings

  • Projected Score: Mariners 2.79 | A’s 2.72
  • Current Line:  Mariners (+109) | A’s (-122)
  • Projected Total: 5.51
  • Current Over/Under:  5 (o-108)

Similar to yesterday, the model shows small edges both on the over and on the Mariners moneyline in the first five innings of the game.

There is a 2.48 percent edge on Over 5 runs (-110 odds), and a 3.03 percent edge on the Mariners moneyline at +110 (fair odds -103). I’m inclined to play either or both at those prices.

Full Game

  • Projected Score: Mariners 4.75 | A’s 4.97
  • Current Line:  Mariners (+111) | A’s (-120)
  • Projected Total: 9.72
  • Current Over/Under:  9 (o-108)

Even with the full game total up to nine runs (8.5 yesterday), there is a 1.47 percent edge on the over at odds up to -110. The Mariners also have a full game moneyline edge of 1.3 percent at +110, but the model once again projects the Athletics to win the game.

I don’t consider either of those edges to be actionable.

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