Masataka Yoshida has led NPB in OPS the last two seasons, buoyed by a .336 batting average and just a 14 percent strikeout rate. The Yankees have prioritized contact over the past year, adding bats like Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Andrew Benintendi to increase their collective balls in play. Whether or not that’s worked for the offense is debatable, but Yoshida fits in well with the same philosophy.
The 29-year old was a huge part of the Orix Buffaloes’ Japan Series win this season, including a walk-off home run to win a critical Game 3. He’s worked some average-to-good power into his profile, averaging 22 home runs a season over the last five, even if NPB ballparks are typically a little bit smaller than their MLB counterparts.
The two questions that surround Yoshida is, has he already peaked, and is he better than the “known quantities” on the free agent market, the guys like Benintendi that we know can play against MLB pitching?
NPB is generally considered a slight step down from MLB, somewhere around Triple-A to Quad-A. Shohei Ohtani has hit for more power while striking out at the exact same rate, although his batting average has dropped more than 20 points since coming stateside. Seiya Suzuki, albeit in just one MLB season, lost more than 50 points of average and saw his strikeout rate rise more than 10 points. I think this is the potential risk for Yoshida — defense is just tighter at the MLB level, even with the shift disappearing in 2023, and more of those batted balls will be converted to outs. Even if Yoshida continues to make contact, I think you see some regression in his batted ball performance, and he’s not a 1.000 OPS hitter anymore. Similarly, Hideki Matsui came over from NPB 20 years ago, boosted power, kept strikeouts down ... but lost about 30 points of average.
His defense grades out as about average in the corners, and the Yankees probably don’t lose much by having him in left. One of the critical elements for the offseason, in my opinion, is ensuring that if Aaron Hicks is still on the roster, he is relegated to a fourth outfielder status. Yoshida would likely take care of that, but not as well as someone on the market like Benintendi.
And really, that’s where I come down on Yoshida. I think that he’s an upgrade over Hicks, probably an upgrade over a guy like Estevan Florial, I’m not sold that he’s an upgrade over the other left field options — if you figure that he sees slight regression offensively, and plays fine but not great in the outfield, he sounds like a slightly-better version of someone like Andrew Benintendi or Ian Happ, and we know that both of those guys can hit MLB pitching. There’s nothing wrong with Yoshida’s profile, and I get what people might like in his toolkit. He just doesn’t stand out enough to force himself close to the top of my wishlist.