Texas Rangers: Fans should temper expectations for Arihara initially
By Seth Carlson
Texas Rangers fans should be careful not to expect too much from their new pitcher early on.
It’s easy to get caught up in the euphoria of a major transaction involving your team.
After news broke of Japanese righty Kohei Arihara agreeing to sign with the Texas Rangers on Christmas Day for two years and $6.2 million, the excitement around the team and its fans was tangible.
The 28-year-old right-hander arrives in Arlington as a relatively polished product out of Hokkaido Nippon, having pitched professionally in Japan since 2015.
His career 3.65 ERA and 100+ innings pitched in every pro season he’s played in to this point are both encouraging metrics that illustrate the right-hander’s durability and consistency.
Yet for as much as Arihara comes with past experience, he still has to demonstrate what he can do at the MLB level.
The Texas Rangers have a good pitcher in Kohei Arihara, but he still needs to prove that he can make the transition to MLB.
The caliber of talent in the United States is more advanced than that typically found in the NPB. That’s not to suggest that Japanese baseball players are any better or worse than Major League players here, but rather just a general industry understanding of the differences in competition.
Arihara is hailed as a strike thrower, and has three pitches which he relies on more than others in his arsenal: a fastball, a changeup and a slider.
While the 28-year-old has shown good command of all of his pitches, his stuff is not seen as overpowering, as his fastball tops out in the mid-90s in MPH.
In an era of baseball where launch angle and hard contact is being emphasized, Arihara’s lack of fastball velocity could potentially be a point of initial struggle for him as he adapts to his new environment.
Throwing low-90s strikes to big league hitters is generally a dangerous game, which the Japanese righty may find out sooner rather than later at first.
Arihara’s strikeout rate is also pretty low for a starter, as he averaged just 6.7 punch-outs per nine innings during his time in the NPB.
The good news is that he kept his walk rate low as well, averaging just 2.2 walks per nine innings in Japan.
But Arihara’s lack of fastball velocity and his inability to overpower hitters are both reasons why it’s so imperative that the 28-year-old continue to be proficient at commanding his secondary offerings to keep MLB hitters off-balance, as he was able to do so well in Japan.
These attributes will likely make Arihara better suited for a role as a middle of the rotation starter, though he will undoubtedly be asked to consume a large chunk of innings for the Texas Rangers given that he’s arguably their top starting pitcher at the moment (along with Dane Dunning).
These qualities may also explain why Arihara was able to be had at such an affordable price, at least compared to what fellow countryman Tomoyuki Sugano is expected to command on the open market.
Overall, the Texas Rangers landed a quality innings eater in Kohei Arihara, who will serve as a key cog in their rotation for at least the next two years, while doing so at a great value.
Just don’t expect the second coming of Yu Darvish despite the similar ties.