Potential target: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo could supply the White Sox with a reliable, left-handed bat. (Kyodo)
The White Sox have had an unusual amount of difficulty finding a viable player whose primary focus is hitting. The lineup appears to be on solid ground, but right field and designated hitter are exceptions. Another gap on the roster is the lack of solid bats from the left side of the plate.
Luckily, the White Sox understand the need to address these issues this offseason. Also, the White Sox have an opportunity to sign a player who can patch up both of those gaps without offering prospects or a nine-figure contract.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who turned 28 last month, has been a force to be reckoned with in Japan’s Central League for several years. Tsutsugo broke into Japan’s highest level of play in 2010 at age 18, and though his career got off to a slow start, Tsutsugo has posted some supersized numbers at the plate near the tail end of the decade.
Tsutsugo had a relatively quiet season on offense last season, with his lowest OBP since 2014. The good news is that even in a down year, Tsutsugo still posted a .388 OBP. Tsutsugo’s slash line last season was .272/.388/.511 (138 wRC+) with 29 home runs, which was still terrific by NPB standards. So far, the high point of Tsutsugo’s career was his 2016 campaign, when he slashed .322/.430/.680 (199 wRC+) with 7.5 WAR, easily a career high, per Deltagraphs. Though the NPB is not comparable to major league baseball, Tsutsugo has shown his potential to get on base and hit for power like very few others in Japan.
Defense is Tsutsugo’s largest issue, and that cannot be ignored. Near the beginning of his career, Tsutsugo’s ability at the corner outfield positions was decent, but that part of his game has declined. In 2019, his defensive value was an insane 25.0 runs below average.
|Season||Offensive RAA||Defensive RAA||WAR|
Based on FanGraphs positional adjustments, a full-time designated hitter over a 162-game season would earn a defensive value of 17.5 runs below average. NPB seasons are shorter (143 games), so if we apply the same rule there, the automatic penalty for DHs would be about 15.4 runs per full season (Tsutsugo has played between 131 and 139 games in each of the past five seasons). In other words, in both 2018 and 2019, Tsutsugo would have been more valuable as a designated hitter (the Central League, where Tsutsugo played, does not use a DH).
Though Tsutsugo can play right field in a pinch, he is not someone the White Sox should feel comfortable putting there on an everyday basis. However, Tsutsugo does not have to be an everyday right fielder to be useful for the White Sox. The White Sox’s hole at the DH slot is massive. According to FanGraphs, the White Sox got the least amount of production from designated hitters out of every team. With a .197/.275/.342 slash line (64 wRC+) and -3.5 fWAR, White Sox designated hitters were dreadful in every way, and the club desperately needs a player who can provide a reliable, left-handed bat without any other major responsibilities. Tsutsugo should fill that role admirably.
Tsutsugo will be 28 next season and should have quite a bit of good baseball remaining. Given Tsutsugo’s age, his slight decline in production at the plate last season should not be a cause for concern going forward. Finishing the rebuild will require some risk, and I would be happy to take a risk on Tsutsugo. The approximate value of 1.0 WAR on the free agent market is $8 million, and most are expecting Tsutsugo’s future contract to have an AAV of about $10 million. During the SB Nation offseason simulation, we managed to win the bidding for Tsutsugo by giving him a 5-year, $55 million contract.
Based on Tsutsugo’s market price, a contract of that size is likely to be more than enough to land him in real life, too. Five years and $50 million should also get the job done. That length and AAV would both figure to be mighty close to the top in terms of what clubs will offer. We should feel confident that Tsutsugo would post more than the 1.25 WAR per season, making the signing worth the price.
While Tsutsugo is far from the only option, having him on the South Side would bring the White Sox closer to completing the rebuild. Make it happen, front office.