A sub-2 ERA in regulation innings in his first year in the majors. Japanese pitcher Godai Senga (30, New York Mets) is on pace to surpass a record that was narrowly missed by Hyun-jin Ryu (36, Toronto Blue Jays) a decade ago.
Senga started the Mets’ home game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 15 and pitched six innings of two-hit ball, striking out 10 and walking none to lead the Mets to an 11-1 victory. He was good enough to retire the side in order in every inning, allowing just one hit through the fifth. Senga, who worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth, finished with 103 pitches.
He threw more forkballs (38) than four-seam fastballs (34), topping out at 98.3 mph (158.2 km/h) and averaging 96.4 mph (155.1 km/h), with a mix of cutters (17), sliders (6), curves and sweepers (4+). His so-called “ghost” forkball induced 11 swings and misses, six of which were swinging strikes. It was almost magical to see a forkball that flew like a fastball and then dropped in front of you. Senga’s FIP (.098), BABIP (.130), and swinging strike rate (60.0%) on forkballs this season rank first overall among all pitchers with at least 150 at-bats.
To date, Senga’s season record is 11-7 with a 2.95 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 27 games (155⅓ innings). Since mid-May, Senga has lowered his ERA from the high 3s to the low 2s, moving him to third in the NL in that category. He also ranks fourth in batting average (.205) and seventh in strikeouts.
Senga, who joined the SoftBank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball as a developmental player in 2010 and developed into an ace, exercised his international free agent rights after last season. He signed a five-year, $75 million deal with the Mets to fulfill his big league dreams and settled in relatively quickly, going 7-5 with a 3.31 ERA in 16 games in the first half. He picked up steam in the second half, going 4-2 with a 2.47 ERA in 11 games. He has established himself as an ace for the Mets, who traded away Max Scherzer (Texas Rangers) and Justin Verlander (Houston Astros).
“Senga solidified his credentials as an NL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young candidate,” MLB.com wrote after the game, “Arizona outfielder Corbin Carroll (.278 with 24 homers, 69 RBIs, 47 doubles and an .863 OPS) had been considered the front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year, but Senga’s chances of winning the award have increased. Furthermore, he should be considered for the Cy Young Award. He won’t win the award, but he’ll get the votes.
His nemesis, Arizona manager Torrey Lovullo, said of Senga, “He throws a 95-98 mph (152.9-157.7 km/h) fastball and has changed up his delivery. His curve, slider and forkball were all free. We couldn’t put any pressure on him. You have to give Senga credit,” he admitted.
Mets teammate shortstop Francisco Lindor said, “I think Senga is the Rookie of the Year. He won 11 games in the NL East, the toughest division in the league. He’s been the most consistent player on our team this year.” Fellow pitcher Joey Luchesi agreed, saying, “Senga has a great arsenal. Up and down, on both sides of the plate, he induced a lot of swings and misses. He should win Rookie of the Year.”
The last three major league rookies from Asia to win the award were Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo in 1995, Seattle Mariners pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2000, and Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, all Japanese.
At his current pace, Senga could become just the second Asian pitcher in history to post a sub-2 ERA in his first year in the majors. The only other Asian pitcher to do so was Hideo Nomo of the Dodgers in 1995, who pitched 191⅓ innings and posted a 2.54 ERA. In 2013, South Korean Ryu Hyun-jin (3.00 in 192 innings) made his Dodger debut, falling one strikeout shy of a double-digit ERA. 안전놀이터
Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Boston Red Sox in 2007 (4.40 in 204⅔ innings), Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers in 2008 (3.73 in 183⅓ innings), Darvish Yu of the Texas Rangers in 2012 (3.90 in 191⅓ innings), and Genta Maeda of the Dodgers in 2016 (3.48 in 175⅔ innings) went the distance, but not in the double digits. Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees in 2014 was in the double digits (2.77) but fell 25⅔ innings short of regulation at 136⅓ innings.