Can the Phillies Steal Shōta Imanaga to Be 5th Starter?

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Shōta Imanaga
FILE – Japan pitcher Shota Imanaga throws during first inning of a World Baseball Classic championship game against the United States, Tuesday, March 21, 2023, in Miami. Imanaga, who got the win for Japan in this year’s World Baseball Classic final against the United States, will become a free agent Tuesday, Nov. 28, and major league teams can sign him through 5 p.m. on Jan. 11.(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

The off-season has been moving at an incredibly slow rate.

All of the big arms are still up for grabs, with the top remaining pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto having to make a decision shortly following the new year.

If the Phillies can’t land the NPB superstar, another pitcher is coming from Japan that the Phillies can look at, 30-year-old lefty Shōta Imanaga.

Shōta Imanaga (今永 昇太)

Nicknamed “The Throwing Philosopher”, Shōta Imanaga is a command-based pitcher who uses his changeup to his advantage.

He is a 30-year-old left-handed pitcher born in KitakyushuFukuoka, Japan. The 2023 strikeout champion has been playing for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars since 2016 and has a 3.18 ERA to go with his 1,021 strikeouts.

Shōta Imanaga was an All-Star in 2019 and 2023. On June 7th, 2022, he threw a no-hitter. He was also playing for WBC champion Japan this past year.

Pitch Arsenal Breakdown

According to Brandon Tew of Sports Info Solutions, Shōta Imanaga has 6-7 pitches in his arsenal, depending on how you treat the sweeper. His arsenal includes a fastball, slider/sweeper, splitter, curveball, cutter, and changeup.

The main pitch is the fastball, using it 59% of the time at an average speed of 91.8 MPH. Opponents hit .234 off of it in the 2023 season and out of his 174 strikeouts, 96 of them were with the fastball.

His next pitch is the slider/sweeper combo. Shōta threw them 16% of the time and averaged 81.5 MPH. More velocity for these pitches would be ideal, but they racked up the second most strikeouts of any pitch.

Imanaga’s reported most intriguing pitch is the splitter. He uses two different grips of the ball that combine with his changeup. He throws it 12% of the time for an average of 83.2 MPH.

The curveball is the slowest pitch in his arsenal. He threw it 7% of the time for an average of 73 MPH. This pitch is used to freeze pitchers and keep them off of the rest of his pitches.

The cutter was thrown 4% of the time with an average velocity of 86.7 MPH. This was his worst pitch in the 2023 NPB season. Hopefully, if the Phillies can acquire Shōta Imanaga , he will learn to throw it better and pair it with the fastball. That’s a big if, however.

His last pitch is the changeup. He threw it only 2% of the time for an average speed of 81.5 MPH.

He has a lot of pitches in his arsenal. With the difference in baseballs, it will be interesting to see what teams have him do. He could ditch some pitches, change the grip of others, and even use some pitches more if they seem to work well at the major league level.

Cause for Concern?

As with any player, there are some concerns and Shōta Imanaga is certainly no different.

The biggest issue starts with the difference in the baseball the leagues use. The NPB baseball is smaller and has a better grip, which helps with his command, but the change could slow the speed of his pitches.

Another concern about Imanaga is not Imanaga specific – it relates to every new pitcher. The issue is the fact that he has not played baseball at the major league level. There are plenty of players who have come from all over, including Japan, that have worked out tremendously. To put it simply, nothing is guaranteed.

One final concern regarding Imanaga is his height. At 5’10”, he’s the same as Sonny Gray. His height could be a major factor in his slower velocity as longer arms and taller pitchers tend to pitch faster.

Should the Phillies take the risk?

Shōta Imanaga is currently seen as having a mid-rotation upside. While everyone wants their starting rotation to have the five best pitchers in all of Major League Baseball, that’s not realistic.

In my opinion, Imanaga is a high-risk, high-reward pitcher. He’s coming into Major League Baseball at 30 years old, so I’m not convinced he’ll be able to add to the velocity of his pitches.

There are plenty of concerns, but if he is able to get the home run issue under control, he’d be a solid addition to the Phillies organization.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)