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Kosuke Fukudome's Hot Start

Josh Kalk has been doing great work studying PITCHf/x data.  Check out his blog here and Hardball Times contributions here.  Josh decided to examine Kosuke Fukudome's hot start in a guest post for RotoAuthority.com.  His post follows.

Kosuke Fukudome has taken the league by storm starting off hitting .328/.444/.463.  He was billed as a combination of Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui and he has lived up to that so far.  But Jason Kendall has also started off batting .345/.400/.483 so the question for fantasy owners remains, should you sell high on Fukudome or hold to him?

The first thing to look at is Fukudome's BABIP, which is a lofty .396 right now.  While I expect him to end up with a BABIP that is above league average his is almost certainly at least a little over his head right now.  Still, even with a small correction down he would be a solid addition to any fantasy roster.  The main question is will the league catch up to him as the year goes on?  This is where his PITCHf/x data really comes in handy.  Here is a look at every tracked fastball Fukudome has faced:


The first thing to notice on this plot is that Fukudome rarely swings and missed at a pitch.  One the other hand look at how many pitches he is fouling off.  Many of those fouled pitches came with two strikes as Fukudome was protecting the plate.  This is where the Ichiro comparisons come from.  Unlike Ichiro look at home many balls Fukudome takes for a strike.  Early in the count Fukudome is generally content to wait for his pitch.  I have overlaid the MLB defined strike zone but as you can see here, the umpires tend to give the pitcher a few more inches on corners.  This patience has allowed Fukudome to walk 14 times compared to just 13 strikeouts.  This is an excellent sign and I fully expect this to continue thought the year.  How does Fukudome handle off speed pitches?  Here is all the change ups thrown to Fukudome:


Again Fukudome rarely swings at pitches outside the strike zone.  For a full breakdown you can look at his player card here.  The standard approach to a left handed batter is hard stuff up and in with soft stuff down and away.  But if you don't throw those pitches for strikes Fukudome just isn't swinging at them.  So how should pitchers go about pitching to him?

In my opinion the way to attack Fukudome is get ahead early.  While Fukudome will jump on a get me over curve if you make a quality pitch in the strike zone early in the count he will more than likely lay off.  Once ahead, instead of trying to get him to chase pitches away I would bust him in with fastballs.  While most left handers love pitches low and in Fukudome seems to prefer the ball middle away.  In fact, with two strikes he will very often try to go the other way even with a ball inside.  So bust him in with those fastballs when you get two strikes.  If you absolutely need a strikeout then a ball down will probably be more effective than a ball outside.

All signs point to a very good year by Fukudome.  The first key to success to hitting is swinging at strikes and Fukudome clearly has that down.  Because of his patience Fukudome is seeing a huge amount of pitches which greatly increases the chances of a pitcher making a mistake.  When he gets that mistake Fukudome isn't swinging and missing either.  It would take a huge offer to pry Fukudome from my roster if I am a fantasy owner.

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