Tomase: Can Yoshida hit for power in Boston? History is against him


The Red Sox didn't sign Masataka Yoshida because they believe he's the next Ichiro, but because they hope he'll hit for power. He'll have to overcome one major physical disadvantage to do it.

Known primarily for his contact skills and low strikeout rates in Japan, Yoshida intrigued Red Sox brass with an ability to drive the ball from the left side. "Power came out," noted chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom.

Yoshida hit 21 homers in Japan last season, three years after setting a career-high of 29. While those numbers are encouraging, these aren't: 5-foot-8.

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If no left-handed hitters that size are springing to mind with a history of power production in Fenway Park, there's a reason for that. They don't exist.

Brock Holt is the franchise record holder for homers in one season by a left-handed hitter of Yoshida's stature, with seven. Expanding our view beyond the Red Sox, only eight such players have recorded even 20 homers in a season, though two of them -- Baltimore's Cedric Mullens and Texas's Willie Calhoun -- have done so in the last three years.

Legendary Yankees catcher Yogi Berra did it 11 times, and fellow Hall of Famer Joe Morgan turned the trick four times for the Reds in the 1970s. No one did it between Morgan in 1977 and Calhoun in 2019.

That's not to say Yoshida can't be the exception. But the Red Sox have five years and $90 million riding on the likelihood that he is, and that's no small risk.

Making matters worse, Fenway Park isn't exactly kind to left-handed pull hitters. It's 380 feet to straightaway right field and 420 to the triangle in center. Other than wrapping one around Pesky's Pole, there are no cheap homers to right field here.

Still, the Red Sox liked Yoshida's complete package enough to make him their most expensive addition of the offseason. Over seven seasons in Japan, the 29-year-old walked four times for every three strikeouts.

"There is a foundation here to be able to do some things and handle an at-bat a certain way," Bloom said. "The way the swing works and the way that he sees the ball, those things do tend to translate really well in whatever environment a player is in.

"You can talk about the risk that goes along with it but we also see upside, especially seeing in particular this year, the power come out and the ability to let loose that power when it fits the situation, and also to make sure to put the ball in play when it fits the situation and the ability he demonstrated to do that in all kinds of different spots."

Maybe Yoshida's swing will produce power in the big leagues, even though players generally see their home run numbers decrease after leaving Japan. Maybe his size will not prevent him from driving balls into the bullpen or popping them over the Green Monster.

Just understand that his height is what it is, and there's more than 100 years of history working against him.

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