Saitama Seibu Lions manager, Norio Tanabe announced that their 24-year old lefty will be starting the first game of the season on March 25th against the Orix Buffaloes.
This is the first time that the former high school star will garner the honor of being the Lions opening day starter. Last year, Takayuki Kishi was scheduled to start on opening day, but an abdomen injury gave the honor to Kazuhisa Makita which turned into a 1-0 victory at Seibu Prince Dome.
At times, Kikuchi was the Lions best starting pitcher and he finished the year posting an ERA of 2.84. His revised FIP (more on that in a future post), was a 2.93 (with the older constant showing a 3.07), indicating that there will only be more success in Kikuchi's future. Those numbers were second among Lions starting pitchers, with only Takayuki Kishi placing better with 22.2 fewer innings.
Kikuchi also led Lions starters in K/9 with 8.3 and finished second to Kishi in K/BB with 2.22. His walk rate did spike up a little bit (3.7), but without a doubt, Kikuchi's performance last year (presumably combined with his performance in camp) has earned him the role of being the opening day starter. His velocity was hitting a max of 154 KM/H (95 mph) on the radar gun.
When drafted, Kikuchi was considered to be a phenom out of high school and expected to help any team who would land him. Hisanobu Watanabe (Nabe-Q) won the 6-way draw for his rights at the 2009 NPB Draft with the hope he would be the next great pitcher. The video below shows the moment Kikuchi was selected and later drafted by the Lions after Nabe-Q pulled out the winning ticket after drawing first.
Kikuchi will be quite important for the Lions to have success in 2016. He has what it takes to be the Lions ace in the future, but one thing to look at is his workload as a whole. He hasn't thrown more than 139.2 IP in a season and that number will need to get above 160 to supplant Kishi as the Lions No. 1 starter.
This will be the first time a left handed pitcher will start for the Lions on Opening Day since 1992. Kimiyasu Kudo, who was elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and current Fukuoka Softbank Hawks manager was the last, per John Gibson. Here's a list of the Lions opening day starters since 2006.
2006-2007: Fumiya Nishiguchi
2008-2012: Hideaki Wakui
2013-2014: Takayuki Kishi
2015: Kazuhisa Makita
BEAST! (For 2016)
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