Shota Imanaga’s Strong MLB Debut: Ryan’s Reflections

by Ryan Kirksey
Brice Turang Off To A Fast Start

Chicago Cubs rookie pitcher Shota Imanaga had a strong Major League debut on Monday, completely shutting down the Colorado Rockies over six innings. While highly regarded when he came over from Japan, Fantasy Baseball drafters took a cautious approach to drafting Imanaga this spring. After one start, it appears his average draft position might have been way too low.

The 30-year-old, spent eight professional seasons in Japan, playing mostly for the Yokohama Bay Stars. Over those eight seasons, Imanaga compiled a 2.94 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and a 57% winning percentage. That earned him a four-year, $53 million contract with a club option for 2028. One start is WAY too early to be predicting Imanaga's future with Chicago, but what can we learn about his debut for our Fantasy Baseball teams?

Shota Imanaga's Strong MLB Debut Shuts Down Rockies

Become an All-Access Member to get access to our Award-Winning Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Daily Projections, DFS/Betting Content, Custom Advice via Discord, and more. Use Promo code "F6PMLB24" for 15% off all plans.

If you are already a member, sign in.

Embed from Getty Images

Pitching on a wet, dreary day in Chicago,  Imanaga shut down a weak Rockies' offense. Tossing 92 pitches over six innings, Imanaga allowed just two hits, no walks, and struck out nine batters. He induced 20 swings and misses. That number is now tied with Tarik Skubal for the second-most swinging strikes by a pitcher this season, according to Baseball Savant. He mixed in four different pitches while predominantly relying on his four-seam fastball and legendary splitter.

That splitter pitch was what earned him the money this offseason, and it was working at Wrigley on Monday afternoon. He threw the pitch 15 times and induced 12 swings and misses on the pitch. That's a crazy 80% number, and would immediately vault up to one of the best pitches in MLB if it remains stable. But he also got 15% swinging strikes on his fastball and 50% on his sweeper.

Of his 92 pitches, 65 were strikes (called or swinging). Perhaps most staggering from his pitch mix was the number of splitters that were swinging strikes compared to the number that were actually in the strike zone. This chart from Baseball Savant shows the location of his mix.

Only four of them were definitely in the strike zone and yet the Rockies batters swung at them again and again.

The array of locations and speeds kept the Cubs's hitters on their back feet all day. His velocity ranged from 74.1 to 94.3 miles per hour. He didn't allow a batted ball over 102 miles per hour, and his only hits allowed came in his last inning. The fact that he could recover from those and strike out Nolan Jones, the Rockies' best hitter, to escape the jam, shows the extra level he possesses.

Can Shota Imanaga Outperform His ADP in 2024?

In NFBC drafts from February 1 to March 31, Shota Imanaga's average draft position was a very low 172. Imanaga doesn't have to do too much to outperform that number. Pitchers like Bryce Miller, Jordan Montgomery, and Cristian Javier were in a similar range, and Imanaga's innate ability could allow him to outperform each of these. As with all rookies and first-year players (especially international players), it's the inevitable adjustment period that must be considered.

At some point this year, batters will learn to lay off the splitter. Imanaga will then have adjustments to make. Should he throw it more in the strike zone? Should he mix in more curveballs and sweepers? How does he attack different batters? These are the questions he will inevitably face when the dog days of summer are here.

Imanaga is a player who pitches with passion and tremendous zeal (as evidenced by his celebration when he struck out men with runners on in his first game). While not quite at Yoshinobu Yamamoto's level, he is still one of the best international pitchers in years. From my perspective, it was his age that scared away MLB teams and fantasy managers. Through one start, however, that looks irrelevant. Our own first year player rankings have Imanaga at number 33, and it already looks too low.

If forced to make a prediction for Imanaga's season and for next year's ADP, I'll now bullish. I'll give him a 3.50 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and a strikeout per inning this year. That should mean he is a easily a top-100 draft pick in 2025.


Thanks for reading Shota Imanaga's Strong MLB Debut: Ryan's Reflections. Check out the rest of Fantasy Six Pack's Fantasy Baseball content.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

F6P Badges Banner

Follow us on social media

f6p-logo-footer

A Six Pack of Fantasy Sports

Copyright © 2024 Fantasy Six Pack.