Why Senga should be in Cy Young conversation

September 8th, 2023

is sneaking up on the National League Cy Young race. Yes, he's really been that good for the Mets.

You'll hear bigger names before Senga's in the NL Cy Young discussion -- pitchers like Blake Snell, Spencer Strider, Zac Gallen and Zack Wheeler. But Senga is right up there. We have the numbers to prove it.

Senga's baseball card stats are good enough already -- his 3.08 ERA ranks third in the NL, his 176 strikeouts rank ninth and his 11.1 K/9 ranks fourth. But there's an even better way to sum up his excellence.

Statcast has an overall stat for pitchers called pitching run value, which takes the outcome of every single pitch a pitcher throws and measures its impact on the batting team's run-scoring, tallying up how many runs a pitcher has saved his team through his performance on the mound.

In his first season in the Majors, Senga is one of the very best pitchers at preventing runs. He's a top-five most valuable pitcher in MLB, not just the NL, by that metric.

Top pitchers by run value, 2023

  • 1. Gerrit Cole: +33 runs prevented
  • 2-T. Blake Snell: +32 runs prevented
  • 2-T. Sonny Gray: +32 runs prevented
  • 4. Félix Bautista: +25 runs prevented
  • 5-T. Kodai Senga: +23 runs prevented
  • 5-T. Zack Wheeler: +23 runs prevented
  • 5-T. Aaron Civale: +23 runs prevented

The Mets don't have Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander anymore, but they do still have a worthy ace.

Among the NL Cy Young contenders, only Snell has a better overall run value than Senga this season. Senga and Wheeler are tied for second among NL pitchers; Gallen and breakout Cy Young candidate Justin Steele are just behind at +22. (Strider, for all his strikeouts, is at +15.)

And here's a fun fact: Senga has been nearly as valuable in run prevention as Verlander and Scherzer combined. Verlander's pitching run value this season is +16. Scherzer's is +9.

Of course, the supernatural force behind Senga's dominant season is the ghost fork, one of baseball's most unhittable pitches.

The forkball doesn't haunt hitters all alone -- Senga's success is really driven by his four-seam/cutter/forkball troika -- but the ghost fork is what makes Senga Senga.

The other two pitches are instrumental in playing off the forkball. Senga has collected 51 strikeouts on his four-seamer, at velocities as high as 99 mph. And his cutter has been one of the most effective in baseball, used to attack the zone and get strikes before he finishes off hitters with the forkball. But Senga's ghost fork is the one pitch hitters truly have to fear. It's the elite putaway pitch for a pitcher who's pushing for 200 K's in his debut season.

Senga's forkball has accounted for a +10 run value on its own, putting him in the 98th percentile of MLB pitchers when it comes to offspeed pitch value. It's the strikeout numbers that continue to be eye-popping, though.

Senga has struck out 96 batters with the ghost fork, over half of his 176 total K's, making it a top-10 strikeout pitch in MLB this year.

Nearly 60% of the plate appearances decided on Senga's forkball have ended in a K, giving Senga the third-highest strikeout rate on any individual pitch type with 100 or more plate appearances ending on it. And Senga has racked up those 96 K's on his ghost fork without yielding a single home run.

Most K's on any pitch type with zero HR allowed

  1. Kodai Senga's forkball: 96
  2. Sonny Gray's sweeper: 94
  3. Shane McClanahan's changeup: 55
  4. Chris Stratton's 4-seamer: 49
  5. Gregory Santos' slider: 45

Hitters' bats are more likely to pass right through the ghost fork than to touch it. They don't just strike out in 60% of their plate appearances against it, they also whiff on 60% of their swings against it. Senga's forkball is one of the best swing-and-miss pitches out there.

Highest whiff rate on a single pitch type, 2023
Min. 200 swings vs. that pitch type

  1. Kodai Senga's forkball: 60.2%
  2. Spencer Strider's slider: 57.0%
  3. Blake Snell's curveball: 55.0%
  4. Shane McClanahan's changeup: 54.1%
  5. Jesús Luzardo's slider: 50.6%

Many a star hitter has fallen to Senga's forkball: Matt Olson, Julio Rodríguez, Paul Goldschmidt, Corbin Carroll, J.D. Martinez, Will Smith, Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, J.T. Realmuto, Jazz Chisholm Jr., Jorge Soler and Masataka Yoshida rank among its strikeout victims.

Every ace needs a signature pitch, and the ghost fork gives Senga one of the best.