Cincinnati Reds: Don’t look now, but Shogo Akiyama is heating up

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 05: Shogo Akiyama #4 of the Cincinnati Reds at bat in the fourth inning during the game. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 05: Shogo Akiyama #4 of the Cincinnati Reds at bat in the fourth inning during the game. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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Reds fans had been waiting to see this version of Shogo Akiyama.

After signing a three-year/$21M contract this offseason, the expectations for Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama were quite high. The Cincinnati Reds prized free agent signing was expected to be the team’s leadoff hitter and set the table for Cincinnati’s offense. That hasn’t happened yet, but Akiyama finally appears to be figuring things out.

We, as fans, oftentimes find it incredibly easy to be critical. A lot of us, as kids, grew up playing the game, and lose our patience when a player misplays a fly ball, can’t catch up to a fastball or strikes out looking at a ball right down the center of the plate. However, it’s easy to forget that baseball is not an easy game, and the adjustment that Akiyama is being asked to make is not an easy one.

Not only that, but the 2020 season has been anything but typical. Spring training was shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and we didn’t even see baseball players return to the field until July. There’s increased pressure on every at-bat and every pitch, as the season has been reduced by 102 games, making every swing and throw even more magnified.

None of this is done to offer excuses for Akiyama, or any other major league player for that matter. To be fair, every player has had to endure the same hardships this season, and others like the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals had to postpone more than a week’s worth of games.

However, the adjustment from life in the Nippon Professional Baseball league to Major League Baseball is not one that happens overnight. Over the last seven games, it would appear that Show Akiyama is starting to turn the corner.

With a bit more consistent at-bats, Akiyama appears to be thriving. In the past seven contests, Akiyama is slashing .429/.579/.500. An OPS of 1.079 over the past week is a welcome change from the .516 OPS Akiyama had heading into the month of September. Since the calendar flipped from August, Akiyama has started six of the Reds eight games and has hit safely in four of those six starts.

The one thing we haven’t yet seen from Shogo Akiyama is power. Akiyama has yet to homer on the season and his .275 slugging percentage is the worst among regulars in Cincinnati’s lineup. While Akiyama’s soft contact of 16.3%, according to FanGraphs, isn’t awful, his 26.7% hard contact percentage isn’t very good.

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Shogo Akiyama’s recent surge at the plate would seem to indicate that, perhaps, the 31-year-old is adapting to the speed of the MLB game. Hopefully, Akiyama will continue to gain confidence at the dish, as the Cincinnati Reds need him to reliably get on base, and maybe even drive in some runs.