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Reds: Shogo Akiyama was reduced to defensive replacement in 2021

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 14: Shogo Akiyama #4 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on prior to the game. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 14: Shogo Akiyama #4 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on prior to the game. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
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Shogo Akiyama was supposed to be one of the key players for the Cincinnati Reds after signing a three-year/$21M contract prior to the 2020 season. Akiyama hasn’t really been given the opportunity to find success, and he was reduced to little more than a defensive replacement during the 2021 season.

I want to try to be as fair as possible when passing out a grade for Shogo Akiyama’s 2021 performance. While it can be argued that David Bell is the one who fills out the lineup card, I would also suggest that the Reds’ manager sees his players on a daily basis during practice as well.

I guess what I’m saying is, you can only be judged based on the production you put forward. While I, like many of you, would have preferred to see Akiyama receive more playing time, the reality is that the 33-year-old only made 33 starts and saw action in just 61 games during the 2021 season.

Shogo Akiyama has been a disappointment since signing with the Reds.

It’s really hard to make a full assessment of who Shogo Akiyama is, because I would say that he’s not yet been given the chance. Akiyama’s 2020 season was impacted heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic, a family emergency and hamstring injury during this year’s spring training robbed him of valuable time on the field, and the Reds’ outfield depth relegated him to bench role this season.

Despite Nick Senzel ending his 2021 campaign in mid-May, the ascension of Tyler Naquin kept Akiyama in the dugout rather than on the field. It’s hard to argue with Bell’s decision, as Naquin put forward a career-year and had a few stretches where you could argue that he was the hottest hitter on the team.

Both he and Akiyama are left-handed hitter, eliminating the possibility of platooning the two. In the end, Bell preferred a left-handed and right-handed platoon of Naquin and Aristides Aquino. We even saw players like Delino DeShields and TJ Friedl receive playing time down the stretch instead of Akiyama.

On the season, Shogo Akiyama was 33-for-162 (.204) with an OPS+ of 39. Akiyama still has yet to connect on his first major league home run. One look at Akiyama’s advanced stats on Baseball Savant might suggest it’ll never happen.

Akiyama is in the 53rd percentile in terms of max exit velocity. Last season, Akiyama was in the bottom 2% in barrel-rate and the bottom 5% in hard hit percentage. Akiyama is little more than a slap-hitter. Only eight of Akiyama’s 33 hits went for extra bases, meaning 75% of Akiyama’s hit were singles.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with making contact and getting on base. Pete Rose made a career of that. But in today’s game, with the defensive shift being so prevalent, you have to find a way to get the ball up and over the infield defenders. Akiyama just isn’t that type of player.

Next. 4 Reds who fell short of expectations in 2021

I don’t see things changing much between now and next season unless Shogo Akiyama is able to totally remake his approach at the plate. Akiyama is owed $8M next season in what will likely be his final season in the Queen City. For his performance during the 2021 season, Akiyama receives a D on his report card.

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