There was a ghost sighting at spring training in Florida on Sunday. Or rather, there were two ghost sightings to be precise.
That’s the number of times New York Mets rookie pitcher Kodai Senga hurled his notorious ‘ghost forkball’ – an off-speed pitch that has mesmerized Japanese hitters for the better part of the last decade.
After signing a five-year, $75 million contract this offseason, the 30-year-old righty was making his spring training debut against the St. Louis Cardinals, meaning Sunday’s game was the first official ghost forkball sighting in North America.
The early reviews for Senga were mixed, but his knee-buckling off-speed pitch was undeniably impressive.
Cardinals phenom Jordan Walker, considered one of the biggest prospects in baseball, was the ghost forkball’s first victim, missing high on the 83-mph offering for one of Senga’s two strikeouts.
New York Mets rookie pitcher Kodai Senga, 30, unveiled his famed ‘ghost forkball’ during his spring training debut on Sunday in Florida. The pitch has frustrated Japanese hitters for more than a decade
According to MLB’s Statcast, which records an array of data on nearly every aspect of baseball, Senga’s forkball to Walker travelled at just 83.2 mph with 1,158 rotations per minute. Best of all – or ‘worst of all,’ as Walker discovered – the pitch appeared to have rolled off a table, dropping 41 inches with another 11 inches of break.
By itself, the pitch wouldn’t be enough to make sluggers like Walker look foolish, but coupled with a fastball that topped out at 98.6 mph on Sunday, the ghost forkball has the potential to devastate National League hitters in 2023.
But Sunday was far from perfect for Senga, who tossed 42 pitches against the Cardinals.
One hanging curveball was crushed by St. Louis’ Tres Barrera for a home run. Senga also struggled with location at times, walking the first two hitters he faced.
‘[I felt] very rushed in the beginning,’ Senga said through an interpreter after his first outing using MLB’s new pitch clock. ‘I thought if I had more time to spare at the end, I could get settled in. But [the pitch clock] just kind of ended up rushing everything, including my mechanics.’
New York Mets starting pitcher Kodai Senga throws during the second inning of a spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday,
The good news for Mets fans is that Senga is not being counted on as the team’s ace. With the reunion of former Detroit Tigers All-Stars Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, Senga is looked at as more of a mid-rotation arm, which was hardly how he was seen in Japan.
Over 11 seasons with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, Senga posted an impressive 2.59 earned-run average while striking out 10.3 hitters per nine innings.
The ghost forkball – categorized by Statcast as a ‘splitfinger’ – was a big part of that, and Major League hitters are beginning to see why.
‘It’s just a really unique shape,’ Mets slugger Pete Alonso told reporters after facing Senga during live batting practice. ‘I don’t really have anything to base it off. It’s like it’s own pitch. It’s a pretty good one.’
As he told NorthJersey.com through an interpreter, Senga first began throwing the pitch in 2013 as a reliever.
‘In 2013 when I was coming out of the ‘pen actually is when I started practicing the splitter, and that’s how it came about.
‘I don’t know if it was the way I was practicing, but I was throwing it just playing catch for a while, but I got off the mound in a bullpen one time and it just came to me instantly,’ he said.
As for the name, Senga can’t remember who coined it, but its origin is obvious enough.
‘I don’t know who named it for me but it came from the hitters, saying, ‘It just disappeared,’ he said. ‘It just disappeared,’ and then it turned into the ghost fork.’
And as for whether the pitch is technically a forkball or a split-finger fastball (aka: splitter), Senga quietly believes it’s the latter.
‘It was called a forkball in Japan, but when I throw it, it’s not like I’m actually gripping the ball between my two fingers,’ Senga told NorthJersey.com. ‘Technically, it’s probably a splitter, but you guys can call it whatever you want.’
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