Red Sox rookie Masataka Yoshida blasts two home runs in the same inning
By Sean Penney
Masataka Yoshida sputtered out of the gate in his rookie campaign but an epic performance to fuel a late Boston Red Sox rally against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday is an encouraging sign that he's putting his early-season struggles behind him.
Justin Turner led off the eighth inning with a game-tying home run against Brewers reliever Matt Bush and Yoshida followed with another solo shot to give the Red Sox a lead. Boston's bats were hardly finished with the Brewers bullpen though. The back-to-back homers opened the floodgates to nine-run explosion in the inning with Yoshida as the centerpiece of the rally.
Yoshida stepped to the plate again with two outs in the eighth inning, the bases loaded, and Javy Guerra on the mound. He caught a hanging slider and sent it 407 feet into the second deck in right field for a grand slam.
Yoshida joined some elite company by becoming the first Red Sox player since David Ortiz in 2008 to hit two home runs in the same inning. Nomar Garciaparra (2002) and Ellis Burks (1990) are the only other Red Sox hitters to do it.
According to J.P. Long of Sox Notes, this is the 65th time in MLB history that a player has homered twice in an inning. Yoshida is the first player born in Japan to do it and the fourth rookie. He's one of only 15 players to ever accomplish this with one of the homers being a grand slam. This marks only the second time that a player has homered twice while giving his team the lead in the eighth inning or later.
Red Sox rookie Masataka Yoshida is heating up
Yoshida had fallen into an 0-for-18 slump that lowered his season average to a dreadful .167 entering last Thursday's game. He's now riding a four-game hitting streak with three multi-hit performances, resulting in his average leaping to .231.
Aside from this obviously being the best game of his young career, Yoshida's two-homer performance shows some encouraging signs that he's rectifying some concerning trends.
Yoshida's 57.9 ground ball percentage is the fifth-highest among qualified major league hitters, per FanGraphs. Even with MLB banning the shift, hitting the ball on the ground this frequently isn't a path to success, especially for someone who isn't a speedster beating out infield singles. Yoshida's .222 BABIP is the 13th-lowest in the majors. We can't blame bad luck entirely for his poor BABIP when he's hitting the ball on the ground so often and ranks in only the 46th percentile in Hard Hit percentage, per Baseball Savant.
The pair of home runs signals that Yoshida is making adjustments to hit the ball in the air harder. The home runs both had exit velocities of over 105 mph. He also started his day with a sac fly to right field in the first inning to score Boston's first run in the game.
Yoshida's -0.1 Launch Angle is tied for the fourth-lowest in the majors. His launch angle was much worse early in the season but has been steadily climbing. The average launch angle on his last 25 batted balls has been above league average, a drastic improvement from where he started.
Yoshida arrived with a reputation as a hitter capable of spraying the ball to all fields. He has shown the ability to slap the ball to the opposite field and line it up the middle but they were mostly singles until he got to Milwaukee. Yoshida drove a double into the gap in left-center field on Friday for his third extra-base hit of the season. Both of his home runs on Sunday were pulled to right, marking only the second and third time he's recorded a hit to that side that left the infield.
His plate discipline was already elite with nearly as many walks (8) as strikeouts (9). Yoshida ranks in the 94th percentile in strikeout rate and he's above-average in drawing walks. Making contact hasn't been a problem. The issue is that he wasn't making enough hard contact, rolling over on pitches that he smacked into the ground instead of driving the ball in the air.
The transition from Japan to MLB was always expected to require some time to adjust. While some were quick to write off Yoshida as a bust after a few bad weeks, he's starting to turn his season around. We know based on his career in Japan and his performance in the World Baseball Classic that Yoshida is capable of hitting with power to all fields. Now he's finally starting to show it in a Red Sox uniform.