In the 2006-07 offseason, Daisuke Matsuzaka’s gyroball was all the rage as he went from the Seibu Lions to a six-year, $52 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.
Fourteen years later, Kodai Senga’s “Ghostfork” is a popular talking point when it comes it to his repertoire of pitches and if all goes well during the first year of a $75 million, five-year contract with the Mets, fans will be hearing about it the pitch quite often.
Matsuzaka’s gyroball is described as a pitch with a “spiral-like spin” where according to a 2006 article in Sports Illustrated, the effectiveness of the pitch is related to the arms and not in the grip of the ball, though according to analysis back then by Baseball Prospectus said it was more of a myth.
Matsuzaka experienced a decent amount of success, winning 15 games in his debut season when the Red Sox won the second of their four World Series titles. He was 18-3 in 2008 and Met fans remember Matsuzaka for his 4.06 ERA in 41 appearances during the 2013 and 2014 seasons as the Mets gradually ushered in their rebuild centered around Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz, whom all are elsewhere these days.
On Monday, Senga showed some personality in his first comments to a New York media crowd, including his one-word description of the pitch when he said “Practice.” In response to how he mastered the pitch.
So what exactly is the “ghostfork” besides a pitch that has a cool name and can be developed into numerous fun things for marketing and promotions departments? The pitch was given the nickname by fans of the Pacific League’s Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and is basically a combination splitter/forkball.
Many pitchers from Japan are known for their splitter and for observers of New York baseball, they received plenty of looks at the pitch during the 271 games Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka appeared in with the Yankees from 2012 to 2020.
This pitch besides possessing the cool nickname is something that is considered his second-best pitch. When it worked in the Pacific League it exited Senga’s hands like a fastball and when it reached the plate the bottom simply drops out like a splitter.
“I think they spend a lot of time experimenting with different movement characteristics,” Mets general manager Billy Eppler said of why pitchers join the majors from Japan with specialty pitches containing cool nicknames. “It’s just a focus of theirs to try to see if they can do creative things with the baseball.”
Eppler would certainly know about scouting Japan’s pitchers. When he was assistant GM under Brian Cashman, Eppler helped the Yankees land Tanaka and when he became the GM of the Angels, he signed Shohei Ohtani, who happened to be a free agent after the 2023 season.
Somewhere between scouting Tanaka and signing Ohtani, Senga emerged on Eppler’s radar, counting him as among the intrigued parties looking forward to seeing the pitch against major league hitters.
“I’m excited to see it,” Eppler said. “I know the bottom falls out of it and comes out of the hand looking like a fastball. So, it’ll be interesting to see how he acclimates because let’s not forget that there’s a lot of acclimation that comes with a pitcher coming from the NPB or any foreign league.”
As for what his fastball looks like, according to the Japanese statistical website DeltaGraphs, he averaged 96 mph, topped out at 101.9 mph in a May start and the effectiveness of pitch set the table for his mid-80s splitter, a pitch ranked as the hardest pitch for NPB hitters to make contact with last season according to the site.
One thing anyone who followed Monday’s proceeding is the group of hitters Senga is looking forward to facing the most.
He certainly did not hesitate when in English he said: “The Phillies Lineup” in response to the question and it is hard to blame any Met pitcher for high anticipation at getting cracks at the Phillies after the Mets won 101 games and flamed out in the wild-card run while the Phillies made a magical run to the World Series.
The Mets are hoping for similar results from Senga’s 11 seasons in the Pacific League where he was 87-44 with a 2.59 ERA and converted into a starter in 2016. After becoming a starter, he was the Game 1 starter in four straight seasons as his team won four straight titles, a fact Eppler admitted swayed the Mets into adding him as part of their $476.7 million spent for seven free agents so far.
“It was a bit of a separator,” Eppler said of Senga’s championship experience.
As for the exact financial cost, according to the AP, Senga received a $5 million signing bonus and his annual salary from 2023-27 is $14 million. If he reaches 400 innings through the first three seasons, he can an opt out.
And then there are various bonuses, which are frequently in contracts.
He would earn a $100.00 bonus for winning reliever of the year, a $50,000 bonus for winning a Cy Young, $25,000 for finishing second in the Cy Young voting and $10,000 for third. Senga would get $100,000 for World Series MVP, $50,000 each for making the All-Star ream, winning a Gold Glove or the League Championship Series MVP
Considering the aspirations of the Mets since becoming major players in each of the past two winters under Steve Cohen, they will gladly pay those bonuses and they certainly are hoping to hear more about the “ghostfork” a pitch that may provide ample opportunities for t- shirts and other merchandise if all goes according to plan.