Prior to the 2008 season, the Chicago White Sox reportedly made Kosuke Fukudome a more lucrative offer than the four-year, $48 million deal that he accepted from the Cubs upon leaving the Japanese League's Chunichi Dragons. Four years later, Fukudome is headed for the South Side. The 34-year-old outfielder signed a one-year, $1 million contract that includes a $3.5 million option for the 2013 season.
It wouldn't be fair to call Fukudome's MLB stint a "bust" -- he has a career .361 on-base percentage -- but a lack of power and issues with left-handed pitching have made him a league-average (100 OPS+) hitter. As a platoon outfielder making little cash, he could have some value. Assistant GM Rick Hahn says the Sox are looking for Fukudome to "give us quality at-bats vs. righties, play some defense and get on base."
As Fukudome's 2008-11 splits show, he has worked the count and posted high OBPs against right-handers:
|Pitcher Hand||PA||BA/OBP/SLG||BB Pct.||K Pct.|
For Fukudome to have offensive value, however, he'll need to prove that he still has some vestige of power left in his bat. His Isolated Power dipped from .150 during his first three seasons in the majors to just .108 in 2011, and his percentage of ground balls hit climbed from 49 to 53. He at least punished belt-high pitches from 2008-10...
...But he only drove the occasional high-and-tight pitch in 2011...
He held his own against fastballs, with a .441 slugging percentage that was a couple points above the big league average for non-pitchers. But "soft" stuff -- curveballs, changeups and sliders -- gave him all sorts of problems. Fukudome's slugging percentage vs. soft pitches fell over 100 points, and his ground ball rate spiked:
|Player||SLG Pct.||GB Pct.|
Those extra grounders came on low-and-away pitches, with changeups especially giving him fits (his ground ball rate when pitchers pulled the string increased from 51% in 2008-10 to 68% in 2011). Check out Fukudome's ground ball rate by location against "soft" pitches in 2008-10, and then last season:
With the White Sox needing a minor miracle to contend in 2012, Fukudome figures to come off the bench as Dayan Viciedo takes over for Carlos Quentin in right field and some combination of Alejandro De Aza and Brent Lillibridge handles left field duties. Whether he provides an OBP boost against righties or plays himself out of the majors may come down to his ability to fight off breaking and off-speed stuff.