Archive > June 2008

The Darvish Effect

» 30 June 2008 » In mlb prospects, npb » 3 Comments

There’s a lot of hype and speculation around Yu Darvish, the anointed successor to Daisuke Matsuzaka as Japan’s ace and the next big MLB import. It’s easy to understand why: Darvish is 21 years old, 6’6, throws a 95MPH fastball as well as five other pitches, and has dominated the Pacific League. If anything, Darvish is a slightly better prospect than Matsuzaka was at this stage.

Unfortunately for hot stove fans, I think it’ll be a long time before we see Yu Darvish in an MLB uniform.

Here’s video from an interview with Darvish conducted prior to last year’s Japan Series. It’s in Japanese, but I’ve translated some highlights below.

“Won’t it be uninteresting for the Japanese children? To give the kids something to enjoy, it’s important for local stars to stay.”

“There aren’t supposed to be players born in Japan who what to go to the majors from the start. You start in Japanese Pro Baseball first.”

“I want to continue playing in Japanese Pro Baseball.”

(source video)

*Note: I’m not satisfied with my translation there. I may revisit this one.

In a sense it’s refreshing that Darvish is committed to Japanese baseball. As much as I like Uehara and Matsuzaka, they’ve been talking about playing in the Majors since day one. It’s nice to see that Darvish is focused on NPB, at least for now.

I don’t think it’ll last though. If Darvish continues to perform at the level he’s at, I have a hard time believing he wouldn’t want to challenge himself at the MLB level. The interest is certainly there on the MLB side.

From a practicality standpoint though, it’s going to take a while. Darvish still needs to accumulate six more years of service time beyond this season before qualifying for international free agency. So that’s a long way off.

Which brings to the question of whether Nippon Ham would post Darvish. I think posting is actually Darvish’s most likely route to MLB, but let’s examine this.

Let’s assume that Darvish would command a posting fee similar to the $51,111,111.11 that Seibu got for Matsuzaka. Actually let’s bump that up a little and guess that Darvish will fetch $60M for his team. This is just a wild, totally, unscientific guess for the sake of argument so don’t take it too seriously.

If Nippon Ham were to post Darvish after this season, they’d essentially be selling their right to employ him for the next six years for $60M. I think Darvish is worth far more to the Fighters than this. Financially speaking, he’s a huge asset as he’s Japan’s most popular player, and can sell tickets, merchandise and attract fans on television and the internet. I don’t have numbers on what Darvish actually pulls in, but I think he is the single biggest draw in NPB.

Darvish is also at the core of the Fighter’s competitive efforts. Nippon Ham is experiencing kind of a golden age right, now coming off back-to-back Japan Series apperances (winning in 2006), and are competitive again this year. Darvish is one of the players that got them to competitiveness after years of being a doormat. As other key figures like manager Trey Hillman (KC Royals), Tsuyoshi Shinjo (retirement), and Michihiro Ogasawara (Yomiuri Giants) have departed, Darvish has become even more central to the team’s success.

The only way Nippon Ham will post Darvish is if it comes down to posting him or losing him to free agency. I suspect it’ll eventually come down to that, and Nippon Ham will have to make a choice like the Indians have to make with C.C. Sabathia this year, and the Rangers made last year with Mark Teixiera. I could be wrong, but I think we’ll see him in an MLB uniform in 2014 or so but not before then. By then he’ll be 27-28 and have some mileage on his arm, but still be solidly in his prime.

The good news is that we get to see him play in Japan for several more years, and represent Japan in international competition. The media attention Darvish has garnered in America has seemed to generate some interest in Japanese baseball. I hope this will be beneficial for the sustainability of NPB.

I’ll post a more complete profile of Darvish at some point in the future, and track his performance throughout the season. For now, here are his career numbers (through 2007) and some brief game footage.

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NPB Bullet Points (06/29)

» 29 June 2008 » In npb » 1 Comment

NPB and related news from around the Internet…

  • Shingo Takatsu picked up his first save in Korea. Shingo took the ball in the 8th inning and pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief in Woori’s 4-1 win over LG. Takatsu becomes the first player to save a game in NPB, MLB, and KBO.
  • Koji Uehara pitched a scoreless 9th in the Giants 6-1 victory over Hiroshima. Uehara retired the side in order in his return.
  • Orix’s addition of John Koronka has been made official.
  • Aarom Baldiris had his first big hit in Japan in Hanshin’s 6/27 game against Yakult. Baldiris’s two run-single gave the Tigers a lead they would never lose in their 7-2 win over the Swallows. Baldiris has earned regular playing time after being promoted from the farm team.
  • According to Sanspo, Hanshin has sent a scout to the United States to look into acquiring another foreign player. Team president Numasawa was quoted as saying he wants to be prepared if any of the foreign players on the current roster go down with an injury. The article speculates that Hanshin could be looking for relief help, as some of it’s bullpen will be absent during the Olympics.
  • Former Ranger Jason Botts offically joined Nippon Ham. Botts was introduced to the press in Osaka and will start off with the Fighters’ farm team.

Note: all links in Japanese.

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Updated: Rios Caught Doping

» 27 June 2008 » In npb » Comments Off

Updated again, June 28: CNNSI reports that the banned substance was hydroxystanozorol.

Updates, June 28:Rios was indeed released by Yakult (link in English). Sanspo has published an interview with Rios, in which he apologized and admitted getting an supplement injection, but says he didn’t know it was a banned substance. The substance he tested positive for still hasn’t been released, so

Bobby Valentine commented on the situation: “Rather than randomly selecting two players (to test), we should test everyone. Testing everyone would be fair. If there are violations, of course it would be fine to penalize them” (Edit, June 29: corrected translation).


According to this report in Sanspo, Yakult Swallows starter Daniel Rios has been discovered to be using banned substances and suspended for one year. The article doesn’t mention what Rios was caught using, but Rios is almost certainly finished in Japan. He had already been dropped from the Swallows’ active roster for performance reasons earlier in the month.

I don’t know much about Rios, except that he had several successful seasons in Korea. I think he might have had one or two seasons as the KBO’s top pitcher, but I’ll have to look that up. I do remember that he turned down a better offer from his team in Korea to join Yakult this season. I think his goal had been to prove himself on a one-year deal, then go for a bigger contract.

Rios is the third player in NPB history to fail a drug test. Giants’ infielder Luis Gonzales failed earlier this year and was immediately released. Former Yakult Pitcher Rick Guttormson’s use of Rogaine (or something similar) triggered a failed drug test as few years ago as it’s considered a masking agent. This was before the current doping rules were in place and he got away with a brief suspension. Guttormson still pitches in Japan, now with Softbank.

Hanshin’s Jeff Williams and Orix’s Alex Cabrera were named in the notorious Mitchell Report, but neither has ever failed a drug test. Hanshin’s management has notably come out in support of Williams.

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Pro Yakyu Resumes

» 27 June 2008 » In npb » Comments Off

NPB resumed league play last night after a short post-interleague break.

Pacific League
Nippon Ham 3 – Orix 2 — Yu Darvish struck out 10 and walked 3 over seven innings to pick up the win. Former Twin Micheal Nakamura picked up the save, while former Angel Ramon Ortiz went six innings a losing effort for Orix.

Saitama Seibu Lions 4 – Chiba Lotte Marines 1 — Breakout starter Kazuyuki Hoashi held the Marines to one run over 7+ innings and Craig Brazell knocked in three runs in Seibu’s win. Lotte phenom starter Yoshihisa Naruse surrendered four earned runs in five innings, seeing his personal night game winning streak end at 14.

Softbank Hawks 3 – Rakuten Golden Eagles 2 — Infielder Yuichi Honda won it in the ninth for Softbank with a Sayonara hit to center, knocking in catcher Katsuki Yamazaki. C.J. Nitkowski took the win in relief for Softbank.

Central League
Chunichi Dragons 2 – Yokohama BayStars 1 — MLB prospect Kenshin Kawakami held the BayStars scoreless over seven innings, and the Dragons scored twice on Yokohama’s bullpen for the win. On the plus side for Yokohama, rookie starter Futoshi Kobayashi pitched well, giving up one earned run in seven innings of work.

Hiroshima Carp 6 – Yomiuri Giants 1 — Rookie hurler Kenta Maeda shutdown the Giants over seven innings, and first baseman Kenta Kurihara lead a well-balanced attack with his eigth homerun of the year. Shinnosuke Abe homered in a losing effort for the Giants.

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Orix to Sign John Koronka?

» 26 June 2008 » In npb » 1 Comment

The Orix Buffaloes are moving to sign form MLB pitcher John Koronka. Koronka has pitched in the majors with the Cubs and Rangers, but is currently not contracted to an affiliated team. Orix needs a pitcher to fill in for injured starters Tom Davey and Yoshihisa Hirano. Koronka is 27 years old and might still have some upside left.

Courtesy of Sanspo.

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NPB Bullet Points

» 25 June 2008 » In npb » Comments Off

This feature is inspired by mlbtraderumors.com‘s Odds and Ends piece.

  • Marty Brown wants to continue managing Hiroshama beyond this season. Brown is in the last year of a three year contract, and the ownership is looking for a top three finish. Hiroshima is in fourth now, just behind the Giants. Here’s hoping Brown gets to manage in Hiroshima’s new stadium.
  • Orix is looking into signing former major leaguer Jon Koronka. Koronka has appeared in the bigs with the Rangers and Cubs but currently isn’t under contract with an MLB affilated team.
  • Hanshin is scouting infielder Lee Dae-Ho of the Lotte Giants of the Korean League as an acquisition target. The ’06 KBO triple crown winner doesn’t reach free agency until after the ’09 season, so if the Tigers are going to get him it’ll have to be some other way.

Note: all links are to Japanese language sources.

Edit: Corrected spelling of Lee Dae-Ho. Thanks East Windup Chroricle.

Edit again: See also Marinerds, etc’s NPB Roundup.

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Free Agency

» 24 June 2008 » In npb » 6 Comments

The NPB players union is meeting on the 25th to discuss a new proposal that would change the rules of free agency. The key change being discussed is a reduction in the amount of service time needed to move to a different team in Japan. If this initiative passes, attaining domestic free agency would require eight years of service time, while international free agency would still require nine. For players drafted out of college or the industrial leagues in 2007, domestic free agency would require seven years of service time.

Free Agency rules are notoriously strict in Japan. “Nine years service time” is defined as 145 days of being active on the top team’s roster for nine seasons. Time missed for injuries is deducted from the total. Teams signing domestic free agents are also required to compensate the player’s former team with either money or a player and less money. The cash compensation is rather steep: either 1.2 times the player’s previous year’s salary. Alternatively, the new team can choose to let the player’s former team take a player from an unprotected list, and 0.8 times the free agent’s previous salary.

Players moving to MLB are obviously not subject to these restrictions, so there’s an imbalance for free agents. There was very little risk, for example, for the Red Sox in signing Hideki Okajima as they were only responsible for his salary. An NPB team signing Okajima would have had to pay his salary, some cash, and possibly a player. My gut feeling is that the new free agency rules proposal is intended to help keep Japanese stars in NPB. I agree with the effort, but perhaps a better approach would be to lessen some of the restrictions on Japanese teams signing free agents, or negotiate a compensation framework with MLB for NPB free agents.

For more information, Sanspo, Wikipedia (both Japanese)

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Player Profile: Koji Uehara

» 23 June 2008 » In mlb prospects » 9 Comments

The blurb I posted on Koji Uehara got a fair bit of traffic, so it seems like a good time to write a more complete profile on him. Uehara has a long-stated desire to pitch for an MLB team, and had requests to be posted denied by his team in 2004 and 2005. The righty met the service time requirements for free agency earlier this year and is a lock to sign with an MLB team this off season.

Achievements
Uehara has spent his entire nine year career with the storied Yomiuri Giants franchise. In his first season in 1999, he outperformed fellow rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka with 20-4 record and 2.04 ERA, winning the Central League Rookie of the Year Award (Matsuzaka went 16-5, 2.60 and took the Pacific League award). 1999 also saw Uehara take home the first of his two Sawamura Awards* as well as several other awards.

Although he’s never quite matched the numbers he put up in his rookie year, Uehara has been an effective pitcher ever since, and dominant when healthy. His 2002 season (17-5, 2.60 ERA 182/23 K/BB in 204 IP) was good enough for a second Sawamura Award. He’s also played for Japan Series winners in 2000 and 2002, and shutdown Korea in the 2006 WBC semi-final game.

Uehara’s career numbers (up to 2007) can be found at JapaneseBaseball.com.

Pitching
Uehara relies on a fastball that he can throw wherever he wants, and runs up to 91 mph. He also features a forkball with late movement, a shuuto, and the occasional cut fastball. You can see him in action against Korea in the 2006 WBC on this youtube video. Uehara is a control pitcher, and has never given up more than 28 walks in any season (in 138 IP in 2001). His biggest weakness has been the home run ball.

Rotation or Bullpen?
Uehara has been a starter for most of his career, and that’s where he had most of his success. In 2007, he was put into the closer role after returning from an injury, and not moved back into the rotation for the rest of the season. The manager cited his success in bullpen (32 saves, 1.74 ERA, 66/4 K/BB in 62 IP), but some felt that the Giants were spiting him for his intent to move to MLB. He has also been used as a reliever in international competition. The Giants added fireballing closer Marc Kroon this season, and moved Uehara back into the rotation, but he spent time on injured reserve and will rejoin the team as a reliever.

Of Note
Uehara has the somewhat quirky characteristic of always wearing a long sleeve shirt when he pitches. He collects baseball memorabilia as a hobby, and is good friends with the Dodgers’ Hiroki Kuroda. Uehara is 33 years old and played college ball at Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences.

Future
Uehara’s intent is to come to MLB after this season, and I think he’ll be one of the more successful pitchers to come over from Japan. Uehara’s playing on a competitive Giants team this season and should be motivated to go out on a high note, so he’ll be fun to follow this season. Look out for more posts on him over the course of the year.

*The Sawamura Award is the award for Japan’s top pitcher, equivilent to MLB’s Cy Young Award. Unlike the Cy Young, it’s only awarded to one pitcher in Japan, rather than one pitcher in each league. Pitchers are judged on performance in seven areas, which I’ll go over in a different post.

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Koji Uehara to Return as a Middle Reliever

» 21 June 2008 » In mlb prospects, npb » Comments Off

MLB-bound pitcher Koji Uehara will return to the Yomiuri Giants when league play resumes on June 27. Uehara began the season in rotation, going 0-4 with a 6.75 before missing two months with an injury. He’ll return as a middle reliever, with current middle relief ace Kentaro Nishimura moving into the rotation to accomodate the move.

Uehara is Japan’s top control pitcher, and has long stated his intent to move to MLB once he qualifies for free agency. He met the service time requirement earlier this season, so this figures to be his farewell tour with the Giants. I’ll post a more complete profile of him in the coming weeks.

Sources (on Uehara’s comeback).

Hochi Sports, Sanspo

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Yu Darvish Volunteers to Pitch Relief Against Hanshin

» 19 June 2008 » In npb » 2 Comments

NPB Interleague Play wraps up over the weekend, and Nippon Ham will need to win both of it’s games against Hanshin to have a shot at winning the Interleague title*. Yu Darvish has offered to pitch in relief over the weekend if it will give his team a chance to win. Darvish last pitched on June 17, throwing 128 pitches over seven innings in the Fighters’ 8-7 win. He allowed three earned runs while striking out nine and walking four.

Hopefully Nippon Ham manager Nashida sees the bigger picture and doesn’t burn out his ace pitcher over a game that ultimately doesn’t hold any special meaning.

Source: Sanspo (in Japanese)

*In Japan, Interleague games are sorted of treated as a separate championship within the season. Each team’s results still factor in to their normal won-lost records, but they also keep separate standings for Interleague games, and the team with the best record is considered the champion. The Interleague Championship doesn’t have any playoff implications and isn’t a big deal at the end of the day. The Interleague contenders are:

Team W L
Softbank 14 8
Hanshin 14 8
Nippon Ham 13 9
Yomiuri 13 9

Going into the final Interleague weekend, Hanshin plays Nippon Ham and Softbank plays Yomiuri. So despite the Interleague games not being worth any more in the standings than any other game, making it a little more of a competition does at a bit of intrigue.

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