Archive > November 2008

The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 1

» 30 November 2008 » In nichibei » 8 Comments

To me, the trend of NPB stars moving to MLB has meant more jobs for Japanese players and more opportunities for exchange. For others, it’s signified a decline in Japanese baseball. But let’s take a look at how each player’s move to MLB has affected the teams involved. 

Player movement is a part of the business of baseball, and while there’s a general trend of Japanese players wanting to test their skills in MLB, each situation is a little bit different. We’ve seen players ranging from role players like Hideki Okajima and So Taguchi to Hall of Fame-caliber stars like Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka make the move over. We’ve MLB departures go unnoticed, and have a huge impact on a team’s fanbase. So let’s examine each case and see what the impact has been overall.

2008

Hiroki Kuroda (SP, Carp -> Dodgers): Despite losing both Kuroda and star 1st baseman Takahiro Arai (Hanshin) to free agency, Hiroshima still managed to improve from 5th place (60-82-2) in 2007 to 4th (69-70-5) in 2008. Of course, if the Carp had been able to hang on to either one of those guys, they probably would have beat out Chunichi for the last playoff spot. Still, Colby Lewis did an outstanding job taking over for Kuroda as the ace, and the team looks primed to make a step forward in it’s new stadium.

Impact: Medium. Losing Kuroda probably kept the Carp out of the playoffs in ’08, but the team still improved on it’s record. Hiroshima is a small market and losing free agents domestically been a reality for the Carp for years.

Kosuke Fukudome (RF, Dragons -> Cubs): Chunichi won the Japan Series in 2007 despite Fukudome missing significant time due to injuries. The Dragons signed veteran slugger Kazuhiro Wada to take Fukudome’s place in the lineup, surrendering reliever Shinya Okamoto the Lions as compensation. Wada had a solid year (.302/.345/.475) but Chunichi fell from 2nd to 3rd place, and lost out to the Giants in the playoffs.

Impact: High. Wada is an above-average hitter but lacks Fukudome’s defensive skills, and cost the Dragons some bullpen depth. Chunichi looks set for a step back next season with Kenshin Kawakami and Norihiro Nakamura out the door as well. The team continues to draw well though.

Masa Kobayashi (RP, Marines -> Indians)
Yasuhiko Yabuta (RP, Marines -> Royals): Soichi Fujita (Yomiuri) departed as well, breaking up Lotte’s “YFK” relief combination. The Marines dropped from 2nd place in 2007 (76-61-7) to 4th (73-70-1) in 2008. Bullpen performance may have played a role in the increase in losses (six fewer ties compared to 2007), but Bobby Valentine still had four relievers who posted an era of 3.05 or lower. 

Impact: Low. Bullpens fluctuate, and on paper Lotte managed to replace the performance they got out of Yabuta and Kobayashi. 

Kazuo Fukumori (RP, Eagles -> Rangers): Rakuten seemed ready to compete for a playoff spot for most of 2008, but wound up finishing one game out of last despite outscoring their opponents by 20 runs. A return to form from Fukumori would have helped, but this was a guy that posted a 4.75 ERA in 2007.

Impact: Minimal. Fukumori was expendable coming off a bad season. 

2007

Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP, Lions -> Red Sox): Obviously a huge loss for the Lions, as they went from 2nd (80-54-2) to 5th (66-76-2). Jason Johnson was signed to replace Matsuzaka in the rotation, but was more interested in hanging out in Roppongi and never panned out. Hideaki Wakui, on the other hand, established himself as an ace, and the team rebounded in 2008 to win the Japan Series. Seibu used the $51M they received for Matsuzaka to make some stadium improvements, but otherwise hasn’t changed the way they run the team.

Impact: Medium. Everyone knew Matsuzaka was going to MLB, and Seibu got the maximum return by hanging on to Matsuzaka for as long as they could. Despite popularity problems, Seibu has always found ways to win. 

Hideki Okajima (RP, Fighters -> Red Sox): Nippon Ham lost some bullpen depth when Okajima left, but still managed to make it to their 2nd consecutive Japan Series in 2007. The Fighters acquired Okajima for a couple of very spare parts so they basically got a free year out of him. 

Impact: Low. Losing Michihiro Ogasawara (Yomiuri) and Tsuyoshi Shinjo (retirement) has had a bigger affect on Nippon Ham’s competitiveness. I wold suggest that Trey Hillman’s departure to MLB had a bigger impact on the Fighters than Okajima’s.

Kei Igawa (SP, Tigers -> Yankees): Igawa went 14-9 in 2006 as Hanshin finished 2nd to Chunichi with an 84-58-4 record. Without him in 2007, Hanshin dropped to 74-66-4 and a 3rd place finish. In addition to the loss of Igawa, Hanshin’s other starters took a step back in 2007, with Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi leading the team in innings pitched with just 129 1/3. Igawa’s departure also coincided with the Tigers’ offense regressing, as Tomoaki Kanemoto, Andy Sheets, Akihiro Yano and Osamu Hamanaka all performing significantly worse than the previous season.

The rotation improved 2008, with Minoru Iwata stepping into a more prominent role. The offense improved as well, and Hanshin led the Central League comfortably for most of the year before choking down the stretch to finish 2nd. 

Impact: Medium. Igawa was the only significant personel change, and the team finished 10 wins worse in 2007 than in 2006. Hanshin recovered in 2008 though, and the loss of Igawa never affected the team at the gate. Igawa was inconsistent for his last three seasons in Japan, but the Tigers still haven’t found an innings eater to take his place. Looking back though, Hanshin definitely sold high on Igawa and got a nice infusion of cash back for him without sacrificing on long-term competitiveness.

Akinori Iwamura  (3B, Swallows -> Rays): Yakult replaced Iwamura on the field with Aaron Guiel, and saw it’s record go from 70-73-3 in ’06 to 60-84-0 in ’07. It wasn’t Guiel that cost the team 10 wins, as he posted an .874 OPS compared to Iwamura’s .933 mark in ’06. Guiel dsappeared in ’08 as the Swallows rebounded slightly to 66-74-4. 

Impact: High. Short-term, the impact of losing Iwamura probably wasn’t that great. By the time Iwamura was sold to the Rays, most of the Swallows stars from the team’s mid-90’s glory years were gone or fading, and the team was heading into a period of decline anyway. Yakult has a star to build around in Norichika Aoki, but losing Iwamura has certainly slowed their return to competitiveness. 

Masumi Kuwata (SP, Giants -> Pirates): The Giants had banished Kuwata to the farm team for all of 2006 and didn’t notice he was gone. Kuwata, meanwhile, had a great “nothing to lose” attitude during his time with the Pirates.

Impact: None, except making the Giants look bad for unceremoniously dropping another veteran.

Agree? Disagree? Any information I haven’t presented here? 

I’ll look at players that moved from 2000-2006 in parts 2 and 3 of this series.

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Free Agent Watch: Tadahito Iguchi

» 30 November 2008 » In nichibei » 3 Comments

Tadahito Iguchi has offers from multiple teams in Japan and America, and wants to decided on a destination by the end of the year. Rakuten, Lotte and Softbank had all been noted as interested in bringing Iguchi back to Japan earlier in the off season. While I haven’t seen any specific MLB teams linked to Iguchi in the media, I’ll speculate that the White Sox could be a fit.

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Free Agency Watch: Group of 7

» 29 November 2008 » In mlb prospects, npb » Comments Off

Kenshin Kawakami: Word has it that the Rangers are interested.

Koji Uehara: Training with a Major League ball. Expected to see some movement on him at the Winter Meetings.

Ken Takahashi: Reportedly has offers from multiple MLB teams. The Cubs, Mets, Padres and Brewers are noted as interested.

Ryoji Aikawa: Worked out for a couple of MLB teams earlier in the month, still waiting to hear back. Aikawa will meet with Yakult again in December and wants to make a decision by the end of the year.

Norihiro Nakamura: Moving to Rakuten

Daisuke Miura: Staying with Yokohama.

Toshihiro Noguchi: Having a second round of negotiations with the BayStars on December 1. Looks set to replace Aikawa in Yokohama.

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NPB Bullet Points: Bullpen Edition

» 28 November 2008 » In nichibei » Comments Off

Couple of news items from the world of relief pitching to pass along today…

  • Rakuten is expected to announce the acquisition of Phillies AAA righty Matt Childers in the next couple of days. Looks like Childers pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in 2008, and had decent numbers.
  • Nippon Ham will look to recover a little bullpen depth with the signing Oakland AAA lefty Ryan Wing. Wing is coming off a solid season in his first try at AAA. At 26, he likely still has some upside left.
  • Add lefty Shigeki Noguchi to the list of guys eyeing a move to the States. Noguchi was one of the best pitchers in Japan from 1998-2001, but hasn’t been the same guy since. He was cut by the Giants after the Japan Series, and Rakuten passed after working him out earlier in the month. His best days are behind him, but if Yukinaga Maeda can get a chance to pitch in AAA, Noguchi should be able to.

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2008 NPB Attendance Numbers

» 28 November 2008 » In npb » 1 Comment

The excellent Pro Baseball Attendance Ranking site has posted the NPB’s 2008 attendance numbers, and I’ve translated them into English here. Attendance was up about 2% in 2008, and four teams drew over 2m fans.

Team 2008 2007 change % change
Hanshin 2,976,754 3,144,180 -167,426 -5.32%
Yomiuri 2,876,274 2,911,358 -35,084 -1.21%
Chunichi 2,427,805 2,390,532 37,273 1.56%
Softbank 2,250,044 2,307,160 -57,116 -2.48%
Nippon Ham 1,873,931 1,833,054 40,877 2.23%
Chiba Lotte 1,601,632 1,558,430 43,202 2.77%
Seibu 1,413,583 1,093,471 320,112 29.27%
Hiroshima 1,390,680 1,129,061 261,619 23.17%
Yakult 1,281,714 1,333,231 -51,517 -3.86%
Orix 1,266,765 1,137,186 129,579 11.39%
Rakuten 1,149,061 1,117,369 31,692 2.84%
Yokohama 1,129,954 1,231,997 -102,043 -8.28%
Total 21,638,197 21,187,029 451,168 2.13% 

Seibu, Orix, and Hiroshima all improved on the field and were rewarded with higher attendance. 2008 was also the last season for Hiroshima Civic Stadium, which probably helped the Carp’s attendance as well. Hanshin’s attendance took a dip but they still led the league overall. Yokohama’s drop is likely attributable to the fact that they spent another year in the Central League’s basement.

Here are the per game averages:

Team Avg. Attendance Capacity % full
Hanshin 41,344 46,229 89%
Yomiuri 39,948 46,314 86%
Chunichi 33,720 38,414 88%
Softbank 31,251 35,773 87%
Nippon Ham 26,027 42,126 62%
Chiba Lotte 22,245 30,011 74%
Seibu 19,633 33,229 59%
Hiroshima 19,315 31,984 60%
Yakult 17,802 36,011 49%
Orix 17,594 36,477 48%
Rakuten 15,959 22,187 72%
Yokohama 15,694 30,000 52%
averages 25,044 35,730 70%

The capacity figure may be a little misleading as every team except Lotte played home games in 2008 away from it’s primary home stadium. Hanshin, for example, played 9games at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, which is smaller than their primary home stadium Koshien.

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Official-ish: Tazawa to Red Sox

» 27 November 2008 » In mlb prospects » 1 Comment

Update, Nov 28: More confirmation: Sponichi is reporting that Tazawa has agreed to Boston’s offer, and the Red Sox are looking into introducing him at a press conferencing at Fenway Park.

Update, Nov 27: More news about Tazawa today, but the only report offering any new information is this one from Sanspo. According Eneos manager Hideaki Ohkubo, Tazawa has formally turned down Texas’s and Atlanta’s offers. Jiji Press says that he’s turned down Seattle’s too. Looks like we can expect an official announcement on December 1.

Multiple Japanese media sources (Nikkan Sports, Mainichi, Sponichi) are reporting that Junichi Tazawa is set to sign with the Red Sox as early as December 1. Eneos manager Ohkubo is quoted as saying, “It felt like Tazawa is done negotiating with other teams”. 

Some details have leaked out on all the deals offered to Tazawa. All were apparently major league deals:

  • Boston: 3 years, $3M
  • Seattle: 3 years, $3M
  • Atlanta: 4 years, $4-5M
  • Texas: 4 years, $7M
According the Nikkan Sports piece, Boston’s development plan was an important selling point for Tazawa. Also from Nikkan Sports, Tazawa is set to terminate his contract with the Japan Amateur Association, freeing him up to sign with an MLB organization. 

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Happy Thanksgiving

» 27 November 2008 » In NPB Tracker » Comments Off

It’s noon here in Silicon Valley, and cooking is underway in the NPB Tracker household. No guests, no travelling, just me and my wife at home. Maybe I’ll get to another post while the turkey’s in the oven, or maybe I’ll catch up on some Wii instead.

Here’s wishing all of my America-based readers a happy turkey and relaxing long weekend.

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New Uniforms for Hiroshima, Yokohama

» 26 November 2008 » In npb » 3 Comments

Like many teams before them, the Hiroshima Carp are taking their stadium move as an opportunity to refresh the their image with a new uniform design. Nice simple design, doing away the pinstripes of the old version. Looks good to me, aside from “Carp” script on the home uniform looking a little plasticy. For fun, here’s a look at the team’s 70’s era uniforms, and a CG video tour of the new ballpark.

Yokohama isn’t moving to a new stadium, but could definitely use an image change after years of being the Central League’s doormat. The BayStars’ new uniforms are clearly inspired by what they’ve been wearing for interleague games for the last few years. Like Hiroshima, they’ve ditched the pinstripes on their home uniform, but added them to their road grays, which aren’t really gray at all. I can’t say I’m a fan of the collar on the home uniforms but I do like the road version.

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Free Agent News: Uehara, Kawakami

» 25 November 2008 » In mlb prospects » Comments Off

We interupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you non-Tazawa news.

Kenshin Kawakami and Koji Uehara are slowly beginning to make news. I expect to hear a lot more about them after CC Sabathia, Derek Lowe, Ben Sheets, AJ Burnett, and Junichi Tazawa sign. There are a few items to pass along though.

Kawakami: Has reportedly changed agents from Tony Attanasio to former Dodgers GM Dan Evans, the agent that got Kosuke Fukudome signed with the Cubs. Initially it was reported that Evans would only handle Kawakami’s negotiations with Japanese teams, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer.

Hanshin seems to be the only NPB team interested in signing Kawakami. It was previously reported they would offer 4 years, $18M, but it’s since been reported that they are prepared to offer a deal in excess of 3 years, $18M. An average salary of $6M+ seems a lot more likely to get a deal done, but I still think he’s headed to the Majors. 

On the MLB side of the Pacific, the Giants, Mets, and Red Sox have been mentioned as possible suitors. Being a Bay Area resident I know which one I’d go for.

Uehara: Uehara is looking for a multi-year deal that will let him remain a starter. Nikkan Sports suggests that eight teams might be interested: the Orioles, Giants, Yankees, Mets, Angels, Rangers, Indians, and Twins. Any team that needs rotational depth and isn’t afraid to commit to two years could be a fit for Uehara.

I’ve also updated my free agent list, with resolutions for all but the seven guys that filed. And let’s squeeze in a link to EWC’s MLB projections for Uehara and Kawakami.

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NPB Tracker Quoted in Mainstream Media

» 25 November 2008 » In NPB Tracker » 4 Comments

From the self-congratulatory dept: I’m a little surprised at how many mainstream media sites have linked to my content on Junichi Tazawa. Here are the ones that have come to my attention:

  1. NBC Sports
  2. Washington Post
  3. AOL Fanhouse
  4. Dallas News
  5. Boston Score
  6. Boston Herald
  7. NESN
Some of these are blogs from within those sites, but it’s still pretty cool to see my site (and in some cases my name) mentioned in these sources.

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