Archive > August 2010

NPB Bullet Points: Player Personnel

» 31 August 2010 » In nichibei, npb » 7 Comments

A roundup of player acquisition notes from around the ‘net.

  • Yomiuri is extending the tryout of their mystery player by another week or two.
  • Sponichi reports that SoftBank is going to drop injured ace Kazumi Saito to ikusei status after this season. Saito hasn’t pitched in an ichi-gun game since 2007.
  • It’s no surprise that Koji Uehara wants to continue playing in MLB, but that hasn’t stopped him from appearing in NPB rumors. Hanshin and Yokohama are reportedly interested.
  • Hideki Matsui has ruled out a return to Japan. A quote from Sponichi: “[it’s not an option]. Please think it through. How would I play on artificial turf with my knees? Even if I want to go back I wouldn’t be able to play. Under the circumstances, it’s impossible.”
  • It looks like Orix manager Akinobu Okada is trying to recruit retired Hanshin speedster Norihiro Akahoshi out of retirement. Post-retirement comebacks are rare in Japan, Hanshin would have to release their rights to him, and he’d have to prove that he’s medically fit to play, so there are significant hurdles here.
  • Former Carp ace Colby Lewis did an interview with Chunichi Sports. The whole thing is worth translating, but for now I’ll just do his answer to the inevitable question about Yu Darvish and Hisashi Iwakuma: “I think Darvish is a player who should come to the majors as soon as he can. No one knows what he’ll be like or in what role he’ll be used in if he waits until he’s 26 or 27. I think Japan should change the service time requirements of it’s free agency system. I think Iwakuma would also succeed in the majors. If pitchers can show velocity it’s easy to if how they make it in the majors.” (note: this is a translation of a translation)
  • And finally, one in English: Christopher Jackson of the Albuquerque Examiner has a report on some of the 3A Isotopes players’ brushes with Japan, including former NPB’ers Scott Dohmann and Michael Restovich, and NPB hopefully John Lindsey.

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-08-29

» 29 August 2010 » In Uncategorized » Comments Off

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The Way of the Gun

» 28 August 2010 » In npb » 4 Comments

A couple days ago, Yakult fireballer Yoshinori (Sato) hit 161 km/h on the gun, blowing by the previous high water mark of 158 for Japanese NPB pitchers, which had been reached three times. Yakult lost the game 9-3 to Yokohama, but Yoshinori left with his team down 3-2. He’s been pitching well recently.

There’s a little discrepancy here — the data I collect and aggregate shows that Yoshinori’s top velocity in that game was 156 km/h. But the stadium gun showed 161, so we’ll give it to him. Also, Yoshinori deserves credit for learning how to pitch this year. And he seemingly has his head in the right place, commenting on his blog: “With modesty, I’m happy to record Japan’s fastest pitch, it gives me confidence. However, yesterday I wanted to win by any means.” Yakult is fighting for a playoff spot, after a terrible start to the season.

While we’re on the subject of velocity, Jingu has a reputation for having a hot gun, but I think Rakuten’s gun at K-Sta has been worse at times this year. I offer up the following evidence, presented in miles per hour:

  • Yu Darvish recorded the fastest pitch of his NPB career last month at K-Sta, and then promptly bettered that mark in his next appearance there.
  • Last week when I saw a headline that Toshiya Sugiuchi showed great velocity against Rakuten, I immediately wondered if it was in a game played at K-Sta. Yep. The gun readings from that game had Sugiuchi’s slowest fastball at 90 mph, which is where is usually where he maxes out.
  • The Sugiuchi observation prompted me to look at SoftBank’s other finesse lefty, Tsuyoshi Wada. His hardest throwing game of the year was June 26 at K-Sta.
  • Looking at a Rakuten pitcher, Kouhei Hasebe shows a big home/road split on velocity. Some recent examples of his average fastball velocity: July 28 at SoftBank – 86.05, August 4 at home vs Lotte – 90.05, August 14 at Chiba Lotte – 84.10, August 21 at home vs SoftBank: 89.84.

The moral of the story: velocity charts are to be taken with a grain of salt.

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Yomiuri Mystery Tryout

» 27 August 2010 » In npb » 5 Comments

Update, August 29: When reporters asked the mystery man what his name was, he answered with “Carovel” (カロベル). It looks like he was discovered on a random field in the Dominican. Hat tip to eagled-eyed reader passerby for his detective work.The Giants will make a decision on Carovel on the 31st.

Can you identify this man?

Nikkan Sports and Sponichi couldn’t.

The Giants are apparently working out the mystery man at their ni-gun facility. The reports don’t give his name, but there are a few hints: Sponichi and Nikkan Sports both say that he’s a switch-hitting catcher, Sponichi says his Dominican, while Nikkan suggests he could be from another Latin American country, and adds that he’s 20-15 years old, not currently with any team, and that the name “Noel” was written on the batting practice list. A quick search for :Noel” at baseballreference.com doesn’t return any likely matches.

The tryout runs through the 28th, so we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out the mystery player’s identity.

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Re-Run: The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 4

» 27 August 2010 » In mlb, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

I’ve spent most of my writing time this week over at FanGraphs, profiling some of Japan’s better players. In researching that set of articles, I came across this post I wrote in early 2009, before Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami had signed with MLB clubs. Looking back at this, I don’t think I’d change the set of conclusions that I originally drew, but I will add the observation that this trend has hurt the overall depth of the league. Another interesting thing to note is that 11 of the 26 players listed here have returned to NPB, several since this article was written: Johjima, Iguchi, Kobayashi, Yabuta, Taguchi, Yabu and Fukumori.


Time to close out this series with some conclusions. I fear that I may be oversimplifying this a bit, but I’m looking for macro trends with this. These are casual observations, I didn’t do any hard research.

Check the three previous installments here: 1, 2, 3.

1. Most of the teams that lost a star to MLB took some kind of a hit in the standings. With the exception of Hiroshima, the teams losing the top 10 players listed below took years to replace the production they lost, and some still haven’t. It’s also important to remember that none of these departures happened in a vacuum; there were other things that affected the performance of each team, but overall the lose of these players has hurt their former teams competitively.

2. The only team that really took a popularity hit after losing a star to MLB was the Giants after losing Matsui. I bought walk-up tickets to a Giants game in 2005, which would have been unthinkable a few years earlier. Of course, while the Giants were down, the Tigers and Dragons were both up and have enjoyed competitive success and popularity since the early part of the decade. SoftBank has been less competitive since losing Johjima, but has not suffered at the gate. The team is actually adding 6000 seats to the Yahoo Dome for next season to help meet demand.

3. Signing foreign talent to replace departed stars doesn’t seem to work. Teams will often sign foreign players to fill the holes left by departed stars, but when the do so, they’re losing the opportunity to add depth at other positions with those roster spots. I can’t think of an example where a foreign star was a long-term replacement for an MLB bound star. Colby Lewis was great as Hiroki Kuroda’s replacement in 2008, but so was Kevin Hodges a few years ago and he flamed out after a single season.

4. Losing talent to MLB has a trickle-down impact on the smaller market teams. As an example, Hanshin may have been content with their outfield had Shinjo stuck around, but two years after he left they signed Tomoaki Kanemoto away from the Carp to play left field. Kanemoto has gone on to become a legend for the Tigers while the Carp have only recently begun to show signs of life. Hanshin and Yomiuri can spend to fill their holes, while smaller market teams like Hiroshima cannot.

5. On the positive side, stars moving to MLB has opened up (or could potentially open) spots for younger players, in a league where there is no rule 5 draft and blocked prospects and depth guys are seldom traded. We haven’t seen too many cases of prospects jumping in and filling the shoes of the top 10 guys I’ve listed below, but others have stepped in for 11-26.

Overall, I don’t think this trend is killing NPB. Attendance is stable, and Japan Series television ratings were up this year (mostly because the Giants played in it). Many of the players who have made the leap to MLB have actually been pretty successful, which has greatly improved the credibility of NPB overseas. On the downside, the loss of star players has hurt the competitive depth of the affected teams, and led many to question the viability of the league. I seeing the loss of these star players as an “Oakland A’s-ing” of the league — the A’s have gotten by with smart management, an ability to exploit market inefficiencies and a willingness to continually reinvent the team on the field. The A’s style doesn’t translate to the Japanese game completely, but the underlying principles of thrift and creativity are important for a group of teams that generally is not going to compete with MLB financially.

Below is a list of all the players I looked at, ranked in order of how much I think their departure affected their previous team and the league. For me, there are really about three or four classes: Matsui and Johjima, Iwamura through Iguchi, and everyone else. You can possibly put Matsui, Kobayashi and Yabuta in their own class as well, as guys who were quickly replaced but did leave a gap in their absences.

Rank Player Team Year Record Before Record After Impact
1 Hideki Matsui Yomiuri 2003 86-52-2 71-66-3 High
2 Kenji Johjima Daiei/SoftBank 2006 89-45-2 75-56-5 High
3 Akinori Iwamura Yakult 2007 70-73-3 60-84-0 High
4 Kosuke Fukudome Chunichi 2008 78-64-2 71-68-5 High
5 Daisuke Matsuzaka Seibu 2007 80-54-2 66-76-2 Medium
6 Ichiro Orix 2001 64-67-4 70-66-4 Medium
7 Hiroki Kuroda Hiroshima 2008 60-82-2 69-70-5 Medium
8 Kei Igawa Hanshin 2007 84-58-4 74-66-4 Medium
9 Kazuhisa Ishii Yakult 2002 78-56-6 72-64-2 Medium
10 Tadahito Iguchi Daiei/Softbank 2005 77-52-4 89-45-2 Medium
11 Kazuo Matsui Seibu 2004 77-61-2 74-58-1 Low
12 Masahide Kobayashi Lotte 2008 76-61-7 73-70-1 Low
13 Yasuhiko Yabuta Lotte 2008 76-61-7 73-70-1 Low
14 Takashi Saito Yokohama 2006 69-70-7 58-84-4 Low
15 Hideki Okajima Nippon Ham 2007 82-54-0 79-60-5 Low
16 Akinori Otsuka Chunichi 2004 73-66-1 79-56-3 Low
17 Shingo Takatsu Yakult 2004 71-66-3 72-62-2 Low
18 Tsuyoshi Shinjyo Hanshin 2001 57-78-1 57-80-3 Low
19 Keiichi Yabu Hanshin 2005 66-70-2 87-54-5 Low
20 So Taguchi Orix 2002 70-66-4 50-87-3 Low
21 Satoru Komiyama Yokohama 2002 69-67-4 49-86-5 Low
22 Kazuo Fukumori Rakuten 2008 67-75-2 65-76-3 Low
23 Norihiro Nakamura Kintetsu 2005 61-70-2 62-70-4 Low
24 Shinji Mori* Seibu 2006 67-69-0 80-54-2 Low
25 Yusaku Iriki* Nippon Ham 2006 62-71-3 82-54-0 Low
26 Masumi Kuwata Yomiuri 2007 65-79-2 80-63-1 Low

* I forgot about both these guys when compiling the original lists. Mori was successfully posted and signed with Tampa Bay, but got hurt in his first spring training and was never heard from again. Iriki played in the Mets and Blue Jays organizations, but got busted for PED usage and never reached the Majors. He resurfaced with Yokohama in 2008, but retired after the season.

** I left out Yukinaga Maeda as well.

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Off The Beaten Path: Blogs

» 24 August 2010 » In international baseball, nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

Tonight I’d like to share a couple of blogs that I read, but don’t typically link to, but are interesting regardless. These aren’t daily stops for me but I do keep them in my rss reader.

English Blogs:

  • I discovered Baseball Latin America earlier in the year, when it was known as the Brazilian Baseball Blog. This was a welcome discovery for me, since Brazil is a growth market for baseball and there is very little information on the topic available in English. Author Andy Loretta has broadened his focus to cover all of Latin America, but this remains the best English source of Brazilian baseball information I’ve found.
  • Leon Boyd is a Canadian-Dutch duel citizen who pitches for the Netherlands national baseball team, and DOOR Neptunus in the Honkbal Hoofdklasse. He maintains a blog about his experiences playing in Europe at canadutch.blogspot.com.

Japanese Blogs:

  • Torazo Yagi is an interesting guy. He was a cameraman living in Italy (Palermo, if I remember correctly), who got bored and decided to try out for the local baseball team. He made the cut and played for a couple years in Italy, then in Lithuania. He currently blogs at ameblo.jp/yagitorazo, but his previous blog has more on his time in Europe.
  • I don’t have much to say about the Yokohama BayStars Rebuilding Plan blog, the title speaks for itself. I don’t know of too many NPB blogs that look at roster building.
  • Another site that speaks for itself is the “New Pro Yakyu Attendance Ranking” site (in quotes because the title is translated by me). NPB attendance numbers are always a bit spurious, but this is an interesting site nonetheless.
  • Yakyu Kozo a real yakyu otaku publication, and I just found out that they have a blog site. I found this one via Twitter — I have to say that I’m find Twitter increasingly useful.

Got any more that should be on this list? Let me know about ‘em.

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Spiderman, Take Two

» 22 August 2010 » In npb » 3 Comments

Not to be outdone by teammate Masato Akamatsu, Carp outfielder Soichiro Amaya made this amazing grab on August 22, robbing Yokohama’s Brett Harper.

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-08-22

» 22 August 2010 » In Uncategorized » Comments Off

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The Latest Darvish Gossip

» 20 August 2010 » In mlb prospects, npb » 2 Comments

Some of you may have seen my (ugh) tweet about the Yankees’ visit to Japan to watch Yu Darvish pitch on August 20. Billy Eppler and Damon Oppenheimer got to see Darvish pitch a decent game, going nine innings with 10 K’s and no walks, but allowing four runs on nine hits and ultimately getting a no-decision as Nippon Ham won in 10 innings. YouTube highlights are here, and Darvish’s velocity data is here.

Here’s a little more from the original Sponichi article. I’ll start with the headline:

ヤンキース幹部、極秘来日!超異例のダル視察

A Top-Secret Visit to Japan from the Yankees Front Office! Making an Extreme Exception to Watch Darvish

I guess the cat is out of the bag now, huh? Sitting behind the plate with a radar gun isn’t exactly a great way for Yankees execs to conceal themselves in Japan. And this is an exception? The Yanks did send Gene Michael to Japan a year or two ago, and have a full-time scout there.

I guess the “exception” talk comes from this quote, from an unnamed source familiar with the situation.

「彼らはキャッシュマンGMのいわば右腕で、選手の評価に関しては全幅の信頼を置かれている。2人がそろって日本に行くのは極めて異例で、ヤンキースにとって最重要事項であることを意味する

“They are [GM Brian] Cashman’s so-called righthand men, he places all his trust regarding player evaluation in them. Sending both of them to Japan is an extreme exception, so that means this is a most important matter for the Yankees.”

Another unnamed MLB source added this comment:

「松坂の金額は非現実的だが、3000万(約25億5000万円)〜4000万ドル(約34億円)ぐらいいくのでは」

“Matsuzaka money is unrealistic, but he should go for $30-40m.”

Yes. Totally agree on this one. A lot of crazy numbers have been thrown around with regards to a potential posting fee, and I’ve always been skeptical about another $50m posting, as good a Darvish is.

Now, if you’re still with me, it’s worth pointing out that there is no indication that Darvish will be posted after this season. Sponichi helpfully pointed out that Darvish opened this season with four years, 93 days of NPB service time. Since international free agency requires nine years of service time, and a year is 145 days, Darvish started this season four years and 52 days away. That would have Darvish reaching the free agency requirements during the 2014 season.

In other Sponichi news, the Mets and Nationals also had scouts at Friday’s game. The Mets’ always-chatty Isao Ojimi said “my evaluation hasn’t changed. He’s excellent.” This article also quotes an associate of Eppler’s, saying that Darvish was “alright”. I didn’t see a quote from the Nationals.

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Harper’s Home Runs

» 19 August 2010 » In nichibei, npb » 5 Comments

Brett Harper has gotten off to quite a start in Japan. Though he’s cooled off a little bit (3 for his last 23, with 8 K’s), through 33 games and 137 plate appearances he’s sporting a 1.077 OPS and 11 home runs. Harper racked up those 11 homers quickly, in his first 100 or so ABs.

This got me thinking, it is the league or Harper? So I wrote a little query to get the opposing pitcher, pitch type, velocity and count for each of his 11 home runs:

game result pitcher pitch mph balls strikes outs
2010071802 本塁打[ サヨナラ満塁ホームラン ] Marc Kroon forkball 0 0 0 1
2010081002 本塁打 Wei-Yin Chen fastball 88.125 3 2 2
2010070602 本塁打 Wei-Yin Chen fastball 91.875 2 2 1
2010072703 本塁打 Kyuji Fujikawa fastball 96.25 3 2 1
2010072102 本塁打 Kazuki Yoshimi fastball 90 1 1 1
2010070903 本塁打 Yasutomo Kubo forkball 81.25 1 2 1
2010071301 本塁打 Kenta Maeda slider 81.875 3 1 0
2010081102 本塁打[ バックスクリーン ] Masato Kobayashi fastball 82.5 1 2 1
2010080602 本塁打 Shouhei Tateyama fastball 91.875 0 1 1
2010071401 本塁打[ ポール直撃 ] Giancarlo Alvarado slider 81.875 0 0 2
2010080702 本塁打 Masato Nakazawa curve 70.625 1 0 0

Notes: 1. today’s Japanese vocabulary is “honruida”, (本塁打), “home run”. 2. the ‘0’ velocity on the HR off Kroon is the result of my data source lacking velocity data for some pitches.

I was a little surprised; I thought there would be a little bit more of a trend. Harper has hit six bombs on fastballs, and five on breaking pitches. His home runs have come against some of Japan’s best pitchers: Chen, Fujikawa, Maeada, Yoshimi, and some solid performers in Kudo, Tateyama and Alvarado.

So on the flip side, what has Harper struggled with? I wrote another query to get the pitches he’s swung and missed on. Harper has done a pretty good job of making contact, swinging and missing 62 times on the 556 pitches he’s seen this season. Here’s the breakdown:

pitch swinging strikes
changeup 2
curve 4
cut fastball 3
fastball 8
forkball 28
shuuto 1
sinker 1
slider 14
special 1

Forkballs and sliders. Further querying reveals that Harper has seen 94 forkballs and 104 sliders, so he’s chased a large percentage of the forks he’s seen.

So going back to Harper’s recent slump, I took a look at what pitches he’s seen over his last six games:

pitch # thrown
changeup 6
curve 15
cut fastball 8
fastball 39
forkball 33
shuuto 1
slider 20

So it looks like the league has caught on to Harper’s forkball weakness, as he’s seen nearly as many forkballs as fastballs. And accordingly, he’s whiffed on 14 of them.

Now that Harper has shown he can mash NPB fastballs, he won’t see as many of them. Harper’s early success is a great sign, but he’ll have to lay off the breaking stuff and get pitches he can drive.

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