Category > nichibei

Maeda, Through the Lens of His Predecessors

» 24 February 2014 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 8 Comments

In recent weeks, I’ve written about some of the better MLB prospects who are currently active in Japan, and looked back at some of skills that have translated well from NPB to MLB. Now we’ll see how Japan’s Next Top Pitcher, Kenta Maeda, stacks up against his most recent predecessors.

Maeda let the cat out of the bag during his 2014 contract negotiations that he wants to play in MLB in the future, leading to widespread speculation that he’ll be posted following this season. Let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that he enjoys another Maeda-esque season in 2014 and is indeed posted after the season. What will he bring to the MLB negotiating table? Here’s my breakdown of his strengths and weaknesses:

Maeda’s strengths:

  • A fastball that won’t be a liability at the MLB level.
  • An ability to locate at least two breaking pitches, a slider and a changeup.
  • He gets his curve into the strike zone as well.
  • An ability to suppress hits. Maeda has allowed just 7.51 per 9IP over his 1116.1 inning career. In 2013, he allowed just 6.61 hits per 9IP.
  • Health and durability. Maeda has never had a serious injury, and has topped 175 IP in each of the last five seasons.
  • Consistency. Maeda’s WHIPs over the last four years: 0.98, 1.02, 0.99, 0.99.

Maeda’s weaknesses:

  • Overall his stuff is just not as whiff-inducing as Yu Darvish’s or Masahiro Tanaka’s.
  • He has lacked the eye-popping K:BB ratios of guys like Tanaka, Koji Uehara or Colby Lewis, though he is no slouch at about 5:1.
  • I’ve noticed he can nibble a bit.
  • On my list, Maeda’s build and stuff resemble’s Kenshin Kawakami’s more than anyone else.

I started off being pretty lukewarm on Maeda, but I’ve warmed up quite a bit. He doesn’t measure up to Darvish or Tanaka, but that’s setting the bar pretty impossibly high. Kawakami might be the best comparable among NPB starters who have made it to MLB in the last five years, but Maeda is younger, healthier and more consistent than Kawakami was. And let’s also remember that Kawakami was something like an average National League starter in his first MLB season. My guess is that Maeda can hack it in MLB, though he’s probably a mid-rotation guy.

Of course, the 2014 season hasn’t yet begun, and anything can happen. But I don’t really expect Maeda to deviate much from the consistent performance he’s shown over the last five years.

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Who’s Next?

» 15 February 2014 » In mlb prospects, nichibei » 15 Comments

Within minutes of Masahiro Tanaka signing with the Yankees, I started getting questions on Twitter about the next star out of Japan.

The short answer is that there’s no one of Tanaka’s caliber that we’ll see in MLB in the next few years.The longer answer is that there are a number of interesting pitchers currently active in Japan who could eventually wind up in North America. Here are the ones I’m watching most closely.

Kenta Maeda RHP starter, Hiroshima Carp: Maeda is Tanaka’s heir apparent as Japan’s best pitcher, but he grades well below Ma-Kun as an MLB prospect, both on pure stuff and statistical dominance. On this list, he compares most closely to Kenshin Kawakami, but with the advantages of youth and health. A reasonable expectation is that he’ll be a viable mid/back rotation starter for someone. Maeda is expected to be posted following the 2014 season, so we should see him in MLB in 2015.

Chihiro Kaneko RHP starter, Orix Buffaloes: Kaneko is pretty good, but for whatever reason, frequently overlooked in discussions about Japan’s best pitchers. He’s a bit less consistent than Maeda, but has more breaking stuff and generates a few more whiffs. Kaneko is eligible for domestic, NPB-only free agency after the 2014 season, and there are already rumors that Yomiuri is going to go after him. If he wants to play in MLB it likely wouldn’t be until 2016 at the soonest.

Seung-Hwan Oh RHP closer, Hanshin Tigers: 2014 will be Oh’s first year in NPB, having spent his career to this point in Korea. He was expected to move to MLB this past offseason, but wound up signing a two-year deal with Hanshin instead. The thought is that he could move on to MLB at the conclusion of his contract, so that would be 2016. I haven’t seen Oh yet so I haven’t formed an opinion of him as a prospect.

Hideaki Wakui, RHP starter, Chiba Lotte Marines: A few years ago, Wakui would have ranked among Japan’s better MLB prospects, but now he’s a bit of a question mark. He hit his peak in 2009, winning the Sawamura Award, but overuse, a contentious relationship with his team, girl trouble, and possible conditioning problems has resulted in several steps backward. I’ve been hearing for years that Wakui wants to move to MLB; he signed a two-year contract with Lotte this offseason where he could rebuild value.

Takuya Asao, RHP reliever, Chunichi Dragons: Asao was so dominant in 2011 that won the 2011 Central League MVP Award, despite pitching in middle relief. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been the same since, suffering from shoulder discomfort and pitching 30 and 30.2 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. If he’s healthy, there’s no doubt his stuff — mid-90s fastball, hard splitter, funky palmball — is good enough for MLB. He’s a few years away from free agency so we’ll see what happens.

Yusei Kikuchi, LHP starter, Seibu Lions: Kikuchi made waves in 2009 for considering forgoing NPB to sign with an MLB club. He ultimately remained in Japan, and was drafted by Seibu. In 2013, Kikuchi was in the midst of making good on the potential that made him such a hot commodity as a high school prospect when he was stricken with shoulder inflammation and lost for the season. It obviously remains to be seen how he’ll fare when he returns, but so far he’s at least show that he can turn his ability in to results. Kikuchi is at least six years away from free agency.

Shohei Ohtani RHP starter/OF, Nippon Ham Fighters: Here’s where it gets interesting. Like Kikuchi, Ohtani also showed an interest in jumping right to MLB out of high school. Unlike Kikuchi, he seemed intent on actually doing it, but Nippon Ham drafted him anyway and eventually convinced him to sign. Despite flashing 100mph heat in high school, Ohtani opened the 2013 season as Nippon Ham’s starting right fielder. A few months later, he made his ichi-gun debut on the mound, and pitched 61.2 innings, becoming the first nitouryu (double-bladed) player since Yozo Nagabuchi in 1968. Ohtani’s offseason training centered on pitching, but he’ll reportedly continue to play both positions this season. Nippon Ham has been publicly supportive of sending Ohtani to MLB after a few years of seasoning, but of course that was before this posting system nonsense took place.

Shintaro Fujinami RHP starter, Hanshin Tigers: Ohtani’s 2013 rookie brethren Fujinami might not be as flashy, but he’s a lot more polished. Fujinami opened the 2013 as Hanshin’s third starter, and essentially stuck in the rotation for the duration of the season, an impressive feat for an 18 year-old. At this point, Fujinami probably has the best potential of any pitcher on this list. He already shows polish and pitchability, and he’s extremely lanky 6’7. As he fills out and adds strength, it’s reasonable to expect that he could develop a bit more fastball velocity, and handle more innings pitched. At age 19 he’s a long way away from free agency and MLB, but if 2013 is any indication fans on both sides of the Pacific have a lot to look forward to.

Tomohiro Anraku RHP starter Saibi High School: Anraku’s still a high school student, but he’s an interesting prospect. Clearly the top player in last year’s spring Koshien Sembatsu tournament, he was famously pitched into the ground by his manager. The bodily wear he sustained from the effort led to worse performances later in the year, and his stock as an NPB draft prospect has dropped. We don’t know what 2014 holds, but it’s conceivable that he could follow in Kikuchi and Ohtani’s footsteps as a player who tests the MLB waters out of high school.

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160 Pitches? Let’s Ask Masahiro

» 11 February 2014 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 8 Comments

Much has been written about Masahiro Tanaka’s famous two-day, 175-pitch Nippon Series pitch-a-thon. If you’re reading this, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Pretty much all the commentary in the North American media has been that Tanaka throwing 160 pitches in a start (a loss no less), and then 15 in relief the next day is, at best, a bit of a question mark, and, at worst, a sign of abuse or overuse. It seems that few that have provided commentary cite primary sources, or even saw the games.

I was traveling on the days that games 6 and 7 took place, and I didn’t see game 6 live, but I did catch the tail end of game 7, including Tanaka’s relief appearance. He certainly did look worn out, but not quite worryingly so. What was a little odd was that of his 15 pitches, about 10 were splitters, and only two or three were fastballs. His velocity was okay, but didn’t approach his peak. In retrospect, Tanaka and Rakuten were fortunate that he was able to shut down the Giants when he did, as continuing to pitch could have been disastrous.

What’s getting lost in the shuffle a bit is that Tanaka voluntarily kept himself in game six, and made himself available for game seven. There are plenty of times when it’s totally reasonable to criticize Japanese managers for overworking pitchers, but I’m not sure this is one of them. It’s not unreasonable to fault Rakuten manager Senichi Hoshino for risking injuring Tanaka, but in this case I don’t blame him. Put yourself in his shoes: you’ve got a real shot at winning your first Nippon Series, you’ve got the best pitcher in the league, he’s telling you he’s ready to go, and this is your last chance to use him. What would you do?

With that commentary out of the way, let’s take a look at what Hoshino and Tanaka had to say about this at the time it happened.

Hoshino after game 6, on wanting to remove Tanaka after throwing 120 pitches: “He wasn’t in the mood to be replaced, and he himself was planning on going. He felt like he wanted to be on the mound until the end.”

Hoshino after game 6 again: “I think it’s an ace’s will. This could be his last day to pitch in front of the fans, so there’s also that. It’s wonderful. The fans would be very happy to see Tanaka lose. Well, no they wouldn’t.”

Tanaka after game 6: “I want to do what I can.”

Hoshino during game 7 (really this is Sponichi’s reporting with a quote from Hoshino): “Hoshino asked him numerous times ‘are you really okay?’ but his determination was unchanged.”

Tanaka after game 7: “I was feeling depressed because my pitching yesterday was so pathetic. So I prepared myself in the bullpen, with the feeling that I would be ready to go any time, if I was to be put in the game. I want to show my appreciation for my teammates and fans, who set this stage.”

Tanaka, after game 7 again: “I had some fatigue, but since we’ve come this far I couldn’t just say that, so I pitched with the feeling that this would be the end.”

Hoshino, prior to the Asia Series: “Tanaka, Norimoto, and Mima aren’t going (in the Asia Series). You’d call me dumb if I had them pitch here.”

My opinion is that Tanaka’s game 6 and 7 workload was more gutsy than risky. I think Tanaka felt like he could do it, so he went for it, and it was more like a calculated risk than recklessness.

And one last thing: Tanaka was just the sixth pitcher in NPB history to throw over 160 pitches in a Japan Series game. The most recent prior to Tanaka? Ephemeral Pittsburgh Pirate Masumi Kuwata, who threw 167 pitches in game 5 of the 1994 Series.

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Starting Pitcher Skills

» 01 February 2014 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about Masahiro Tanaka and how he might perform in year one of his newly-minted mega deal.

My theory is that observable skills are a better predictor of MLB success than statistics. As an example, a pitcher with good control of an obvious out pitch is a better bet than a pitcher who is good all around, but lacks a dominant skill. This might sound obvious, but the media and casual baseball conversation centers around Tanaka’s 24-0 record and 1.27 ERA, rather than his ability to suppress walks and home runs.

So, I took a look back on the group of starters that have moved from NPB to MLB on Major League contracts since I began writing in mid-2008.

1st MLB Season Pitcher Strengths Weaknesses MLB fWAR
2014 Masahiro Tanaka suppressed walks, great splitter, good slider, healthy not quite Darvish ?
2012 Yu Darvish dominant in every way year after year The legacy of Daisuke Matsuzaka 9.8
2012 Hisashi Iwakuma great splitter, groundball machine, limited home runs injured in 2011, didn’t look like himself 4.8
2012 Wei-Yin Chen lefty who at one time showed electric stuff, dominant in 2009 had regressed quite a bit by 2011 4.3
2012 Tsuyoshi Wada decent control, decent changeup undersized; poor fastball velocity; looked spent at the end of 2011 0
2010 Colby Lewis phenomenal K:BB ratio, good arm was improvement in control due to him or the league? 9.6 (post return)
2009 Kenshin Kawakami great cutter, innings eater not much upside beyond #3 starter 2.4
2009 Koji Uehara phenomenal K:BB ratio, great splitter injury history, could he handle starting? 8.8 (mostly in relief)

My first reaction is that this is pretty good group. Wada was a bit of a bust, but he was injured. Kawakami comes the closest to being evidence of my theory, as he didn’t really dominate any statistical category, but I think he could have shown more if the Braves hadn’t buried him. The rest of these pitchers have either met or exceeded expectations since moving to MLB.

This seems to bode pretty well for Tanaka, as he shows two above average pitches and dominated a number of statistical categories in NPB. We’ll see how it bodes for the pitchers who are currently active in Japan in a follow up article in the next couple of days, assuming the writing gods smile upon me.

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Masahiro Tanaka’s 2013 Pitch Counts

» 22 January 2014 » In mlb, nichibei » 3 Comments

I keep getting asked for this, so here it is, taken from Isao Chiba’s article in the December 16 2013 issue of Shukan Baseball.

Note: regular season only.

Date Opponent IP Runs Allowed Pitches
April 2 Orix 7 1 89
April 9 Nippon Ham 7 1 109
April 16 Softbank 7 3 122
April 23 Orix 8 3 133
May 1 Nippon Ham 8 1 129
May 8 Nippon Ham 7 2 95
May 14 DeNA 8 3 128
May 22 Yomiuri 9 1 113
May 28 Hanshin 6 2 99
June 3 Chunichi 9 1 113
June 9 Yomiuri 7 0 96
June 16 Hanshin 9 0 127
June 25 Seibu 7 0 93
July 2 Lotte 8 0 116
July 9 Nippon Ham 9 0 116
July 16 Orix 9 1 105
July 23 Lotte 9 2 90
August 2 Nippon Ham 9 1 136
August 9 Softbank 7 0 92
August 16 Seibu 8 1 106
August 23 Lotte 7 0 116
August 30 Softbank 7 3 102
September 6 Nippon Ham 9 2 128
September 13 Orix 9 2 125
September 21 Nippon Ham 8 1 104
September 26* Seibu 1 0 19
October 1 Nippon Ham 6 2 97
October 8 Orix 7 2 83
Totals 212 35 2981

*Relief appearance in Rakuten’s Pacific League clincher.

Tanaka averaged 106.4 pitches per game in 2013, or, more importantly, 109.7 pitches per start.

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From the Mailbag

» 21 January 2014 » In nichibei, npb » 1 Comment

Update, February 8th: Reader Kevin W emailed me with an answer to this question… and here it is:

The film was made by Andrew Jenks (has gone on to bigger projects including multiple seasons of an MTV show), I spoke with him a few months back and asked if it would be released. His response: “@AndrewJenks: not for awhile man. We had clearance rights issue but one day…”


Loyal reader PG writes:

I was emailing you in regards to the subject of this email. Do you recall the documentary “The Zen of Bobby V”? I remember it airing on ESPN some ten years ago [ed. it was actually 2008] and really liked it, it was one of my first introductions to japanese baseball. Ever since I have always looked to find it on DVD or  the internet but have never been successful in tracking down anything more than a couple 2 min clips. Would you happen to have any more information about it? I really enjoy the site NPB tracker, really like the content, thanks again!

I have no idea how to get ahold of this video. If anyone knows, please leave a comment or email me (npbtracker@gmail.com).

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The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball

» 17 January 2014 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

“This isn’t because I wanted to play in the Majors at all costs. It’s just that I feel I can’t play for that manager (Keishi Suzuki), that’s all”

 

僕は、別にどうしてもメジャーでやりたかったわけじゃない。ただ、あの監督(鈴木)の下ではやれないと思った、それだけなんです」

Hideo Nomo, speaking about his decision to pursue an MLB career (source)

Nomo’s retirement and Suzuki’s insanity pre-dates my following of Japanese baseball, but I have read a little bit about Nomo and Suzuki. Suzuki’s treatment of Nomo was particularly grueling, including 191-pitch and 180-pitch starts, and comments like “to cure your pain, throw more.”

Nomo is rightfully credited as the player that opened the door for Japanese and Asian players in Major League Baseball. But he might not have done it Keishi Suzuki had been, you know, sane.

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1st Year Foreign Player Payscale

» 22 December 2013 » In nichibei, npb » 7 Comments

I get asked from time to time how much ball players make in Japan, particularly the foreign ones. With Kevin Youkilis becoming the latest bari bari Major Leaguer to venture to NPB, it seemed like a good time to publish this rough guideline.

This was part of a longer article, from my train commute ramblings, thats unfinished and kind of outdated, so the salaries don’t reflect what’s happened so far in the 2013-2014 offseason. That said, it’s still mostly accurate. “Mostly” is kind of a key word, because there is always going to be some variance from team to team, and with injury history and other factors. This is a basic framework.

Salary Range Profile Recent Examples
$3M+ MLB All-Star Experience Andruw Jones, Bryan LaHair, Vicente Padilla
$1M-3M a couple of complete seasons as an MLB regular, maybe a few years in the past; elite Korean players Casey McGehee, Jose Lopez, Nyjer Morgan, Dae-Ho Lee
$400k-1M “4A player”; fringe 40-man roster player, consistently strong performance in 3A; varying MLB experience; strong performance in Korea Daniel Cabrera, Ryan Spilborghs, Fred Lewis, Jason Dickson, John Bowker, Matt Clark, Brooks Conrad
$100k-300k 2A/3A experience, Taiwan, Mexico, US independent leagues, etc Michel Abreu, Orlando Roman, Jim Heuser
<$100k non-ikusei veteran; Japanese independent leagues; Carribean Winter Leagues; Italian League Alessandro Maestri, Enyelbert Soto
$25k-50k “ikusei” player; Dominican/Venezuelan Summer League; Japanese independent leagues Edgar Lara, Edison Barrios, Abner Abreu

For more on NPB payrolls, please see this post.

Update: If you’re new here, consider following me on Twitter: @npbtracker. I update my Twitter account more often than the website.

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A Conversation About the Posting System With My Brain

» 09 December 2013 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 6 Comments

So, Brain, the posting system is changing. Apparently the details are still being formalized, but the main changes are that the NPB chooses the posting fee, the $20m limit on fees, and the player’s right to negotiate with any team that makes the maximum bid. Thoughts?

Well, it looks like MLB is trying to save its teams from themselves. It feels like both of the proposals started from the point of MLB wanting to reduce posting fees without significantly increasing the Japanese team and player’s negotiating leverage. In that sense, NPB did a good job securing some new leverage for it’s players. Giving the players multiple MLB teams to negotiate with is a surprisingly player-friendly inclusion, which has been welcomed by a union that has so little come their way.

The real, immediate loser here is Rakuten — and any other NPB that intends to post a marquee player. For teams in that situation, the $20m limit is almost diabolical.

What do you mean by that?

In case like Masahiro Tanaka’s, the new posting system makes the deal significantly better for the player and significantly worse for the team. So the incentive for the player to go and for the team to hang on have both increased. I think this could drive a wedge between the player and team, which we’re kind of seeing with Tanaka and Rakuten right now.

But the highest posting fees were indeed astronomical.

Yeah, they were. There’s no denying that. But there have only really been two huge ones, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, who both clocked in at about $51m. Matsuzaka was a flop; Darvish is looking good so far. No one seems bothered by the $25m fee the Dodgers paid for Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu last year, and the Yankees $26m bid for Kei Igawa seems to have been written off as a miscalculation, a knee-jerk reaction to the Red Sox’ acquisition of Matsuzaka. Then we have Ichiro at $14m way back in 2000, then Kazuhisa Ishii at $11m in 2001. All the other postings have been sub-$5m.

And let’s not forget that the MLB teams have set the market for big postings. People in Japan were shocked when Boston bid $51m for Matsuzaka, and later on, that was thought of as an outlier. The expectation was that Darvish would draw a bid of $30-40m. MLB teams have a knack for spending more than anyone expects.

People seem particularly annoyed by the $51m fee that Boston paid to Seibu for Daisuke Matsuzaka, and it’s understandable given his performance, but what gets overlooked is that it’s not unusual MLB teams transfer money to one another. No one batted an eye at Detroit including $30m in the recent Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade. No one cared that Texas agreed to send the Yankees $67m to help them undo their A-Rod mistake either.

So this is really about one guy then.

Yeah, probably. If Masahiro Tanaka wasn’t perfectly positioned to command another $50m+ posting fee, I doubt anyone would be having this discussion, at least not right now. There’s no one else in NPB that immediately commands to mind as being that hot a commodity; the other elite players are a few years away. So this is really about preventing his price from getting out of hand. The smarter thing might have been for MLB to try to push this kind of change through last year, when there were no postings from NPB. Hyun-Jin Ryu was posted from KBO, but I have to assume that it would have been easier to sell KBO on a $20m limit.

Maybe that’s a good thing, right? What if he’s a bust?

That’s part of the risk that MLB front offices are paid to evaluate. There was no limit imposed on what MLB teams were allowed to spend on Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jhonny Peralta…

Hang on. The luxury tax is a deterrent from going overboard on player salaries.

So prorate the posting fee over the term of the contract and apply it to the acquiring team’s luxury tax number. That way, at least the number comes from what the market is willing to pay, rather than a an artificial cap. The luxury tax is a deterrent, not a hard cap.

Yeah, I know they can’t do that because the MLB CBA is set in stone for the next couple years, but then so be it. MLB teams have made their beds, they can lie in them.

Why would NPB ownership agree to this?

Some of them don’t recognize the Posting System and refuse to use it. They don’t care if there’s a limit or not. I can only speculate as to why the others would go along with this… maybe they see it as something that won’t come into play very often, or maybe they see it as a disincentive to post their own players. Or maybe they just don’t want to face Tanaka next year.

No one seems to like the Posting System. Why does it exist?

It comes down to NPB teams needing to have a way to get something in return for players than are inevitably going to lose to MLB via free agency. Conceptually there is nothing wrong with this; in fact MLB clubs transfer players to Japanese teams for fees that range up to the low seven figures. Case in point, Softbank paid the Cubs $950k last year for Bryan LaHair’s contract.

What does it matter anyway?

From a practical standpoint, I don’t know, actually. Seibu invested the money they got from Matsuzaka into improvements to their home stadium, the Seibu Dome. Nippon Ham doesn’t seem to have re-invested their Darvish money back into their baseball operation in an obvious way. Perhaps there are more subtle ways that I haven’t picked up on.

In the bigger picture, a vibrant Japanese baseball culture and a financially healthy NPB is a very good thing for MLB and baseball in general, and limiting how much a team can benefit from developing a superstar player can’t possibly help.

There are two baseball leagues in world where a significant number of players earn over $1m annually — MLB and NPB (there might be a few guys in Korea by now). Having 42 organizations that employ baseball players is certainly better than having 30. If we include Korea’s 11 teams to the mix, it’s better to have 53 than 42.

Another thing is that part of the reason that Japan is a good market for MLB is because Japanese Major Leaguers bring huge fan followings with them. Guys like Darvish, Ichiro and Hideki Matsui were stars before they ever stepped on a Major League field. I don’t have the numbers on this, but I would assume that the market for MLB has grown many times over since Hideo Nomo braved the Pacific in 1995.

Thanks Brain.

No problem. I’m gonna go back to thinking about other things now.

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Guest Post: Two and Two are not Five

» 22 September 2013 » In nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

If you’ve followed Japanese baseball in English for any period of time, chances are you’ve encountered Michael Westbay’s work. Westbay-san is the founder of JapaneseBaseball.com, a columnist for Baseball Magazine, a video podcaster, and a general leader of the English-speaking Pro Yakyu online community. Many of the English language NPB bloggers, including me, started out as members of the JapaneseBaseball.com forums.

Part of the reason I started NPB Tracker was to combat misinformation about Japanese baseball in the American media. The confluence of the “juiced ball” scandal, Wladimir Balentien’s home run record, and the Masahiro Tanaka rumor mill is more than I have time to adequately ponder, much less write about… so when I saw Westbay-san’s lengthy post about the ball issue, I asked him if he’d be willing to turn his commentary into a post here. 


There has been a rash of articles coming out on CNN, ESPN, and other sites which are mashing together several news items coming out of Japan and either putting 2 and 2 together to get 5, or leading their readers to reach such a conclusion. What these mashup articles lack is context.

Let’s take this ESPN article as a prime example. The most insidious thing about this post is that everything mentioned in it, taken by itself, is true.

  • It is true that commissioner Ryozo Kato announced his retirement.
  • It is true that the league kept the switch to a livelier baseball a secret until June.
  • It is true that there has been a dramatic increase in home runs.
  • It is true that Kato is stepping down due to the ball scandal.
  • It is true that Wladimir Balentien broke Sadaharu Oh’s 49 year old home run record.
  • It is true that the commissioner claims to have never been informed of the ball change.
  • It is true that the player’s union called for his resignation when the issue came to light.
  • It is true that a third party is investigating the issue.
  • It is true that Kato will quit after the end of the regular season (although I have seen reports that have his last day potentially just before the start of the Nippon Series toward the end of October rather than October 6).

Now, one of the truths above is not like the others. Can you guess which one?

Here’s a hint, one commenter, Thomas Brennan, wrote, “This just screams of Nationalism. It’s fine. It’s their league and they can do what they want with it.”

In what way, shape, or form does this “scream of Nationalism”?

Oh, he put 2 and 2 together to get 5. The commissioner retires under the scandal of a livelier ball with Oh’s 49 year old record being broken by a foreigner, therefore everybody in Japan must be up in arms and calling for the commissioner’s head for allowing this to happen!

Others put 2 and 2 together to get that an asterisk needs to go next to the record.

Except nobody is calling for Kato’s head over the record. Nobody is suggesting an asterisk is needed. If there is anybody who thinks the record is due to the “livelier ball,” then he’s being shunned by everybody else as an ignorant idiot. And such idiots are not making public spectacles of themselves as it appears their North American counterparts are.

I’m perhaps being too harsh on the commenters, though. Giving a mish-mash of facts taken out of context like this, and a general ignorance of Japanese baseball other than the sensationalist mis-information that’s been floating around North America about Tuffy Rhodes’ and Alex Cabrera’s runs at the home run record, it’s not surprising that so many reach such a conclusion.

Now, let’s look at some context that this and every similar news article is missing.

As stated above, the “livelier baseball” and “dramatic increase in home runs” are both facts. But in the context of compared to the last two years.

In 2010, the year before moving to the Unified Ball, the Yomiuri Giants alone hit over 200 home runs. In 2004 they hit over 250. No single team is even close to projecting anywhere near 200 this season. Yes, the ball is livelier than the past two years. But nobody is claiming that is the reason for Balentien’s success. (There were some posters, such as “daclyde,” on a CNN thread who correctly pointed out how much Balentien has improved as a hitter while in Japan. This shows that there are some intelligent, well informed readers despite the poor execution of North American Journalists.)

The reason Kato-Commissioner is stepping down is not due to the home run record. The player’s union called for Kato’s resignation after his long insistence that the ball had not changed right up to the revelations that it was on June 12. With a livelier ball, players’ contract incentives, especially those for pitchers, were in jeopardy, and they did not have the opportunity to factor in a new ball during their contract negotiations.

What did the home run race look like on June 12?

Yokohama’s Tony Blanco had looked like he was going to run away with the Home Run Crown with 23 home runs in 58 of Yokohama’s 59 games played. But Balentien was closing in with 20 after playing in just 47 games, getting a late start to the season due to an injury during the WBC.

The June 13th, 2013 edition of Nikkan Sports had a table showing how the pace of home runs had changed since the introduction of the unified ball in 2011.  It featured both Japanese and foreign players. Some players not known for hitting home runs, like the Lions’ Takumi Kuriyama quadrupling his home runs per at bat compared to 2012. Balentien, who was the Home Run Title winner the previous two years, showed a steady, linear increase year to year. Hiroshima’s Brad Eldred, at that point, was actually hitting home runs at a lower pace compared to 2012. Tony Blanco, who led both leagues at the time, was not even mentioned in the table.

Kato’s resignation and Balentien’s home run record are not related. It’s poorly written articles like this, that mash together a bunch of facts as though there is some sort of causality, that really do a disservice to the baseball community.

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