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Power Ranking Methodologies

» 01 August 2015 » In npb » Comments Off

A couple weeks ago, my friend John Gibson asked me to do a monthly NPB power rankings segment for his Japan Baseball Weekly podcast. I’ve been on the ‘cast a couple times and it’s always a lot of fun, so it was an easy decision to accept, despite my lack of recent writing activity.

The other thing that made this an easy decision is the opportunity to do something different with a concept like power rankings. I have to admit I’m not much of a fan of power rankings; I tend to think of them as subjective and lacking real analysis. So if I’m going to do this, I’m going to try to put my own spin on it. Even if turns out to be analytically shallow, it should at least be fun.

The question is how to rank the teams. For me, there is a spectrum of possible answers, ranging from “objective” to “subjective”. On the “objective” side of the spectrum, there’s data. Not just wins and losses and runs scored and allowed, but ideally atomic, granular data on each play, that should be more predictive of how a team is actually performing. On the other side, there’s eyeballs and intuition. “Sure, Hanshin is winning, but they don’t feel like a first place team.” Power is in the eye of the beholder.

In my first attempt I’ve come down somewhere in the middle. At the moment I don’t have the type of play data I want for an entirely data-driven approach, so I used data points that I thought were most indicative of each team’s ability to compete along with my own instincts. The top and bottom teams were pretty obvious; the middle tier not so much. The rankings will be in this week’s JPW podcast, so we’ll see how I did then.

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DeNA Signs Gourriel

» 12 May 2014 » In international baseball, npb » 1 Comment

According to multiple Media outlets out of Japan (such as Nikkan Sports) the Yokohama DeNA Baystars have signed Cuban infielder Yulieski Gourriel. Nikkan Sports quotes Gourriel as saying “Japan is known as a high-level league, so I’ve always wanted to try playing there. I’m very happy to have that hope fulfilled. I appreciate the Baystars for giving me this opportunity.”

Gourriel will wear number 10 for the ‘Stars, and his arrival in Japan is of yet undecided. No other details have been announced as of yet.

For more on Gourriel and Cuban players in NPB, please see this previous post.

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Updated: Baystars Negotiating with Gourriel

» 10 May 2014 » In international baseball, npb » 1 Comment

Update, Sunday 11:30pm Pacific time: Sports Hochi reports that DeNA has a basic agreement in place with Gourriel. GM Takada cautions that “he’s not signed yet”, but DeNA has a representative in Cuba to complete the deal. The Baystars plan to play Gourriel at second base, and bat him third in the order. The article also mentions that Yuliesky’s father, Lourdes, played industrial league ball in Japan for Isuzu.

Word on the street (err, Japanese media) is that the Yokohama DeNA Baystars are looking to follow the Yomiuri’s acquisition of Frederich Cepeda with a Cuban splash of their own: infielder Yulieski Gourriel. Baystars GM Shigeru Takada was quoted in Sanspo as saying, “We’re headed in a good direction. It won’t take much time. We’re going to wrap up the talks.” Nikkan Sports adds that DeNA scouted Cuba in the offseason.

Cuban defectors Leslie Anderson and Yuniesky Betancourt are currently active in NPB, but Cepeda will be the first Cuban non-defector to play in Japan since an over-the-hill Omar Linares from 2002-2004. If a DeNA is able to conclude a deal with Gourriel, it’s tempting to think that Cuba could become a new, much-needed talent stream for NPB.

From a pure baseball standpoint, I don’t think I could possibly like the idea of this signing any more for DeNA. Part of it is personal bias; Gourriel has been a favorite of mine for years and I’ve written about wanting to see him in Japan as far back as 2009. But in addition to that, Gourriel is still 29 and logically has more of his prime left than Cepeda. And he seems like a good fit for DeNA’s non-pitching needs, as their offense has been sluggish in 2014 and second base has been a hole for years*.

Kudos to Takada and DeNA for going outside the box after a talent like Gourriel. Now, if they could only apply some creative thinking to their pitching woes…

*this assumes they play him at 2b.

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NPB Bullet Points: A Few Articles I Read

» 09 May 2014 » In npb » Comments Off

Every article linked here is written in English:

As a bonus I’ll throw in this highlight of Yuki Nishi spearing a hard line drive that was on a course for his head.

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Fujinami’s Most Egui Pitch

» 07 May 2014 » In mlb prospects, npb » Comments Off

Today’s Japanese word of the day is egui (エグい), which in a baseball context refers to a particularly “nasty” or “sick” pitch.

Hanshin sophomore Shintaro Fujinami’s hard splitter/sinker/shuuto is as about as egui as you’ll find in NPB.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Check out these gifs that I’ve gleefully borrowed from 2ch:

fujinami2

fujinami1

150 km/h is about 93.2 mph, 147 km/h is 91.3 mph.

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Why Don’t NPB Players Make More Money?

» 05 May 2014 » In npb » 4 Comments

…a later article appears. The delving begins.

The glass is half empty: only 91 NPB players earn JPY 100m ($1m) or more per year, a relative paucity compared to their Major League counterparts.

The glass is half full: 91 is more than 10% of the total number of NPB players and all 91 are probably quite happy to be earning such a comfortable income; the vast majority NPB farm leaguers earn JPY 4.4m ($44k) and up, a relative fortune compared with their MLB-affiliated minor league counterparts.

So why don’t NPB players earn more? And more importantly, why haven’t NPB’s top salaries grown? Aside from the blips of Roberto Petagine and Tony Batista cracking JPY 700m ($7m) in the mid-aughts, the top salaries have leveled off at about JPY 600m ($6m).

This subject probably requires expertise or research that exceeds what I have to offer, but I do have a few observations, ordered numerically for convenient reference, rather than in order of precedence.

  1. Most of the biggest stars move on MLB, rather than driving up their NPB salaries.
  2. Domestic free agency does increase salaries, but is so restrictive that only a small percentage of eligible players even file.
  3. Pre-free agency salaries tend to go year to year, and pay cuts for non-performance or injuries are a bit more common.
  4. The almost complete lack of agents in NPB.
  5. A cultural aversion to crossing the salary thresholds set by previous stars.
  6. Payroll is spread more equitably across the entire baseball operation.
  7. NPB teams are operated as business units of large corporations, rather than independent businesses funded by wealthy investors.

I would point to Hideki Matsui’s departure for the Yankees following the 2002 season as the starting point of NPB salary stagnation. Matsui’s salary in 2002 was JPY 610m, and while we’ve seen that line crossed a couple times (see above), the JPY 600m figure has essentially become the benchmark number for top-notch NPB players. Shinosuke Abe has this year’s top salary, at the magic JPY 600m mark. He could have had more, but he didn’t feel ready to surpass Matsui’s number. If he Abe had had an agent involved. I’m sure he would have nudged him in the direction of the higher paycheck.

Following the 2001 season, Yomiuri offered Matsui an eight-year, JPY 6bn ($60m), which would easily have . Had he taken the Kyojin-gun’s offer, that would have dragged the benchmark up to JPY 750m. Ichiro’s final NPB salary (2000) was JPY 550m. Yu Darvish’s was JPY 500m (2011). Kazuhiro Sasaki’s was JPY 500m (1999), then JPY 650m after he returned to Yokohama. It’s reasonable to think that any of these guys would have raised the bar as well, though none ever had a publicly-disclosed offer of the size of Matsui’s.

Epilogue: I suppose this doesn’t explain much. NPB teams are mostly operated as loss leaders, and the league as a whole has been less aggressive than MLB at developing new revenue streams. I could easily write a whole post exploring the balances sheets of NPB clubs, but the fact that they are less profitable than their MLB counterparts is a big piece of the puzzle here.

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Following Japanese Baseball, Part 5: Japanese Language

» 27 April 2014 » In npb » 2 Comments

This is part five in a multi-part series. Previous entries:

This is most likely the last one of these I will do, unless I can come up with a great idea that isn’t covered yet.


Okay, so you’ve read the first four entries in this series and you’re studying up on your Nihongo. Now it’s time to test yourself with some Japanese-language sources. Here’s what I use.

Mainstream Media

The site I rely most heavily on, by a wide margin, is Yahoo Japan’s NPB site. Yahoo has pretty much everything needed to follow NPB: box scores, stats, game casts, and news articles (amazingly, they even linked to me once — I wish I taken a screen shot of that).

For day to day news, I’m in the habit of making Sanspo my next stop. I can’t necessarily say it’s superior to the main alternatives, Nikkan Sports and Sponichi, I just tend to prefer it’s more photo-centric user interface.

My favorite print publication is the bible of Japanese baseball, Shukan Baseball (En: Weekly Baseball), which I’ve been reading since I found a copy at a kiosk on a train platform in Osaka, 14 years ago. Shu-be has gotten it together with a bit of a web presence in the last year or so, centered around it’s iPhone application (search the App Store for 週刊ベースボール). The app content is also viewable through a browser, though in practice I don’t do this much.

When it comes to player movement news and rumors, Nikkan Sports is by far the most accurate when it comes to scoops. I’ve come to take whatever I read on Sponichi with a large quantity of salt. Sanspo falls somewhere in the middle. Other regional sites will occasionally pop on to my radar, but I pretty much ignore them unless they have a quote given on the record by one of the principles in the story.

Blogs

Once upon a time, I could have given you a great list of Japanese-language baseball blogs. Then Google killed Google Reader, and though I exported my data, I haven’t replicated it anywhere else yet. But that won’t stop me from sharing these four excellent site:

  • Draft Report is basically my one-stop shop for information on Japanese draft prospects. This is a fantastic site.
  • DeltaGraphs is one of the few attempts I’ve seen an Fangraphs-style Sabermetrics site focused on NPB.
  • NPB Prospect Watch seems to be on hiatus, but is the only site I know of that focuses mainly on professional prospects.
  • Bays-tan is perhaps the most uniquely Japanese of the blogs here. It’s a serial manga based on scarcely identifiable characters that support the Yokohama DeNA Baystars. I don’t spend a lot of time reading this, but I admire the creativity that’s been put into it.

These sites are all high quality, and great when I want some in-depth insight on a particular topic. For day to day stuff I find myself increasingly drawn to..

2ch

2channel, mostly known as 2ch, is Japan’s largest bulletin board/link sharing site, and from what I understand, the direct inspiration for 4chan.

2ch is a bit of a cesspool and has a horrid user interface, but I overlook these shortcomings, because it’s a great way to find out what average fans think, and there are many more usable sites (matome sites) that exist simply to archive the better content from 2ch.

Before I share any links to anything 2ch-related, let me offer a bit of a warning… you’ll tend to find adult content and other possibly objectionable stuff on 2ch sites, so exercise caution, particularly in work environments.

With that out of the way, 非常識 is always my starting point for 2ch content, along with this link site. Just looking at a random sampling of today’s links, we find…

There are always other oddities, like users creating batting lineups consisting only of Masahiro Kawai, but time constraints prevent me from digging too much for stuff like that.

So, that’s what I do. If you’re a veteran Japanese speaking baseball fan, probably none of this is new to you. If you’re learning Japanese, or want to start, try not to be daunted by the scale of stuff to learn. I was at first, but once I learned to stop being discouraged by what I didn’t know, and started being encouraging by each new thing I learned, it started to go pretty well.

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Following Japanese Baseball, Part 4: Twitter

» 20 April 2014 » In npb » 2 Comments

This is part four in a multi-part series. Part one on English-language news sources and blogs on Japanese baseball can be found here; part two on online communities is here; part three on watching games online is here.


After having this is draft mode for over a month it’s time to finally kick this one over the finish line.

Despite, or maybe because of, it’s limitations, Twitter has become a ubiquitous part of the media. To cite an off-topic example, I was watching a boxing match last week, and the broadcast included the ring announcer’s Twitter handle, right beneath where his name was shown on the screen.

Japanese baseball is no exception to Twitter’s ubiquity. NPB Tracker (@npbtracker) has had a Twitter presence for almost five years, but there are many, many accounts that update more frequently and are more adept at cramming witticisms into 140 characters. I’ve compiled this admittedly brief list as a starting point for newcomers to the scene.

The Writers:

@JCoskrey
@JballAllen
@JNYakyu
@kaznagatsuka

Fans & Bloggers:

@Kazuto_Yamazaki
@osaki_makkura
@janblurr
@NPB_Reddit
@yakyunightowl
@RealKenDick
@MyKBO
@lovelovemarines
@marinerds

Players:

@CJNitkowski
@brandonmmann
@HeyBarn

I gathered this list by signing into Twitter and looking at who had been active on my timeline, so this might be a bit random and there’s a chance I may have missed a few good accounts. As always, feel free to point out any omissions.

Now I guess I need one of those buttons that says “Tweet this article.”

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Following Japanese Baseball, Part 3: Watching Online

» 08 March 2014 » In npb » 16 Comments

Alas, this page is outdated. Most notably, Justin.tv shut it’s doors last August. Look out for a 2015 revision in the next week or so. Also, NPB, if you’re reading this, people want to watch your games online.


This is part 3 in a multi-part series. Part one on English-language news sources and blogs on Japanese baseball can be found here; part two on online communities is here.

During the season, the question I am most frequently asked is “how can I watch Japanese baseball games?” Unfortunately NPB’s online media efforts to date aren’t quite on par with mlb.tv; this is an area where NPB collectively should take a good, hard look at what MLB Advanced Media has done and try to emulate it. But fortunately, there are a few options out there:

  • The Pacific League streams games online via it’s Pa League TV service (link to a Japanese site). It costs JPY 1500 (about $15) per month, and I haven’t tried it in previous seasons because it tends to be unavailable outside Japan. They do have highlights that I’ve been able to watch so far this year, however. Since this is a Pacific League service, Central League games (except for interleague) are not broadcast.
  • American cable tv network One World Sports began broadcasting Yomiuri Giants home games last season, both live and on tape delay. This would be a great option for many US viewers, but unfortunately One World Sports doesn’t seem to be widely carried on cable systems yet. They do provide programming online, so hopefully that includes Giants games this year.
  • Some teams officially stream some of their games and workouts. Here are the ones I know of: Softbank Hawks, Chunichi Dragons, Pacific League.
  • Less officially, it’s pretty easy to find games streamed on services like justin.tv and ustream.tv. Twitter users such as @spartiecat and @yakyunightowl frequently tweet out the streams they find, and the Reddit NPB wiki includes a guide for finding streams. Justin.tv archives broadcasts for some users, which is helpful for people like me who can’t necessarily watch games in the Japanese time zone.
  • And last but not least, while this is not live video, blog sites We Love Marines and Tokyo Swallows post game reports for Lotte and Yakult respectively.

The normal disclaimer goes here: if there’s another option I’ve neglected to include, please drop me a line.

Using a combination of all these techniques, a US-based yakyu otaku like me can reasonably watch NPB a couple times a week. What I would really like to have is a paid service, with every game in both leagues available live and on demand available without geographic restrictions, that works on my TV, computer, iPhone and iPad. If something like that was available I would gladly pay about JPY 20,000 ($200) a year for it. Pa League TV is reasonably priced though; if that works outside of Japan once the regular season begins I’ll probably give it a shot.

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Following Japanese Baseball, Part 2: Pro Yakyu Communities

» 06 March 2014 » In npb » 11 Comments

This is part 2 in a multi-part series. Part one on English-language news sources and blogs on Japanese baseball can be found here.

Back in the nascent years of Pro Yakyu otaku-ism, when I was interested in Japanese baseball but lacked the requisite language skills, I had one source of information: JapaneseBaseball.com. I discovered it one day in 1997 or ’98, when I decided to type japanesebaseball.com into Netscape’s location bar and see if there was anything there. To my great benefit, there was, and over the years I learned a lot from reading through the forum postings.

Communities are important; no one has a monopoly on information and ideas. This site is kind of like my own monologue but it’s benefited from the discussion contributions of commenters like passerby, EJH, and Westbaystars, to name a few; and the other writers who have written articles for the site. At it’s peak, JapaneseBaseball.com was a shining example of an online community, with many engaged posters, thoughtfully moderated by Westbaystars.

JapaneseBaseball.com’s forums haven’t gone away, but the aren’t quite as active as they once were. Over the past year or so, a couple of alternatives have emerged:

  • The Pro Yakyu Google+ group, curated by Michael Westbay. This group is open to the public, and I am member. This is a great way to stay on top of NPB news and podcasts.
  • An NPB Reddit community popped up last July probably in the last month or two (I discovered it via referral traffic). In addition to news postings, there are some community-oriented topics like this one.

It takes real work to maintain an online community, so my appreciation goes out to Westbay-san and the mystery man who moderates NPB Reddit. If you’re looking for more places to keep up with Japanese baseball, I heartily recommend all of the above options.

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