Category > something else

3/11

» 10 March 2014 » In something else » 6 Comments

It’s been three years since the devastating Tohoku Earthquake. I’ll never forget where I was when I found out, but more than that I’ll never forget the tension of the next several weeks, with the instability of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and the many significant aftershocks looming over Tohoku, Japan, and the extended region. While the subsequent weeks and months came and went without an additional tsunami-scale disaster, the Tohoku region is still recovering, and the threats of Fukushima’s irradiation linger. “Ganbarou Tohoku” remains an important concept. I don’t think I have any profound commentary here, but on this anniversary I’m renewing my hope that the Tohoku region’s recovery presses onward, and that the world is better prepared for the next natural disaster.

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What If Japanese Players Were Compensated With Equity?

» 17 February 2014 » In npb, something else, sports business » 3 Comments

When Rakuten was mulling over what to do with Masahiro Tanaka last December, a thought occurred to me: what if Rakuten came up with a compensation package that included company stock? Obviously Rakuten was never going to approach what Tanaka ultimately got from the Yankees, but if they had offered him, say, a grant of one million shares in Rakuten (TYO: 4755), that would have been a little more creative than just offering to double his salary. Of course in the end they did neither.

Unlike Major League teams, which are mostly owned by groups of wealthy individuals, Japanese baseball clubs are mostly subsidiaries of large corporations. While a few clubs are significant sources of revenue, many are operated as marketing loss leaders for their parent corporations. Rakuten’s Golden Eagles club, for example, seems to fit in to the latter category.

In my industry (technology/software), it’s commonplace to compensate employees with company equity, usually in the form of incentive stock options or restricted stock units. Japanese companies seem to prefer cash bonuses as variable compensation, but that bit of reality wasn’t enough to dissuade me from this thought exercise:

What if Japanese teams partially compensated their players with company stock? Would the players be better or worse off?

To explore the question, I took a player drafted at some point over the last ten years from each team owned by a publicly-traded company, and estimated how much money they’d have today if they had taken 10% of their draft signing bonus in company stock. I deliberately chose first round picks that haven’t panned out for this exercise.

The results are below, but before we get to them, here are some points to remember:

  • This is a thought exercise. I’m not suggesting that anyone should do this.
  • The starting share value is the closing price on December 1 of the year the player was drafted.
  • Share values are as of market close on February 14, 2014.
  • Lotte, Seibu, Yomiuri, and Chunichi are privately held, so they aren’t included here.
  • The currency unit is Japanese yen. If you’re more comfortable with US dollars, JPY 100m is about $1m, and JPY 10m is about $100k.
  • I didn’t account for dividends, and fortunately none of these stocks split over the periods I looked at.
  • If you find mistakes in my calculations please let me know.
  • I cheated for DeNA. Kota Suda was drafted and played his rookie season under Yokohama’s previous Tokyo Broadcasting System ownership. But this is a thought exercise, and it wouldn’t be fun looking at TBS’s stock, or a very recent DeNA draftee. So we’re clear, I denoted Suda with **.
Team/Parent Corporation Player Year Drafted Signing Bonus 2014 Share Value (est) % Change Notes
Rakuten Shingo Matsuzki 2005 JPY 80m JPY 13.504m 68.8% It was a pain to get this data, since Rakuten switched from the JASDAQ to the Tokyo Stock Exchange
Softbank Shingo Tatsumi 2008 JPY 100m JPY 47.596m 475.96% Softbank is the clear financial winner here
Orix Daisuke Nobue 2006 JPY 70m JPY 3.6211m -48.32% Orix took a beating in the financial crisis of 2008 but followed the market up a bit in 2013
Nippon Ham (Nippon Meat Packers) Ken Miyamoto 2006 JPY 90m JPY 11.574m 28.6% Stagnant until Abenomics kicked in in 2013
Hanshin (Hankyu Hanshin Holdings) Ikketsu Sho 2008 JPY 100m JPY 10.905m 9.05% Hankyu/Hanshin an old, mature business
Hiroshima (Mazda) Michito Miyazaki 2006 JPY100m JPY 6.097m -39.13% Mazda is profitable, but share price was diluted by a large public offering in 2012
Yokohama DeNA** Kota Suda 2010 JPY 100m JPY 8.764m -12.36% DeNA seems to be performing well financially but in an inherently risky market (mobile games)
Yakult Mikinori Katoh 2007 JPY 100m JPY 17.721m 77.21% Yakult finished in last in the standings in 2013, but the parent company’s stock surged

To my surprise, most of the players would have come out ahead, with only Orix and Mazda really taking a beating. And even then, both were casualties of the 2008 global financial crisis and clawed back share value in 2013.

It’s not much of a surprise to see Softbank and Rakuten at the top of the growth table, as both are giants consolidating positions of global leadership in their industries (mainly telecommunications and e-commerce, respectively). It is a bit of a surprise to see Yakult up there, I haven’t looked into that one. I thought DeNA would have grown more, but they do seem to have a diversification problem and are in a notoriously fickle market (mobile games).

It would be irresponsible to write a post like this and not point out that much of the growth listed here happened in 2013, fueled by Abenomics monetary policy. While Abenomics seems to have coincided with stock market growth, there has also been some volatility, and it obviously remains to be seen if it leads to the end of Japan’s long problem with stagnation.

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Japan’s Independent Leagues 2014

» 09 February 2014 » In international baseball, something else » 13 Comments

Despite the steady decline in traffic to this site during it’s two years of idleness, one page that has attracted a steady stream of visitors is Ryo Shinkawa’s 2009 post on Japan’s independent leagues. Since that post is nearly five years old, I thought I’d attempt to come up with an update. I got a big helping hand from Brandon Mann, who spent the 2013 season with the Shinano Grandserows of the BC League and took the time to answer some questions about his experiences there. Thank you Brandon for your input.

Indy ball got its start in Japan in 2005, when former Seibu Lions star Hiromichi Ishige founded the four-team Shikoku Island League. The league did well enough to spawn an imitator in the Hokuriku region, the Baseball Challenge League (BC League), which started play in 2007. A third league, the Kansai Independent Baseball League, operated from 2008 to 2013, and has been supplanted by the Baseball First League, which is scheduled to play its first season this year.

The Indy leagues have become a source of talent for NPB, though a rather meagre one compared to amateur baseball and MLB and it’s affiliated minor leagues. 2012 Pacific League batting champion Katsuya Kakunaka stands out as far and away the most successful NPB player to have gotten his start in the Indy leagues, but his success seems more directly attributable to development as a pro. Kakunaka spent one year in the Island League, where he batted .253.

Some foreign players have used the Indy leagues as a path to NPB, to some success. Over the last few seasons, Francisco Caraballo, Alex Maestri and Steve Hammond signed with Orix; Edison Barrios signed with Softbank; and Chris Carter played in the BC League to prove he was healthy, which worked well enough to get him a return engagement with Seibu. Of the five players mentioned here, only Barrios lacked experience playing at 1A or above. Maestri has fared the best, and is going into his third season with the Buffaloes.

More interestingly, at least to me as an observer, is the number of players the Indy league teams have imported from non-traditional baseball countries. Some notable examples: the BC League’s Gunma Diamond Pegasus had French players Frederic Hanvi and Felix Brown, Nepal’s Iswor Thapa spent a couple seasons in the Kansai League, and last year Kagawa of the Island League signed Burmese lefty Zaw Zaw Oo. None of these players fared well, but that’s almost not important. Just the fact that they were there is something, enough to be a tiny step forward in baseball’s growth in Asia.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the fact that Tomo Ohka reinvented himself as a knuckleballer in the BC League, which led to a minor league deal with the Blue Jays. Ohka isn’t alone in: Brandon Mann parlayed his tenure with the Grandserows into a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Red Sox and Indians have signed Japanese Indy ball prospects in the last year. So over the last five years, Japan’s Indy leagues have definitely cemented their place in the global baseball community.

That’s about where my insight into Japan’s Indy leagues ends, so I asked Brandon about his experiences.

NPB Tracker: How do American/foreign players hook on with Indy League teams?

Brandon Mann: In my situation I asked my agent if he could get me on an Indy team there. After getting released by the Nationals all i wanted was to be back in Japan. Some of my friends who have played there did a BC league tryout in California.

(ed. note: I found American tryout information for the Shikoku Island League here and the BC League here. Both tryouts have already happened, but it gives you an idea of what to expect for next year. The BC League is having a tryout in Gunma Prefecture on February 15.)

NT: I read years ago that the top pay for the Island League was about JPY 200,000 ($2000) per month. Is that accurate for the BC League?

BM: I can’t speak for Japanese players, but I was making $2,500 with incentives each month. My American teammates were making around 1,000 a month.

(ed. note: I spent some time looking into this, and found that Island League pays from JPY  100,000 to JPY 400,000 per month, and the BC League seems to start around JPY 150,000 per month, plus another JPY 50,000 in bonuses.)

NT: What is the level of play? How does it compare to US Indy ball or NPB’s ni-gun level?

BM: This is a question I get asked all the time. It’s hard to explain the level of play, because for me it was probably my worse year of my career statistically speaking. I usually explain it like this. Indy ball in the states or ni-gun NPB has much better players but the BC is more intense. Those players want it more than anyone I’ve ever played with. Baseball is truly life to these players.

NT: What are the living accommodations like?

BM: The team provided all of us foreigners with two bedroom apartments that we shared. It was about a 15 minute walk to the field which we would walk everyday. There was a Aeon across the street and that was about it for eating.

NT: Is there much of an NPB/MLB scouting presence at BC League games?

BM: I think that I saw a Boston Red Sox and a Texas rangers scout once last season. As with NPB there would be scouts depending on who was pitching usually. The coaches would tell me when they were there for me. To give an idea, most games there would be no scouts, and then we had 8-9 scouts at some games.

NT: Was it fun?

BM: Making no money, hanging banners up before every game, doing my own laundry, walking to the field and back ever day, and making no money? I loved every second of it to be honest. I absolutely love Japan and it was excited to experience a new part of life in Japan. Last season helped me to get signed with my current team and it honestly gave me a work ethic I never knew I could have.

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Really Good Stuff

» 27 January 2014 » In npb, something else » 5 Comments

Japanese TV never fails to entertain. During my most recent trip to Japan, I saw things like a girl dressed in a French maid’s outfit, water skiing down a river to deliver an omelette to a guy on a boat; and a guy ride a horse through a false wall in an office building in on some unsuspecting business men in a meeting.

But the thing I’d like to share with you is this short clip from the New Year’s Eve Kyokugen program, from a segment where former Seibu and Yomiuri slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara was attempting to hit a final home run to honor his aging mother. Kiyohara was to face off against four all-time great NPB pitchers, getting three at-bats against each one.

Kiyohara’s first opponent was former Lotte ace, Choji Murata. When I saw Murata, I thought to myself “ahh, I hope he doesn’t just go up there and throw batting practice.”

I wasn’t disappointed. Murata is 64 years old, but still hits 135 kmph (83 mph) on the gun. He attacked Kiyohara with a series of fastballs, and the only solid contact Kiyohara managed was a foul ball. Then, with Kiyohara down 1-2 on his last at-bat, Murata dropped this splitter on him:

murata

(helpfully gif’ed by one of the netizens on 2ch.net)

Sick. Murata is 64 years old. Oh, I already said that. Well, he’s also a Tommy John survivor; in 1983 he became the first notably Japanese pitcher to undergo the procedure. And Murata must be in great shape to repeat those mechanics at age 64.

It was a little disappointing that Kiyohara couldn’t handle Murata’s best stuff, but that just showed it was a competition; he was going to have to earn that home run. We changed to the typical New Year’s Eve boxing matches after Murata, but I found out later that Kiyohara got his home run off lefty Hideyuki Awano. Happily ever after.

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Japanese Words I Would Like to Use in English

» 13 January 2014 » In something else » 6 Comments

A blog post in draft form…

Thanks predominantly to the Internet and maybe helped along by the spread of Otaku culture, a few Japanese words are finding their way into the English vernacular. While I first noticed some of these words online years ago, a few are making their way into the real world. The latest seems to be umami (savory). I’m seeing that word used on food websites, and a few blocks away from my home in the Bay Area, you’ll find an Umami Burger. I’ve also seen toys on children’s television being described as kawaii (cute), without much explanation necessary. The Toyota Way introduced the business community to terms like kaizen (continuous improvement) and muda (waste). And the term cosplay (costume play) seems to be sneaking out of Otaku-land and into the mainstream.

I live in America, but I speak and read Japanese every day, and over time I’ve developed a reliance on a couple of Japanese words that I can’t quite translate into English. So if the fantastic flexibility of the English language can handle a few more imports, I’d like to suggest the following:

Genki: I don’t have any data on this, but I think genki might be the most heavily used adjective in the Japanese language. It translates literally to “energetic”, but it’s used with a little more flexibility, to describe any level of energy. Among it’s uses, it can be a generic greeting — “genki desuka” (“How are you?” “Are you genki?”); a positive response — “genki desu” (“I’m good”/”I’m genki”); a negative one — “genki janai” (“I’m not good”, “I’m sick”).

In English I find myself wanting to say, “wow, that kid is genki.” Or maybe, “I’m feeling genki today. Let’s go for a run.” Sure, there are English words that work just fine in either situation, but I don’t think they are quite as fun.

Sukkiri: The most literal translation for sukkiri is probably “refreshed”. After stepping out of a bath or shower, a Japanese person might say, “ahh, sukkiri”. But you can also use it in other ways. I knew a guy who had a shaggy head of hair that he would get cut once or twice a year. Every time he cut his hair, it would be trim and straight, and the only think I could think to say was “sukkiri”. You can feel sukkiri after cleaning something up.

Hakkiri: I guess the closest translation for hakkiri would be direct, straight or clear, but for me it conveys those concepts a little more succinctly. The Japanese might say “kanojo wa suki kirai hakkiri suru ne”, which translates to “she’s very clear about what she likes and dislikes”. Maybe it’s just me, but to say something like, “she’s hakkiri about what she likes and dislikes,” sounds more definite, as if the woman in this sentence has taken a butcher’s knife and sliced a thin, precise line between what she likes and doesn’t like. Hakkiri.

Sasuga: You that person or thing that always comes through for you? Maybe you just read another great article on NPB Tracker. In Japanese, you might say “sasuga, NPB Tracker.” Sasuga. We can always count on you. Actually, you probably wouldn’t need to say that much lately.

More literally sasuga translates to something like “certain”, but English has that. I don’t know if English has another word that really captures the other usage.

Yappari: Yappari means something like “as it turns out” or “after all”. Depending on the context, it can be somewhat negative, like “just as I suspected”. “Yappari, my car needs its brakes repaired.” Or it can be something of an affirmation. “The mechanic said the brakes need to be replaced.” “Yappari.” Or even a re-affirmation: “I tried the new cafe, but yappari the old one is still the best.”

I don’t really think I’m doing the range of these words justice; it’s probably not possible to in a few brief paragraphs. If anyone happen to have other/better examples to add to the list, please feel free to do so.

To be continued, if I can think of a more profound conclusion for this.

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Re-run: Japanese Lesson – Hot Stove Lexicon

» 06 December 2012 » In something else » 2 Comments

I first published this about two years ago, but it’s relevant again this winter.


This is something I’ve always wanted to do — find a way to be more supportive of people learning Japanese. I occasionally get asked to translate things, but only rarely do those queries come from a Japanese learner.

So here’s a mini Japanese lesson, consisting of terms that are contextual to the offseason and hot stove league. Many of these terms won’t appear in your run-of-the-mill Japanese class, but you will find most of them on Nihongodict.com.

Japanese Reading English Notes
ストーブリーグ sutoubu rigu hot stove league Japanese does away with the “hot” and calls it simply a “stove league”.
獲得 kakutoku acquire
契約 keiyaku contract
契約更改 keiyaku koukai contract renewal Most NPB players go year to year with their contracts, so during each offseason, a new contract at a new salary is negotiated for the following year.
仮契約 karikeiyaku provisional contract This is usually used to the first contract signed by recent NPB draftees.
大型条件 ougata jouken significant terms This indicates a big contract offer, usually in terms of number of years or annual salary.
新戦力 shinsenryoku new competitive strength “senryoku” doesn’t translate particularly nicely in a baseball context. This term, with the “shin” prefix, is used to describe the acquisition of a new player. For example, a new pitcher acquired by an NPB team might be refered to as “shinsenryoku”, where as in English we might say the team has “bolstered” it’s pitching staff.
戦力外 senryokugai uneeded competitive strength consersely, adding the “gai” (outside) modifier to “senryoku” indicates that a player is no longer needed and will be released. In English we might say the player “doesn’t fit into the team’s plans”.
ポスティングシステム posutingu shisutemu posting system
入札制度 nyusatsu seido bidding system when the term “posting system” appears in a Japanese article, it is usually followed with this term in parentheses
入札 nyusatsu bid
大リーグ / メジャー挑戦 Dai rigu / mejaa chousen big league / major league challenge “chousen suru” is a general term meaning to
入団 nyudan join a team
テスト入団 testo nyudan tryout with a specific team in English we usually call this a “tryout” or ‘trial”.
12球団合同トライアウト juuni kyudan goudou toraiauto 12 team group tryout The NPB 12-team tryouts occur every offseason, and give players who have been released a chance to showcase themselves for other teams. It includes some kind of simulated game played by the players taking part, but I’m not sure how simulated and how competitive it is.
決定 kettei confirmed
オファー ofaa offer
交渉 koushou negotiations
フリーエージェント(FA)宣言 furii eejento (FA) sengen declare free agency Free agency is abbreviated as FA, and comes in two varieties “kokunai” (国内, domestic) and “kaigai” (海外, overseas)
移籍 iseki move used when a player moves to a new team. Ie,松井、エンジェルズ移籍. Can be couple with FA (FA Iseki
残留 zanryu remain used when a player who is eligible for free agency and stays put. The big recent example is Hisashi Iwakuma
有力 yuuryoku lead In the hot stove context, this is often used to indicate the leading candidate to land a player.
提示 teiji proposal Differs from “offer” in that this is usually a general proposal of terms, while offer is more official.
代理人 dairinin agent
トレード toreedo trade
大筋合意 osuji goui agree to terms

Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list. If anyone out there has any questions or any terms to add to the list, fire away in the comments.

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2012!

» 01 January 2012 » In something else » 7 Comments

明けまして、おめでとうございます。今年も、よろしくお願いします。

Happy New Year!

It should be 2012 everywhere in the world right now, so wherever you are, I hope your 2012 is off to a great start.

良い年を!

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Bullet Points: Japan Links

» 17 December 2011 » In something else » 3 Comments

Yes, it’s the middle of posting season and you’re likely here for updates on Yu Darvish and Norichika Aoki, but my interests stretch beyond baseball. And sometimes they stretch the content of this site… so here are a few articles on Japan I’ve come across in the last week. All are written in English.

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Architecture for Humanity

» 27 July 2011 » In something else » Comments Off

This is another one of those posts that I’ve been wanting to write for a while.

When the Tohoku Earthquake struck this spring, my family and I wanted to contribute in some small way to the relief and recovery effort. I’m a little too analytical to simply make a donation to the Red Cross and move on, so my wife and I did some research and found a handful of organizations to contribute to. Of the organizations we discovered, the one I find the most interesting is Architecture for Humanity.

In their own words, Architecture for Humanity is a “nonprofit design services firm founded in 1999. We are building a more sustainable future through the power of professional design.” I saw Architecture for Humanity as an organization that could contribute to resolving immediate rebuilding challenges, spur a little economic recovery, and leave long-term resources. They’re also a good match for my value system. Ideologically, I’m a firm believer in the value of building and creating things; practically speaking, they have a demonstrated track record of raising funds and establishing global partnerships, so I felt pretty confident that they could actually realize that value.

It’s been four months, and Architecture for Humanity’s website shows that progress has been made on the projects that have been initiated so far, and a summary of plans for other projects. I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of their plans in Japan turn out. It’s definitely a long-term endeavor that will require support over the next several months.

It took a big earthquake hitting close to home to inspire me to action, but hopefully it’s a lasting inspiration. If anyone out there is interested donating, Architecture for Humanity has my enthusiastic endorsement. Even if you can’t donate, I’d still recommend checking ‘em out. I wish I had known about this group after the earthquake in Haiti hit last year.

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Japanese Lesson: Hot Stove Lexicon

» 27 November 2010 » In something else » 2 Comments

This is something I’ve always wanted to do — find a way to be more supportive of people learning Japanese. I occasionally get asked to translate things, but only rarely do those queries come from a Japanese learner.

So here’s a mini Japanese lesson, consisting of terms that are contextual to the offseason and hot stove league. Many of these terms won’t appear in your run-of-the-mill Japanese class, but you will find most of them on Nihongodict.com.

Japanese Reading English Notes
ストーブリーグ sutoubu rigu hot stove league Japanese does away with the “hot” and calls it simply a “stove league”.
獲得 kakutoku acquire
契約 keiyaku contract
契約更改 keiyaku koukai contract renewal Most NPB players go year to year with their contracts, so during each offseason, a new contract at a new salary is negotiated for the following year.
仮契約 karikeiyaku provisional contract This is usually used to the first contract signed by recent NPB draftees.
大型条件 ougata jouken significant terms This indicates a big contract offer, usually in terms of number of years or annual salary.
新戦力 shinsenryoku new competitive strength “senryoku” doesn’t translate particularly nicely in a baseball context. This term, with the “shin” prefix, is used to describe the acquisition of a new player. For example, a new pitcher acquired by an NPB team might be refered to as “shinsenryoku”, where as in English we might say the team has “bolstered” it’s pitching staff.
戦力外 senryokugai uneeded competitive strength consersely, adding the “gai” (outside) modifier to “senryoku” indicates that a player is no longer needed and will be released. In English we might say the player “doesn’t fit into the team’s plans”.
ポスティングシステム posutingu shisutemu posting system
入札制度 nyusatsu seido bidding system when the term “posting system” appears in a Japanese article, it is usually followed with this term in parentheses
入札 nyusatsu bid
大リーグ / メジャー挑戦 Dai rigu / mejaa chousen big league / major league challenge “chousen suru” is a general term meaning to
入団 nyudan join a team
テスト入団 testo nyudan tryout with a specific team in English we usually call this a “tryout” or ‘trial”.
12球団合同トライアウト juuni kyudan goudou toraiauto 12 team group tryout The NPB 12-team tryouts occur every offseason, and give players who have been released a chance to showcase themselves for other teams. It includes some kind of simulated game played by the players taking part, but I’m not sure how simulated and how competitive it is.
決定 kettei confirmed
オファー ofaa offer
交渉 koushou negotiations
フリーエージェント(FA)宣言 furii eejento (FA) sengen declare free agency Free agency is abbreviated as FA, and comes in two varieties “kokunai” (国内, domestic) and “kaigai” (海外, overseas)
移籍 iseki move used when a player moves to a new team. Ie,松井、エンジェルズ移籍. Can be couple with FA (FA Iseki
残留 zanryu remain used when a player who is eligible for free agency and stays put. The big recent example is Hisashi Iwakuma
有力 yuuryoku lead In the hot stove context, this is often used to indicate the leading candidate to land a player.
提示 teiji proposal Differs from “offer” in that this is usually a general proposal of terms, while offer is more official.
代理人 dairinin agent
トレード toreedo trade
大筋合意 osuji goui agree to terms

Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list. If anyone out there has any questions or any terms to add to the list, fire away in the comments.

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