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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Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast

» 14 April 2014 » In Uncategorized » 2 Comments

This weekend I had the pleasure of filling in for Jim Allen as a host of the Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast. You can download here, from the top of the list.

John Gibson and I had to contend with the head cold I’ve been suffering, time zone differences and flakey Skype performance, but we battled through and had a great discussion about Lastings Milledge and the Yakult Swallows, the juiced ball controversy du jour, and the state of the Pacific League. I hope you’ll enjoy listening to it.

Thanks John for having me on! I’m looking forward to taking part again!

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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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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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Following Japanese Baseball, Part 1: Online Text

» 03 March 2014 » In npb » 21 Comments

Back when I announced my return to writing, one of the topics I intended to pursue was some guidelines for how to follow Japanese baseball without know the Japanese language. It took me almost a year to get to it, but here we are.

One of my frequently asked questions is “how can I follow Japanese baseball from the US?” I’m happy to say that thanks to the Web, it’s pretty doable. But unfortunately some of this stuff is fairly well-hidden, my hope is to have something of a guide available. My plan is to break this into three or four posts: this one for writers, another for Twitter, one for video, and then any miscellany if necessary.

On with the show. If you want to read up on NPB or Japanese baseball in general, you now have plenty of options. Here are my favorites:

The Beat

  • Japan Times columnist Wayne Graczyk is probably the dean of active Yakyu writers.
  • Robert Whiting is kind of the dean emeritus to Wayne’s dean. I don’t think he’s regularly publishing articles, but he does turn up from time to time.
  • The Japan Times has doubles its quality coverage with Jason Coskrey, who has also written for ESPN.
  • John Gibson writes for the Daily Yomiuri and One World Sports. I don’t think his Yomiuri work is online, but his One World Sports work is.
  • Jim Allen has been writing about Pro Yakyu since the mid-90’s. He’s currently with Kyodo, and I suspect his work is buried behind a paywall. But fear not! Because the next bullet point makes up for it.
  • Additionally, John and Jim host an excellent weekly podcast, which can be downloaded from iTunes or John’s page on Japanesebaseball.com. They were even kind enough to have me on a couple months ago.

The Blogosphere

  • Any summary of the Yakyu Blogosphere has to begin with Michael Westbay, the founder and operator of JapaneseBaseball.com. JapaneseBaseball.com has been an invaluable resource to me, particularly early on in my pursuit of Pro Yakyu knowledge in the late-90’s/early-00’s. Without JapaneseBaseball.com and it’s vibrant community, I never would have learned enough to start this site. Westbay-san also blogs, has written for Baseball Magazine, and did a video podcast throughout 2013.
  • Any summary of the Yakyu Blogosphere has to continue with Gen Sueyoshi and YakyuBaka.com. If you want a place to keep up with the daily and even hourly goings-on of Japanese baseball, YakyBaka.com is the single best resource available.
  • Deanna Rubin doesn’t seem to be actively updating her Marinerds site, but the archives are well worth a visit. You’ll tons of pics and information about college ball, ni-gun, indy leagues and minor league ball. Plus, Deanna got recognized by a reader last year when we went to the WBC final in San Francisco.
  • Japanese Baseball Cards is, helpfully, exactly what it sounds like.
  • I hadn’t looked at A Noboru Aota Fan’s Notes for years before writing this post, but it’s still going and still deeply historical.
  • Jan Benner’s blog covers baseball in Germany, Japan and the United States. Jan also contributed an article on German baseball to NPB Tracker a few years ago.
  • If you happen to speak Spanish, check out Claudio Rodriguez’s Beisbol Japanes.

Team-Specific Blogs

  • Love the Chiba Lotte Marines? So does Steve Novosel.
  • The Hanshin-devoted Tiger Tails blog is a wee bit on the pessimistic side.
  • The TokyoSwallows.com is probably closest thing any NPB team has to an English-language online beat. The TS team of writers publishes notes on pretty much every game.
  • Edwin Dizon’s Koukou Yakyu rivals even the most detailed Japanese language high school baseball sites.
  • I hope Dan Kurtz doesn’t mind me lumping MyKBO.net in to this category.

Did I miss anyone? It wasn’t intentional. If I did, please drop me a line in the comments or via email.

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2014 NPB Payrolls

» 25 February 2014 » In npb » 18 Comments

Alright, here we go, it’s time for the always popular post on Japanese team payrolls.

This data comes from the February 3, 2014 edition of Shukan Baseball via their handy iOS appSasuga, Shu-be.

These payroll figures are a little different from MLB numbers in that each team’s payroll covers its entire 70-man shihaika roster. This includes minor leaguers, but not players on the ikusei roster. So the average per player is a bit lower than if it were narrowed down to the top 25 or 40 players. NPB is also a little more egalitarian in the sense that minor leaguers earn a livable wage off.

My US dollar figures are based on an exchange rate of JPY102.5/$1, which was the market rate at the of writing. The Yen has weakened against the US Dollar by about 10 percent over the last year, so take the conversions with a grain of salt.

And aside from that, I’ll let the data speak for itself:

Team League Payroll JPY Payroll USD Average Per Player
Yomiuri Central ¥4,659,100,000 $45.45m 63 players, avg ¥73.95m/$721k
Softbank Pacific ¥4,000,300,000 $39m 65 players, avg ¥61.54/$600k
Hanshin Central ¥3,235,500,000 $31.56m 66 players, avg ¥49.05m/$478k
Rakuten Pacific ¥2,789,800,000 $27.22m 62 players, avg ¥45m/$439k
Chunichi Central ¥2,633,000,000 $25.69m 68 players, avg ¥38.36m/$374k
Lotte Pacific 2,491,450,000 $24.3m 64 players, avg ¥38.93m/$380k
Nippon Ham Pacific ¥2,410,500,000 $23.5m 67 players, avg ¥35.84m/$349k
Orix Pacific ¥2,397,250,000 $23.38m 67 players, avg ¥35.78m/$349k
Yakult Central ¥2,386,200,000 $23.28m 66 players avg ¥36.15m/$353k
Seibu Pacific ¥2,242,600,000 $21.88m 65 players avg ¥34.50m/$340k
Hiroshima Central ¥2,061,170,000 $20.1m 66 players, avg ¥31.23m/$305k
DeNA Central ¥1,9270,000,000 $18.8m 65 players, avg ¥29.65m/$290k

To add context, here are some interesting facts about NPB salaries:

  • 91 NPB players make JPY100m (about $1m) or above. 65 are Japanese, 26 are foreign.
  • Japan’s highest-paid player is Yomiuri catcher Shinnosuke Abe at JPY600m ($6m). He actually turned down a higher salary for Yomiuri, because he felt he was not ready to surpass the JPY610m that Hideki Matsui made in his final season with the Giants.
  • The highest paid foreign player is Rakuten’s Andruw Jones, at JPY400m. I believe he’s being paid in dollars, in the amount of $3.8m. To get a better idea of how foreign players are paid, read this post.
  • The lowest paid shihaika roster player is Rakuten rookie pitcher Ryuta Konno, at JPY4.4m ($44k).

I’ll delve into why Japanese baseball salaries aren’t higher in a later article.

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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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