Tag Archive > Hideki Matsui

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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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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Ichiro & Me

» 27 August 2013 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » Comments Off

Last week, Ichiro reached perhaps the capstone achievement of his career: 4000 career hits as a professional in NPB and MLB. This put me in kind of a refelective mood, as Ichiro has been an omnipresent figure in my observation of professional baseball over the last 16-17 years, and a central character in my development from someone who knew little about Japanese baseball to someone who is capable of writing competently about it. Here’s 950+ words about how it happened.

The offseason, 1996 — I saw Orix Blue Wave’s [1] Ichiro play for the first time, on TV, in the bi-annual Nichibei Yakyu All-Star Series that has since been rendered obsolete by the WBC. This particular series was notable as it featured Hideo Nomo, a Japanese player, representing the American side. I don’t remember much about that series, other than the broadcasters pointing out that Ichiro was thought of as the likely candidate to be the first position player to make the leap to MLB, which turned out to be a prescient expectation. Ichiro, with his distinctive high-kick swing and mononymous name, was implanted on my mind from then onward.

Winter, 1997 or 1998 — As an early eBay user, I was able buy a Japanese Nintendo 64 baseball game, King of Pro Yakyu[2]. I quickly learned to recognize the Orix Blue Wave logo, and the first Japanese phrase I learned to read was Ichiro. Or, more accurately, I could understand which series of characters read “Ichiro”, but I couldn’t tell you which one the “chi” was. Nonetheless, Orix was the only team I ever played with in that game and evenually I learned about So Taguchi, Koji Noda, Troy Neel and DJ.

At some point around this time, I discovered Michael Westbay’s JapaneseBaseball.com, simply by typing “japanesebaseball.com” into a browser to see if anything was there. It became an invaluable resource for me as time went on.

August 2000 — I set foot in Japan for the first time, to spend a semester as a foreign exchange student. As luck would have it, I found myself in the Kansai region, not far from Orix’s home in Kobe. As luck wouldn’t have it, Ichiro was injured, so I defaulted to mostly watching nationally televised Yomiuri games, becoming a fan of Hideki Matsui, Darrell May, Hideki Okajima and Akira Etoh[3]. Ichiro did eventually return to play in the final game of the season, which I saw on the news but not live. I had no idea that it would be Ichiro’s last game (to date) with Orix. A month or so later, Ichiro’s intent to move to MLB was announced and it was a huge news story.

By the time I returned to the States in December, Ichiro’s rights had been won by the Mariners. It kind of seemed like a predestined move, as Ichiro has spent some time with the Mariners during spring training in 1999, and the team is owned by Nintendo.

Spring 2001 — Back home, my Dad and I attended an early-season White Sox-Mariners game, during Ichiro’s first trip to Chicago. Ichiro went 3-6 and made at least one perfect throw back to home plate, but what I remember most about that game was the number of Japanese photographers stationed around Comiskey Park. We saw groups of three or so photographers in several spots around the stadium, capturing even the most mundane Ichiro moments from every possible angle.

Ichiro, of course, went on to win the MVP award and the Mariners had a historic regular season, but fell short in the playoffs. By the time they did, I had returned to Japan to begin my eikaiwa[4] job. Like everyone else in Japan I wanted to see Ichiro in the World Series, but I wasn’t disappointed by the terrific Yankees-Diamondbacks series. I figured the Mariners would get another shot, which wound up never happening.

September 2004 — Early in 2004, I relocated from Japan to San Francisco. Ichiro appeared to be somewhat in decline, as batting had tailed off a bit in 2003 and he had gotten off to a slow start in 2004. Then in May something clicked and Ichiro was locked in the rest of the season, particularly in July and August. By September it seemed clear that he was going to set the MLB record for most hits in a season, and it looked like he might do it during a four game series in Oakland during the last week of the season. Being semi-employed at the time, I had the free time to attend all four games that week, but Ichiro cooled off and wound up setting the record after the Mariners returned to Seattle.

10 years earlier Ichiro set the NPB record for most hits in a season with 210, so he held the single season hits record in both leagues, until Matt Murton broke his NPB record with 214 hits in 2010.

2008-2009 — For the next couple years, nothing much happened. Ichiro continued to rack up 200+ hits per year, but the Mariners were never really in contention for a playoff spot. I continued living in the Bay Area and reading Shukan Baseball[4], until 2008, when I started this blog, which both of you are reading right now. Two of my earliest attention-grabbing posts where Ichiro-related, or more specifically, Ichiro pitching related: Ichiro pitching in the 1996 NPB All-Star game, and again in preparation for the 2009 WBC. Certainly, I owe some portion of the audience I managed to build to the fascination with Ichiro.

[1] The Blue Wave name is now defuct. In 2004, the Orix Blue Wave merged with the Kintetsu Buffaloes, and became the Orix Buffaloes.
[2] Atlus software’s clone of Konami’s Powerful Pro Yakyu. Here’s a clip.
[3] All but Etoh evetually played in the Major Leagues.
[4] Eikaiwa is a contraction of “Eigo kaiwa”, meaning “English Conversation”. It’s a job were a native English speaker teaches conversational skills a group of one to four students.

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Giants Win, Giants Win

» 03 November 2012 » In nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

So, baseball in 2012 has come to an end (aside from the winter leagues and whatever daigaku yakyu remains this autumn). Both MLB’s and NPB’s Giants came out on top, with Yomiuri’s Kyojin-gun closing out the Nippon Series against the Nippon Ham Fighters on the 3rd. The San Francisco Giants swept the Detroit Tigers last week.

Normally I would write something about the Nippon Series around this time of year. I watched it this year but was too frequently disrupted to generate any decent level of insight into the series. So, I point you to the very capable Jason Coskrey and his article on how the series wrapped up.

In lieu of deep analysis, today I turn to trivia. This year was the first time that the Giants on both sides of the Pacific won their league championships, but it’s not the first time they’ve played for titles in the same season. Of course, Yomiuri is in the Nippon Series often enough that that’s not much of a coincidence. And here they are:

  • 2002: San Francisco lost 4-3 to Anaheim; Yomiuri swept Seibu. San Francisco’s Tsuyoshi Shinjo became the first Japanese player to appear in a World Series, while Yomiuri’s winner featured future MLBers Hideki Matsui, Koji Uehara and Hisanori Takahashi.
  • 1989: In a World Series remembered mainly for being disrupted by the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake, San Francisco was swept by their Bay Area rival Oakland A’s. On the other side of the Pacific, Kintetsu took Yomiuri to seven games, but the Giants ultimately prevailed. Incidentally, former Pittsburgh Pirate Masumi Kuwata was in the prime of his career with Yomiuri at this point.
  • 1951: The New York Giants’ 1951 are probably best remembered for Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World which got them in to the World Series, where they lost to the Yankees 4-2 in Joe Dimaggio’s final Series appearance. Meanwhile in Japan, Yomiuri played the old Nankai Hawks in the second Nippon Series ever stage. Yomiuri won in five games, their first of 22 Nippon Series wins.

 

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Matsui Not Done Yet

» 24 June 2011 » In mlb, nichibei » Comments Off

Coming into a June 14th series with the Kansas City Royals, it looked like the end might be near for Hideki Matsui. At 37, Matsui is essentially a one-trick pony, but his season line entering the Kansas City series was a lame .216/.268/.332, with just four home runs. The man he replaced in Oakland, Jack Cust, was even out performing him in Seattle (though his .684 OPS is equally unimpressive). Since then Matsui has shown signs of life — .261/.471/.522 in 8 games, and even seeing some time in the field during interleague play.

  • On his homer against KC on 6/16: “It was an easy fastball on the inside of the plate. I hit it just about perfectly. Would’ve liked to have hit it a bit further.”
  • On the feeling around the A’s clubhouse: “We’re feeling better — the team as a whole, I think, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do from here on.”
  • On being installed in the 3rd spot int he order: “Of course I need to be responsible and properly prepare myself. I just want to put out some results and lead this team to victory.”

Matsui is also pursuing his 500th professional home run. He needs only one more to reach the mark, and jokingly told reporters that it “will probably take another month.”

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My Team Japan

» 08 May 2011 » In npb » 27 Comments

Last week, I got a pretty good question Twitter — who would my Japanese national team be today?

It’s a good question, and a nice change of pace from the Darvish questions I frequently get, so I decided to write up a post about it. Coincidentally back when I was teaching English at the now-defuct NOVA, I used to do a lesson like this with my baseball fan students, and it was always a fun one.

I’m picking my team as if they would have to compete at the highest level, so as cool as I think the World Port Tournament is, I’m following the WBC roster rules. In summary, I get a maximum of 28 players, with a minimum of two catchers and 13 pitchers.

Outfield

No reason to deviate from the 2009 WBC starting outfield of Ichiro, Kosuke Fukudome, and Norichika Aoki. For my fourth outfielder I’ll go with the gap power, strike zone judgement, and defensive prowess of Nippon Ham CF Yoshio Itoi.

Infield

There’s one easy call for me in the infield: Hiroyuki Nakajima at shortstop. At second base, I’ll start Tsuyoshi Nishioka, without regard to his current injury.

The corners are a little trickier. At third base, I like Takeya “Okawari-kun” Nakamura’s bat and Eiichi Koyano’s glove, with Takahiro Arai striking a balance between the two. Choices are a bit limited on other side of the diamond, and Sho Nakata might be the best choice by the end of the year, but for now I prefer the contact bat of Seiichi Uchikawa.

This group of four gives me some flexibility. I can play the stronger defensive group with Koyano at third, Arai at first, and Okawari-kun DH’ing, or I can for the better offensive lineup and have Arai at third, Okawari-kun at first, and one of my other candidates batting DH. The presence of Uchikawa gives me the option of playing the hot hand as well.

On the bench, I’ll stash Yasuyuki Kataoka and Munenori Kawasaki, both of whom can pinch run, steal bases, get bunts down and play good defense all over the infield.

Designated Hitters

Nakamura would DH for my team when he’s not playing in the field. Hideki Matsui never participates in these things, but dammit,this is my dream team, so he’s in.

Catchers

Catcher is an easy call. Kenji Johjima starts, Shinnosuke Abe backs up.

Starting Pitchers

The first three starters are easy choices: Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma and Hiroki Kuroda. The next three are pretty easy too: Masahiro Tanaka, Hideaki Wakui, Kenta Maeda. Hang on, no lefties in there, so I’ll call on Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi, and Masaru Takeda.

That’s nine starters, so some of these guys are are going to relieve. In particular, I like Tanaka as a power arm out of the bullpen, and Takeda as a lefty specialist.

Relief Pitchers

I’m rounding out my 13-man pitching staff with four full-time relievers for my squad: Kyuji Fujikawa, Takuya Asao, Hitoki Iwase and Tetsuya Yamaguchi.

Those last two are kind of risky picks, given Iwase’s struggles in the 2008 Olympics, and the fact that Yamaguchi got lit up for 10 home runs last year. But Iwase is a good pitcher, and I like Yamaguchi’s ability to get lefthanded batters out.

Notable absences

The last name I deleted off my list of candidates was Chihiro Kaneko (ignoring the fact that he’s been out injured all season). It was either him or Koyano, and I went with Koyano for his third base defense and gap bat. Kaneko’s righty starter skillset is already well-represented.

I would love to have another power bat on this team, but the only other guy I really thought about was Shuichi Murata. A few years ago, his inclusion would have been a no-brainer, but I prioritized defense, and his down numbers last season concern me. Nobuhiko Matsunaka would have been a great inclusion, but he is a shadow of his former self.

I gave some consideration to Koji Uehara and Takashi Saito, but they are too injury-prone to displace either Fujikawa or Asao, and too righthanded to bump Iwase or Yamaguchi.

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MLB Updates: Spring Training Winds Down

» 25 March 2011 » In mlb » 1 Comment

A few updates from Japan as MLB players are finishing up spring training and preparing for Opening Day.

  • For those who haven’t been following the Twins this spring, MLB rookie Tsuyoshi Nishioka has hit in 12 straight spring training games. “It’s important (for me) to get used to being tired,” Nishioka told reporters following his first day game after a night game. He will also start on the 25th against the Orioles.
  • Kenshin Kawakami, a trade candidate for what seems like ages, will try to impress in his last spring training appearance for the Braves on March 27th. Kawakami allowed 3 runs (1 earned) in 3 innings in his first spring start this week.
  • Meanwhile in Arizona, the Dodgers’ Hiroku Kuroda says he’s not bothered by his spring training results. “I’ve come this far without getting hurt, and that’s the most important thing.” Kuroda, who has been working on a curve ball this spring and currently sports a 5.78 ERA, will make his first regular season start against the Giants on April 3rd.
  • Koji Uehara returned to action earlier this week in a minor league game, pitching a scoreless inning with one strikeout. Uehara has battled elbow issues this spring but remains upbeat. “As long as my elbow and my face are in good shape, I’m okay.” The Orioles’ reliever was clocked at 88 mph in his minor league appearance, but assured reporters he was only throwing “at 70 or 80 percent…I feel great.”
  • Hisanori Takahashi continues to dazzle, having allowed no runs over 11 innings in relief. He’ll be the lefty set up man in the Angels’ bullpen to start the year. Regarding the start of the regular season, Takahashi says, “I don’t need to change anything.”
  • Hideki Matsui‘s statement on Thursday that, “My job is the DH. More than defending, I’ve got to hit,” reinforces the fact that he is no longer a reliable outfield option. Despite a spring batting average that has sunk to .125, Matsui told reporters, “It’s no problem. Everyone starts out hitting .000 on opening day.”

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MLB Updates: Matsui, Matsuzaka, Uehara

» 16 March 2011 » In mlb » 1 Comment

Editors note: most of this was drafted last week, prior to the earthquake and tsunami.

With MLB spring training in full swing, here are updates on some notable Japanese names.

  • Hideki Matsui is unfazed by his slow spring training start. Following an 0-3 showing against the Royals last Thursday, the Athletics’ DH is now just 1-17 this spring. Matsui commented, “It’s not too bad for practice. But there’s still a difference between practice and a real game.” After the game, Matsui is reported to have spent an extra 30 minutes doing soft toss batting practice.
  • Daisuke Matsuzaka isn’t taking things so lightly, though. “If you can’t put what you do in practice into a game, it’s meaningless. We’re still in spring training so I wouldn’t worry that much, but I don’t feel good.” Matsuzaka gave up 5 hits and 5 runs last week against the Rays, but bounced back with five scoreless innings in his latest start.
  • After receiving a cortisone injection in his right elbow last week, Orioles reliever Koji Uehara is set to begin light throwing today. To be ready for the regular season, Uehara says he “needs 5 or 6 games, either in spring training or in the minors.”

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Kazuo Matsui and Tsuyoshi Nishioka

» 22 December 2010 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

This caught my eye: Kazuo Matsui offered up some advice for Tsuyoshi Nishioka publicly in Sanspo. I’ve translated it here:

(1) The effect natural grass has on defense at second base is small. Don’t have negative preconceptions. (2) Be careful about getting spiked during double plays (3) Gather data on batters with speed.

(1)二塁守備に天然芝の影響は少ない。悪い先入観を持つな (2)併殺時の足下を狙うスライディングに要注意 (3)俊足打者のデータ収集

Interesting. Especially that first point. Kazuo is generally thought to have made a poor transition to grass infields, but according FanGraphs he hovered around league average after he got out of New York. Then again, he did specifically mention second, so maybe he’s implying the effect is bigger at shortstop. Or maybe I’m over-thinking it.

I’ve been asked several times this offseason if Nishioka is the next Kazuo Matsui. In each instance, my answer has been the same: Nishioka is not another Kazuo; Kazuo had a significantly better record of success than Nishioka has had. If I had been asked in 2002, I would have said that of the two Matsuis, “Little” had the edge on Godzilla as the better MLB prospect. Both Matsuis really were phenomenal in 2002: Kazuo hit .332/.389/.617 with 88 extra base hits, and Hideki nearly won the Triple Crown with 50 HR, 107 RBI and a .334 BA (Kosuke Fukudome overtook him in September and finished at .343). Personally I thought Kazuo’s athleticism and all-around game would translate better than Hideki’s Yomiuri slugging. MLB expectations were justifiably high for both players, which is why Kazuo’s lack of success Stateside was such a disappointment.

So what does that mean for Nishioka? For me, it doesn’t mean anything. Nishioka is joining a good team, in a less demanding home market, and won’t have a top prospect pushing him like Kazuo did with Jose Reyes. So he’ll be in a position to focus on his main competencies of playing good defense and getting on base. If he can stay healthy and do those two things, he won’t be a disappointment.

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NPB Bullet Points: Player Personnel

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

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

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

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