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.
So unsurprisingly, I’m getting questions this offseason about how guys like Tsuyoshi Wada, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Wei Yin Chen project as MLB prospects. Truth be told, trying project established guys from NPB to MLB always makes me a little nervous. I don’t feel like I’m that great at it, so I decided to go back and look at my public track record, to give you the chance to decide if I’m worth listening to.
Kenshin Kawakami – My synopsis was “mid-rotation guy you can win with“. In retrospect that was a little aggressive; he was more like a competent #4 guy before the Braves decided to bury him.
Hitoki Iwase – I thought his stuff would translate to MLB, particularly after watching Scott Downs pitch; he obviously never moved to MLB.
Junichi Tazawa – I really liked his stuff, but also expected him to hit a wall somewhere. He reached the majors before hitting a wall, which really impressed me.
Ken Takahashi – I predicted “a little bit of an uphill battle” for Tak1, but also thought he could be a useful pitcher. He basically was for his year in the Mets organization, though his career ended immediately after returning to Hiroshima.
Ken Kadokura – Remember when he signed with the Cubs? I felt like he had something left in the tank, but he wound up getting dropped by the Cubs at the end of spring training and went on to have a few good years in Korea.
Ryota Igarashi — I don’t think I made an explicit prediction for Igarashi, but I thought he would do okay. He didn’t seem to trust his stuff in his first year, and though he did better in year two, he went from “effectively wild” in NPB to just “wild” with the Mets.
Chang-Yong Lim – Like Igarashi I don’t know that I really made an explicit prediction for him, though I really liked his stuff. I still do. Lim is still with Yakult and not a free agent, and I doubt we’ll ever see him in MLB.
Colby Lewis – I found reasons to be optimistic about Lewis in his return to the Rangers, but he certainly has exceeded my expectations.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka – Over at Fangraphs, I called Nishioka a “Chone Figgins/Ryan Theriot type”. What I meant by that was that he could be an infielder who would get on base but have minimal power, and play decent defense. I didn’t see him flaming out in year one the way he did.
Hisashi Iwakuma – Also at Fangraphs, I put Iwakuma’s upside at mid-rotation, noting he has to keep his forkball and he will probably regress some in innings pitched. I still mostly think this is the case, assuming he’s healthy. We’ll find out next year.
Yoshinori Tateyama – I never published much of anything about Tateyama, though I have an unfinished draft still sitting on Fangraphs, where I intended to make the case that he could be an MLB ROOGY/righty specialist. There was little original thought there, as he was dominant against righties in 2010 for Nippon Ham. In 2011 he exhibited a similar split for the Rangers, with a 2.04 against righties, versus 7.71 against lefties.
I kind of set out to prove that I’m not that great at these predictions, so I was surprised that the results here actually weren’t too bad. I seemed to do all right with Uehara, Tak1 and Tak2, while I probably underestimated Lewis and over-predicted Nishioka. The Nishioka flop makes me worry that I don’t know how to project position players. I think overall though, it’s pretty clear that I tend to see the glass as half-full with these guys as prospects. I also noticed here was that I seem to look at specific skills and how they might translate, rather than trying to project specific stats. Maybe I’m more of a scout than a numbers guy at heart.
That said, there are plenty of things I’ve been wrong about, I just haven’t always had a platform like this to assert my wrongness. If NPB Tracker had been around, however, I would have told you that…
…of the two Matsuis, Kazuo was the far better MLB prospect. I was a huge fan of Kazuo’s; I saw him as a five-tool player.
…Kei Igawa’s changeup was going to be a good MLB pitch.
…Nagisa Arakaki was Japan’s next great pitcher.
…So Taguchi wouldn’t have anything to offer to and MLB club.
…and so on.
So you might see me make a few statements on how I think the 2012 NPB imports may perform after they cross the Pacific. I’ll let you decide the appropriate measure of salt to take them with.
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 Ueharareturned 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.”
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.”
Looks like the Hisanori Takahashi saga may be drawing to a close — and that’s OK with me.
Sports Hochi said that of the teams that moved on Takahashi, only the Mets and Dodgers are left in the running. Hochi doesn’t mention the Pirates, but says that the Twins were interested, which I hadn’t heard before.
Takahashi seems to be accepting the fact that he’ll likely have to spend a some time in 3A, and is prioritizing teams that will give him a chance to be promoted to the majors as a starter.
If you find yourself in the minority of people who are more interested in where Hisanori Takahashi winds up than the Super Bowl, this one’s for you.
Sanspo has published a report saying that the Pirates have suddenly emerged as a destination for Takahashi. I’d read earlier that Takahashi prefers the west coast, but he’s also been saying all offseason that he wants a major league deal and wants to start. The Pirates don’t exactly have the strongest rotation in the world, so it’s feasible that they could have MLB starts to offer him this season. Bringing in Takahashi may work for the Pirates if he can eat up a few innings and buy them some time with some of their prospects, plus Aki Iwamura is around to ease his transition. But, you know, that sounds pretty stopgap-ish, and if you’re going to be a stopgap, why not be one in San Diego? Assuming the opportunity is available, of course.
Sanspo also runs down the latest status from Takahahi’s other suitors:
The Giants made an offer, but never heard back
The Dodgers are targeting other pitchers
The Mets were moving towards a MLB contract, but couldn’t reach a compromise on money
The Orioles were very interested but went in a different direction because Takahashi’s demands were too high
Finally, Sponichi says that Takahashi has traveled to Arizona, and was planning to throw for scouts today.
For the second year in a row, we have a lefthander named Takahashi looking for an MLB job. We could have had two, but Ken decided early in the offseason to return to Hiroshima. So here’s the latest on Hisanori:
Offer the weekend, multiple sources reported that Takahashi revealed that he had a major league contract offer, but didn’t say which team it was from. This report from Sports Hochi says that the Angels had been interested, but I think they may be overthinking Takahashi’s Hideki Matsui connection.
An earlier Hochi report said that Igarashi’s camp negotiated with the Orioles on the 9th, who would pair him up in the bullpen with Koji Uehara. Hochi also named the Padres and Diamondbacks as interested.
Sponichi throws the Yankees in the mix, saying that he could backfill for Brian Bruney or, in the event he is traded, Joba Chamberlain. This feels the most speculative of the rumors we have so far, but Sponichi does quote the projected line on Igarashi’s contract is two years, $2-3m. It wasn’t clear if that $2-3m is annual or cumulative, but either way, two years at $1-3m seems like a reasonable range.
Takahashi is getting less ink but things do seems to be starting to move for him.
The MLB offseason is heating up, and figures to kick into full gear when the Winter Meetings open on Monday. As usual, there will be a number of story lines involving Japanese teams and players this year.
Hideki Matsui is the top Japanese name this offseason. His situation will evolve as talks with the Yankees occur and other key veteran sluggers find 2010 employers. Reports last week stated that agent Arn Tellem could call Matsui in anytime during the week, and Matsui has delayed his return to Japan to accommodate. Expect a full contingent of Japanese media keep the rumor mill jam-packed until this guy signs.
We could wind up with a better sense on the market for Ryota Igarashi and Hisanori Takahashi. The market will be stronger for Igarashi, and the righty is already training in Arizona.
NPB foreign player rosters are filling up, but we frequently hear about a guy or two moving from MLB or affiliated ball over to Japan during the Winter Meetings.
Our own Ryo Shinkawa will be on the ground at this year’s Winter Meetings.
There’s no indication of whether the O’s view Takahashi as a starter or reliever, but international scouting director John Stockstill said that if the team does make him an offer, it won’t be until January. Baltimore has become active in the Japanese free agent market; last year they were in on Kenshin Kawakami, were the only MLB to look at Ryoji Aikawa, and eventually signed Uehara and Ryohei Tanaka. I could see them picking up Hideki Matsui this offseason as well.
Despite the fact that we’ve known for some time that Hisanori Takahashi would a candidate to jump to MLB this offseason, the Yomiuri lefty hasn’t gotten much virtual ink on this site. I’ve actually had a draft profile on him sitting un-started since June, but time has been an issue this year and I’ve prioritized other content.
Instead of an in-depth profile, I’ll give a quick bird’s eye view of Takahashi and his MLB credentials:
Turns 35 on April 2, 2010
Is coming off a solid 2009 campaign: 10-6, 2.94 ERA, 121/36 K/BB in 144 IP
Made 135m yen ($1.3m) in 2009
Started pro career in 2000 at age 26, after playing both college and industrial league ball
Isn’t going to overwhelm anyone with an 85-90 mph fastball
Has an excellent screwball, which he induces grounders and misses bats with; should be a plus pitch at the MLB level as well
Also has a two-seam fastball, slider and curve; the two-seamer is a pretty good pitch
No shortage of velocity info on him at our data site (note: screwball shows up as a “sinker” on in our data; two-seam as “shuuto”)
Has never been a huge innings eater in Japan: career high is 186.2 IP (2007), has twice thrown 163 (2002, 2005), next highest total is 144 (2009)
Was not a lefty killer in 2009: lefties hit .300 against him (48/160), while holding righties to .250 (99/396)
Did keep lefties in the park in 2009: only three of his 16 home runs allowed came against lefties
Is represented by Peter Greenberg, who gotanother Takahashi (Ken) a deal with the Blue Jays and later the Mets last year, and recently lost Hideki Okajima. Had he kept Okajima, Greenberg could have really cornered the market on Japanese lefties
Takahashi has said he wants to continue in a starting role after he crosses the Pacific, but putting everything together he seems better suited for the bullpen. That said, assuming his screwball doesn’t get lost in translation, I don’t see why he can’t be an effective reliever in the Okajima mold.
So far the Giants and Rangers have been noted in the Japanese media as interested, though I suspect the Rangers will come up for everyone because of Jim Colborn’s presence. Takahashi himself has said that he would like to wind up on the same team as former Yomiuri teammate Hideki Matsui, but the NL West would likely be the most amenable destination for him.