Tag Archive > Ichiro

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.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , ,

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.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Ichiro, Hopeful Mushroom Farmer

» 30 August 2012 » In mlb » Comments Off

This feels like the type of content more appropriately proffered on NotGraphs, but here we are. I was browsing a recent discovery, one of those 2ch-style blogs called Nannjoy, when I came across a survey form that Ichiro wrote for a newspaper company prior to playing in Koshien as a 3rd-year high school student.

This was way too interesting not to share, so I translated a couple of highlights from the survey, which appear… now.

Favorite baseball player: Tatsuo Komatsu (Komatsu was a pitcher for Chunichi; hit ctrl+f and search Komatsu on the link)

Poster hanging in his room: Giant Baba

Favorite subject: English

Least favorite subject: Physics

Favorite food: Arabian food

Personal strength: none

Personal weakness: not having a strength

I like Middle Eastern food too, so I have that in common with Ichiro. Cool.

Several of the questions are repeated on the survey. For a couple of them, Ichiro changed his answers.

Hobby: investigating the flavor of takoyaki

Hobby: digging holes

What he wants to become in the future: a mountain supervisor

Goal or dream for the future: managing a mushroom patch

Looks like Ichiro’s quirky sense of humor is nothing new.

Continue reading...

Tags: , ,

A Midsummer Night’s Blog Post

» 18 August 2012 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

While my baseball consumption has not returned to it’s previous levels, my itch to write has returned, so tonight I’m taking a hiatus from my hiatus to share a few thoughts on the season so far.

  • After years of anticipation, Yu Darvish, has made his Major League debut. The results have been mixed — lots of strikeouts, lots of walks. The walks are a surprise to me; the mid-season struggles are not. I must admit that fate has conspired against me, and I haven’t seen a single Darvish start all the way through this year.
  • Nippon Ham has carried on without Darvish, currently leading the Pacific League by a game over Seibu. 24 year-old lefty Mitsuo Yoshikawa took advantage of the hole left by Darvish, and is enjoyed a breakout season. While he lacks Darvish’s eye-popping dominance, a 10-4 record with a 1.91 ERA isn’t too shabby.
  • I never thought I’d see Ichiro traded, but last month it happened. It felt more like Ichiro was on the path to retirement this season, but his bat has woken up a bit with the Yankees. Perhaps playing for a winning time will revive his career.
  • The Japanese Players Association is threatening to sit out next year’s World Baseball Classic if WBC Inc doesn’t give them a bigger share of the revenue. So far neither side is willing to budge. I hope they can work out some sort of agreement because a Japanese boycott would be bad for both sides.
  • I didn’t get to finish my predictions this spring, but every year I think that Chunichi is going to stumble and that Seibu is going to be good. And, every year I’m wrong, at least about the Chunichi side of the prediction. This year was no exception. I thought Chunichi was set for a big step backwards, but they’re comfortably in second place in the Central, and had been in the hunt for first until Yomiuri started to pull away. Seibu got off to a rough start and appeared to be headed for a disappointing season, but has righted the ship and is now in the hunt for a league title.
  • I was going to write something about Brad Penny here but I don’t think I’ll bother.
  • Softbank veteran Hiroki Kokubo announced his retirement last week. Otsukare-sama.
  • Yomiuri veteran and personal favorite Yoshinobu Takahashi slugged his 300th career home run last week. Jason Coskrey has more.
  • The two young players I’ve enjoyed watching the most this year? Hiroshima’s Yusuke Nomura and Yokohama DeNA’s Sho Aranami.
  • While it doesn’t stack up to MLB’s three perfect games this season, NPB has seen a pair of no-hitters this year: Toshiya Sugiuchi’s against Rakuten on May 30, and Kenta Maeda’s against DeNA on April 6. Although, I did not witness either of these games, I did catch a pair of near no-hitters. Another personal favorite, Daisuke Miura, took a no-no into the 9th against Hanshin on May 12, but pinch-hitter Shinjiro Hiyama put up a veteran at-bat, working a full count before finally hitting a long single. Hanshin eventually scored and Miura lost his shutout, but won the game. The other was another Sugiuchi gem, thrown on May 4 against Hanshin. The only solid contact I recall Sugiuchi surrendering happened to be the only hit Hanshin managed, a sharp single, hit mid-game by Takashi Toritani. The game lacked the drama of a late-innings no-hit bid, but was a dominant performance nonetheless.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

NPB Bullet Points: The Month That Was

» 02 October 2010 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

Okay, time to hit the “play” button again. Here’s a recap of many of the notable events that happened while I was away.

  • SoftBank took the Pacific League title despite ultimately winning two fewer games than Seibu. Ties to the rescue! SoftBank tied five games to Seibu’s one, which was enough to put them a few win percentage points ahead.
  • Chunichi has also clinched the Central League crown. It was a come-from-behind year for the Dragons, as they trailed Yomiuri and Hanshin for most of the season before getting hot at the right time in September while their rivals slumped. Hanshin and Yomiuri are not finished with their schedules, and could both still catch up on wins, but not eclipse Chunichi’s winning percentage.
  • Prior to 2010, only three NPB players had reached 200 hits in a season: Ichiro (210 in 1994), Norichika Aoki (202 in 2005) and Alex Ramirez (204 in 2007). This year, we can add three more to the list: Lotte’s Tsuyoshi Nishioka with 204, Hanshin’s Matt Murton with 209, and Yakult’s Aoki with 204. Both Murton and Aoki both have games remaining and are poised to surpass Ichiro’s mark, although Ichiro got his 210 hits in 130 games while Murton and Aoki get 144. Media coverage of the record chase has been predictably biased towards Aoki, kind of like “Aoki has five games to get six hits to match Ichiro! Oh by the way, Murton only needs one hit and has more games to play.” Oh well, at least Murton’s not getting walked.
  • Nishioka beat Ichiro’s record for more modasho (three hits or more) games, with 27. Ichiro’s mark of 26 came in that magical 1994 season.
  • Another record this season is Chunichi middle reliver Takuya Asao’s astonishing 59 hold points (hold points = holds + relief wins). Asao figured in 59 of Chunichi’s 79 wins.
  • This just in — Murton has tied Ichiro’s record with a single against Hiroshima.
  • Rakuten manager Marty Brown attempted and failed to dig up second base in an argument with an umpire on September 23. Later in the week, Rakuten sent him packing, a year before his contract expired. The Eagles struggled to a last place, 62-79-3 finish this year, mostly due to an anemic offense.
  • The Yokohama BayStars are for sale. Hama’s current parent company, TBS Holdings, is in negotiations with a couple of potential buyers and the current leading candidate appears to be the Juseikatsu Group, a holdings company that owns numerous suppliers of household goods. There was some speculation that the team could move or be contract, but the current TBS management has come out and said that won’t happen. Once upon a time, Bobby Valentine was linked to a group that tried to purchase the BayStars. I wouldn’t mind seeing that idea revisited.
  • The “Yu Darvish to be posted” have spun out of control over the last couple weeks. I haven’t seen anything other than speculation and quotes from anonymous sources though. I’m still skeptical on him being posted this offseason, though as it makes no sense for Nippon Ham competitively and little sense economically. Very much in wait and see mode here.
  • On the other hand, I think Hisashi Iwakuma will be posted this offseason. He’s a free agent after 2011, so Rakuten is going to lose him anyway.
  • Yomiuri signed that “mystery Domican player” on September 27. His name turns out to be Noel Urena, he’s 21 and plays catcher and infield, though Yomiuri is having him work at third base.
  • The Yankees signed former Yokohama BayStar Naoya Okamoto to a minor league contract. Okamoto had spent the 2010 season in Mexico.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

NPB Bullet Points: News & Retirements

» 02 September 2010 » In international baseball, npb » 7 Comments

(insert witty introduction here)

Around NPB

  • Chihiro Kaneko has gotten himself in to the mix for the Pacific League’s wins title, with a career-best personal 10-game winning streak. Kaneko is now 14-7 on the season. He also has six shutouts.
  • The Giants have slumped to sub-.500 records in each of the last two months, and it’s showing on Tatsunori Hara’s face.
  • Craig Brazell cranked out his 40th bomb of the season the other day, becoming the first Hanshin foreigner to since Randy Bass back in ’86.
  • Orix righty Kazuki Kondo pitched a 144-pitch complete game loss on the 1st… and then got sent down. I didn’t see the game, but it must have been a save-the-bullpen kind of effort, as Kondo had allowed seven runs by the third inning.
  • Nippon Ham lefty Masaru Takeda has a personal seven-game winning streak going, and leads the Fighters with 12 wins.
  • Rakuten ace Masahiro Tanaka is out a minimum of three weeks with a torn pectoral muscle, and with Rakuten languishing in last place, it’s looking unlikely that he’ll pitch again this year.
  • At least one MLB club was seen watching lefty Daiki Uekida’s September 2 outing for Tokyo Gas of the Industrial Leagues. I haven’t seen Uekida but at first glance he looks like a Hisanori Takahashi type.
  • Today’s Japanese word: moudasho (mo-da-sho, 猛打賞), which means three hits in one game. An example: Lotte shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka has 22 moudasho games this season, a club record. Ichiro, of course, holds the NPB record with 26. With 21 team games left in the season, Nishioka has a shot at Ichiro’s record if he gets hot.

Player Personnel

  • Yakult is looking into re-acquiring Akinori Iwamura. Pittsburgh is set to move on from Aki after this season, and I believe Yakult still controls his NPB rights.
  • Longtime Hanshin catcher Akihiro Yano is calling it a career at the end of the season. Something of a late-bloomer, Yano made seven All-Star appearances in his 20-year career and was the runner-up for the 2003 MVP.
  • Orix ni-gun infielder Masahiro Nagata has already retired, according to a team announcement from August 31. Nagata was once a pretty decent prospect, but never made an impact at the top level.
  • Cuban pitcher Pedro Lazo is also retiring. I was planning on listing him as a dark horse to move to Japan next season, as Omar Linares and Orestes Kindelan did at the end of their careers.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Re-Run: The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 4

» 27 August 2010 » In mlb, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

I’ve spent most of my writing time this week over at FanGraphs, profiling some of Japan’s better players. In researching that set of articles, I came across this post I wrote in early 2009, before Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami had signed with MLB clubs. Looking back at this, I don’t think I’d change the set of conclusions that I originally drew, but I will add the observation that this trend has hurt the overall depth of the league. Another interesting thing to note is that 11 of the 26 players listed here have returned to NPB, several since this article was written: Johjima, Iguchi, Kobayashi, Yabuta, Taguchi, Yabu and Fukumori.


Time to close out this series with some conclusions. I fear that I may be oversimplifying this a bit, but I’m looking for macro trends with this. These are casual observations, I didn’t do any hard research.

Check the three previous installments here: 1, 2, 3.

1. Most of the teams that lost a star to MLB took some kind of a hit in the standings. With the exception of Hiroshima, the teams losing the top 10 players listed below took years to replace the production they lost, and some still haven’t. It’s also important to remember that none of these departures happened in a vacuum; there were other things that affected the performance of each team, but overall the lose of these players has hurt their former teams competitively.

2. The only team that really took a popularity hit after losing a star to MLB was the Giants after losing Matsui. I bought walk-up tickets to a Giants game in 2005, which would have been unthinkable a few years earlier. Of course, while the Giants were down, the Tigers and Dragons were both up and have enjoyed competitive success and popularity since the early part of the decade. SoftBank has been less competitive since losing Johjima, but has not suffered at the gate. The team is actually adding 6000 seats to the Yahoo Dome for next season to help meet demand.

3. Signing foreign talent to replace departed stars doesn’t seem to work. Teams will often sign foreign players to fill the holes left by departed stars, but when the do so, they’re losing the opportunity to add depth at other positions with those roster spots. I can’t think of an example where a foreign star was a long-term replacement for an MLB bound star. Colby Lewis was great as Hiroki Kuroda’s replacement in 2008, but so was Kevin Hodges a few years ago and he flamed out after a single season.

4. Losing talent to MLB has a trickle-down impact on the smaller market teams. As an example, Hanshin may have been content with their outfield had Shinjo stuck around, but two years after he left they signed Tomoaki Kanemoto away from the Carp to play left field. Kanemoto has gone on to become a legend for the Tigers while the Carp have only recently begun to show signs of life. Hanshin and Yomiuri can spend to fill their holes, while smaller market teams like Hiroshima cannot.

5. On the positive side, stars moving to MLB has opened up (or could potentially open) spots for younger players, in a league where there is no rule 5 draft and blocked prospects and depth guys are seldom traded. We haven’t seen too many cases of prospects jumping in and filling the shoes of the top 10 guys I’ve listed below, but others have stepped in for 11-26.

Overall, I don’t think this trend is killing NPB. Attendance is stable, and Japan Series television ratings were up this year (mostly because the Giants played in it). Many of the players who have made the leap to MLB have actually been pretty successful, which has greatly improved the credibility of NPB overseas. On the downside, the loss of star players has hurt the competitive depth of the affected teams, and led many to question the viability of the league. I seeing the loss of these star players as an “Oakland A’s-ing” of the league — the A’s have gotten by with smart management, an ability to exploit market inefficiencies and a willingness to continually reinvent the team on the field. The A’s style doesn’t translate to the Japanese game completely, but the underlying principles of thrift and creativity are important for a group of teams that generally is not going to compete with MLB financially.

Below is a list of all the players I looked at, ranked in order of how much I think their departure affected their previous team and the league. For me, there are really about three or four classes: Matsui and Johjima, Iwamura through Iguchi, and everyone else. You can possibly put Matsui, Kobayashi and Yabuta in their own class as well, as guys who were quickly replaced but did leave a gap in their absences.

Rank Player Team Year Record Before Record After Impact
1 Hideki Matsui Yomiuri 2003 86-52-2 71-66-3 High
2 Kenji Johjima Daiei/SoftBank 2006 89-45-2 75-56-5 High
3 Akinori Iwamura Yakult 2007 70-73-3 60-84-0 High
4 Kosuke Fukudome Chunichi 2008 78-64-2 71-68-5 High
5 Daisuke Matsuzaka Seibu 2007 80-54-2 66-76-2 Medium
6 Ichiro Orix 2001 64-67-4 70-66-4 Medium
7 Hiroki Kuroda Hiroshima 2008 60-82-2 69-70-5 Medium
8 Kei Igawa Hanshin 2007 84-58-4 74-66-4 Medium
9 Kazuhisa Ishii Yakult 2002 78-56-6 72-64-2 Medium
10 Tadahito Iguchi Daiei/Softbank 2005 77-52-4 89-45-2 Medium
11 Kazuo Matsui Seibu 2004 77-61-2 74-58-1 Low
12 Masahide Kobayashi Lotte 2008 76-61-7 73-70-1 Low
13 Yasuhiko Yabuta Lotte 2008 76-61-7 73-70-1 Low
14 Takashi Saito Yokohama 2006 69-70-7 58-84-4 Low
15 Hideki Okajima Nippon Ham 2007 82-54-0 79-60-5 Low
16 Akinori Otsuka Chunichi 2004 73-66-1 79-56-3 Low
17 Shingo Takatsu Yakult 2004 71-66-3 72-62-2 Low
18 Tsuyoshi Shinjyo Hanshin 2001 57-78-1 57-80-3 Low
19 Keiichi Yabu Hanshin 2005 66-70-2 87-54-5 Low
20 So Taguchi Orix 2002 70-66-4 50-87-3 Low
21 Satoru Komiyama Yokohama 2002 69-67-4 49-86-5 Low
22 Kazuo Fukumori Rakuten 2008 67-75-2 65-76-3 Low
23 Norihiro Nakamura Kintetsu 2005 61-70-2 62-70-4 Low
24 Shinji Mori* Seibu 2006 67-69-0 80-54-2 Low
25 Yusaku Iriki* Nippon Ham 2006 62-71-3 82-54-0 Low
26 Masumi Kuwata Yomiuri 2007 65-79-2 80-63-1 Low

* I forgot about both these guys when compiling the original lists. Mori was successfully posted and signed with Tampa Bay, but got hurt in his first spring training and was never heard from again. Iriki played in the Mets and Blue Jays organizations, but got busted for PED usage and never reached the Majors. He resurfaced with Yokohama in 2008, but retired after the season.

** I left out Yukinaga Maeda as well.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Crowd Pleaser

» 29 May 2010 » In npb » Comments Off

This video is seven seconds long. It’s worth spending seven seconds on.

The pitcher? The now forgotten Toshiyuki Gotoh.

Continue reading...

Tags: ,

Re-run: The Quirks of NPB Pitching

» 25 March 2010 » In npb » 2 Comments

This is one of my favorite all-time NPB Tracker posts, and one that generated a good amount of interest in the site. I decided to re-run because seeing the various pitching styles is one of my favorite things about Japanese baseball, and hopefully a new audience will get to see it this time around. I think I’ll do a 2010 version of this at some point.

This post originally ran on August 29, 2008.


It’s been another busy week and I haven’t had much time for baseball, so let’s take a break from the NPB current events and take a look at some pitching.

If you’ve read this blog more than once, you might have observed that it’s very pitching-centric. This isn’t by accident. I think pitching is the most interesting part of the game — pitchers control the pace of the game, and there’s so much variability in styles and approaches. This second point is especially true in Japan, where there are fewer true power pitchers, and more guys rely on breaking stuff. Here are some of the more interesting examples:

  • Satoru Komiyama throws a pitch he invented called the shake. He describes the grip as forkball without applying pressure from the thumb, but to me looks something like a split-finger knuckleball. Komiyama never throws the shake faster than about 55 mph in the video I linked to.
  • Masaki Hayashi has great movement on his slider. Unfortunately he’s rarely healthy.
  • Shinji Imanaka won a Sawamura Award in the early 90’s with his slow curve. He had a short career and was pretty much done by the time I started watching Japanese baseball, but here’s a highlight of him shutting down Hideki Matsui (ed. note: 2010: Matsui video removed by YouTube, so here’s one where Imanaka struck out 16).
  • A current curveballer is Orix righty Chihiro Kaneko. His curve has big movement like Imanaka’s, but he throws it a bit harder.
  • Obligatory Yu Darvish mention: Darvish has probably the best variety of stuff in Japan right now, mixing in 6-7 different pitches. Here’s a video that focuses on the development of his changeup, comparing it to his fastball (00:26) and slider (00:32). Skip to 01:48 for changeup footage. (ed. note: 2010: video removed by YouTube; this post goes further into Darvish’s arsenal)
  • When Daisuke Matsuzaka came to MLB, he brought the legend of the gyroball with him. Matsuzaka admits that he doesn’t throw it intentionally, but here’s a video of him throwing a slider with gyro properties. However, former Hanshin Tigers ace Tetsuro Kawajiri* is an accredited gyroballer and this video shows him strking out Jay Payton and Carlos Delgado with it in the 2000 Japan-US All-Star Series. Note how Payton and Delgado swing under the pitch.
  • And finally, Ichiro was a pitcher in high school and was brought in to face Hideki Matsui with two outs in the 9th inning of the 1996 All-Star game. He drew cheers by immediately hitting 91 mph on gun, but Central League manager Katsuya Nomura pinch hit Shingo Takatsu for Matsui and took a bit of the edge off this legendary moment.

*footnote on Kawajiri: Kawajiri pitched great in that Japan-US series. After that he wanted to be posted to play in MLB, but Hanshin refused. Tigers teammate Tsuyoshi Shinjo also represented Japan in that All-Star series and played well, but left as a free agent to join the Mets. Kawajiri faded into the background and was eventually traded. Neither player was around the next time the Tigers fielded a winning team, which was in 2003.

Continue reading...

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,