Tag Archive > Kazuo Fukumori

The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 1

» 30 November 2008 » In nichibei » 8 Comments

To me, the trend of NPB stars moving to MLB has meant more jobs for Japanese players and more opportunities for exchange. For others, it’s signified a decline in Japanese baseball. But let’s take a look at how each player’s move to MLB has affected the teams involved. 

Player movement is a part of the business of baseball, and while there’s a general trend of Japanese players wanting to test their skills in MLB, each situation is a little bit different. We’ve seen players ranging from role players like Hideki Okajima and So Taguchi to Hall of Fame-caliber stars like Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka make the move over. We’ve MLB departures go unnoticed, and have a huge impact on a team’s fanbase. So let’s examine each case and see what the impact has been overall.


Hiroki Kuroda (SP, Carp -> Dodgers): Despite losing both Kuroda and star 1st baseman Takahiro Arai (Hanshin) to free agency, Hiroshima still managed to improve from 5th place (60-82-2) in 2007 to 4th (69-70-5) in 2008. Of course, if the Carp had been able to hang on to either one of those guys, they probably would have beat out Chunichi for the last playoff spot. Still, Colby Lewis did an outstanding job taking over for Kuroda as the ace, and the team looks primed to make a step forward in it’s new stadium.

Impact: Medium. Losing Kuroda probably kept the Carp out of the playoffs in ’08, but the team still improved on it’s record. Hiroshima is a small market and losing free agents domestically been a reality for the Carp for years.

Kosuke Fukudome (RF, Dragons -> Cubs): Chunichi won the Japan Series in 2007 despite Fukudome missing significant time due to injuries. The Dragons signed veteran slugger Kazuhiro Wada to take Fukudome’s place in the lineup, surrendering reliever Shinya Okamoto the Lions as compensation. Wada had a solid year (.302/.345/.475) but Chunichi fell from 2nd to 3rd place, and lost out to the Giants in the playoffs.

Impact: High. Wada is an above-average hitter but lacks Fukudome’s defensive skills, and cost the Dragons some bullpen depth. Chunichi looks set for a step back next season with Kenshin Kawakami and Norihiro Nakamura out the door as well. The team continues to draw well though.

Masa Kobayashi (RP, Marines -> Indians)
Yasuhiko Yabuta (RP, Marines -> Royals): Soichi Fujita (Yomiuri) departed as well, breaking up Lotte’s “YFK” relief combination. The Marines dropped from 2nd place in 2007 (76-61-7) to 4th (73-70-1) in 2008. Bullpen performance may have played a role in the increase in losses (six fewer ties compared to 2007), but Bobby Valentine still had four relievers who posted an era of 3.05 or lower. 

Impact: Low. Bullpens fluctuate, and on paper Lotte managed to replace the performance they got out of Yabuta and Kobayashi. 

Kazuo Fukumori (RP, Eagles -> Rangers): Rakuten seemed ready to compete for a playoff spot for most of 2008, but wound up finishing one game out of last despite outscoring their opponents by 20 runs. A return to form from Fukumori would have helped, but this was a guy that posted a 4.75 ERA in 2007.

Impact: Minimal. Fukumori was expendable coming off a bad season. 


Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP, Lions -> Red Sox): Obviously a huge loss for the Lions, as they went from 2nd (80-54-2) to 5th (66-76-2). Jason Johnson was signed to replace Matsuzaka in the rotation, but was more interested in hanging out in Roppongi and never panned out. Hideaki Wakui, on the other hand, established himself as an ace, and the team rebounded in 2008 to win the Japan Series. Seibu used the $51M they received for Matsuzaka to make some stadium improvements, but otherwise hasn’t changed the way they run the team.

Impact: Medium. Everyone knew Matsuzaka was going to MLB, and Seibu got the maximum return by hanging on to Matsuzaka for as long as they could. Despite popularity problems, Seibu has always found ways to win. 

Hideki Okajima (RP, Fighters -> Red Sox): Nippon Ham lost some bullpen depth when Okajima left, but still managed to make it to their 2nd consecutive Japan Series in 2007. The Fighters acquired Okajima for a couple of very spare parts so they basically got a free year out of him. 

Impact: Low. Losing Michihiro Ogasawara (Yomiuri) and Tsuyoshi Shinjo (retirement) has had a bigger affect on Nippon Ham’s competitiveness. I wold suggest that Trey Hillman’s departure to MLB had a bigger impact on the Fighters than Okajima’s.

Kei Igawa (SP, Tigers -> Yankees): Igawa went 14-9 in 2006 as Hanshin finished 2nd to Chunichi with an 84-58-4 record. Without him in 2007, Hanshin dropped to 74-66-4 and a 3rd place finish. In addition to the loss of Igawa, Hanshin’s other starters took a step back in 2007, with Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi leading the team in innings pitched with just 129 1/3. Igawa’s departure also coincided with the Tigers’ offense regressing, as Tomoaki Kanemoto, Andy Sheets, Akihiro Yano and Osamu Hamanaka all performing significantly worse than the previous season.

The rotation improved 2008, with Minoru Iwata stepping into a more prominent role. The offense improved as well, and Hanshin led the Central League comfortably for most of the year before choking down the stretch to finish 2nd. 

Impact: Medium. Igawa was the only significant personel change, and the team finished 10 wins worse in 2007 than in 2006. Hanshin recovered in 2008 though, and the loss of Igawa never affected the team at the gate. Igawa was inconsistent for his last three seasons in Japan, but the Tigers still haven’t found an innings eater to take his place. Looking back though, Hanshin definitely sold high on Igawa and got a nice infusion of cash back for him without sacrificing on long-term competitiveness.

Akinori Iwamura  (3B, Swallows -> Rays): Yakult replaced Iwamura on the field with Aaron Guiel, and saw it’s record go from 70-73-3 in ’06 to 60-84-0 in ’07. It wasn’t Guiel that cost the team 10 wins, as he posted an .874 OPS compared to Iwamura’s .933 mark in ’06. Guiel dsappeared in ’08 as the Swallows rebounded slightly to 66-74-4. 

Impact: High. Short-term, the impact of losing Iwamura probably wasn’t that great. By the time Iwamura was sold to the Rays, most of the Swallows stars from the team’s mid-90’s glory years were gone or fading, and the team was heading into a period of decline anyway. Yakult has a star to build around in Norichika Aoki, but losing Iwamura has certainly slowed their return to competitiveness. 

Masumi Kuwata (SP, Giants -> Pirates): The Giants had banished Kuwata to the farm team for all of 2006 and didn’t notice he was gone. Kuwata, meanwhile, had a great “nothing to lose” attitude during his time with the Pirates.

Impact: None, except making the Giants look bad for unceremoniously dropping another veteran.

Agree? Disagree? Any information I haven’t presented here? 

I’ll look at players that moved from 2000-2006 in parts 2 and 3 of this series.

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NPB Bullet Points (2008/07/14)

» 14 July 2008 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » Comments Off on NPB Bullet Points (2008/07/14)

Pro Yakyu links on an NPB off-day.

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Masa Kobayashi & The Okajima Generation

» 13 July 2008 » In mlb, mlb prospects, nichibei » 5 Comments

I’ve been a fan of Hideki Okajima literally since the moment I arrived in Japan for the first time. It was August, 2000 and I had just landed in Osaka to start a tour of foreign study. The bus that I took into the city had a TV in it, and on the way downtown I alternated between watching the brightly-lit arcades and pachinko parlors out the window, and watching the Giants beat whoever they were playing that night.

Okajima was the guy that made the biggest impression on me. His unusual delivery and big breaking pitches jumped out at me as being MLB-caliber*. He did, of course, cross the Pacific to join the Red Sox last year, where he enjoyed great success.

Okajima’s success triggered an MLB interest in NPB veteran relievers last off-season. Three signed with big league teams: Masahide Kobayashi with the Indians, Yasuhiko Yabuta with the Royals, and Kazuo Fukumori with the Rangers.

Number writer Yasushi Kikuchi calls this the “Post Okajima Generation“. But of the three post-Okajima pitchers, only Kobayashi has had any kind of success.

Kikuchi supplies some comments from Kobayashi that give some insight into why he’s done well so far. Here are my translations:

“People around me will evaluate my performance. Evaluating my performance myself is something that I can do when the season is over and the results are in. During the season there is no yesterday. That’s because this is a world where I have to concentrate my feelings, my body, everything on today’s game. It’s been this way since my time in Japan, everyday I have to prepare for a change.

“Of course, there are a lot of amazing batters, and there are times when I feel like I can’t handle it. But on the other hand, I try to think that I’m on the same field (with them) as an equal. I didn’t just come here because I wanted to; I’m here because people let me in. Because if you feel out of place, there’s nothing you’ll be able to do.

“I think that (former Chiba Lotte Marine teammate) Yabuta is a little more jittery and sensitive than I am. I don’t give anything a thought, I just say “oh well” and stay realistic. You can say that (in MLB), the ball sucks, the mound sucks, but we aren’t the first players to come to the Majors and that information is out there ad nauseum. Even if you go bit by bit there’s nothing you can do about it but to throw. If the road you chose is bad, it’s just bad.”

Interesting comments. Sounds like a guy that leaves it all on the field. I’ve always thought of Kobayashi as a fierce competitor, and these comments are right in line with that. Kobayashi really impressed me back in September 2002, in a game against the Seibu Lions.

Seibu slugger Alex Cabrera was chasing Sadaharu Oh’s single season home run record, and came up against Kobayashi in a game against Lotte. Oh’s record had been challenged by foreign-born players before, and the norm had been not to pitch to them. Kobayashi, on the other hand, went after Cabrera with a series of high fastballs. And he struck him out.

Yabuta and Fukumori continue to toil in the minors for their respective teams. Truth be told, I don’t think those guys were ever as good as Okajima or Kobayashi, but there is hope for them. The SF Giants pulled Keiichi Yabu off the scrap heap this season and he’s been an effective member of their bullpen.

Fittingly, Kobayashi took the save for Cleveland in their win over Tampa Bay today, while Okajima picked up a hold for Boston despite giving up two walks.

*Of course, this is easy for me to say now. The other guys on that Giants team I liked were Darrell May and Akira Etoh. May went on to have a good year for the Royals in 2003, while Etoh quickly declined after 2001. May, as far as I know, is out of baseball, while Etoh is hanging around as a pinch hitter for the Saitama Seibu Lions.

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