Tag Archive > Kazuo Matsui

NPB Bullet Points: Petagine Lands, New Jobs for Scouts

» 28 May 2010 » In nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

It’s been all too long since I’ve done a bullet points round up… but here we go with another edition.

Only Japanese links today…

  • Roberto Petagine has made his NPB return, and looks set to get his first ichi-gun start with SoftBank on May 29, DHing and batting 6th. Petagine’s spot on the roster comes at the expense of Beom-Ho Lee, who was demoted the other day after hitting .218 in 34 games. Incumbent DH Nobuhiko Matsunaka has been even worse than Lee, struggling with a .197/.267/.318 slash line.
  • In other SoftBank news, Munenori Kawasaki has racked up enough service time for domestic NPB free agency. I can’t see him leaving unless it’s to go to MLB though.
  • The Yakult Swallows seemed to really want Kazuo Matsui.
  • Here I go rattling the cage again: the Yankees had two scouts watch Yu Darvish’s last start. This is the second time they’ve seen him this year.
  • Keiichi Yabu wants to play again, and is looking into playing in a US independent league. The idea of a return to the Hanshin Tigers came up, but Yabu seems to prefer the Indy leagues.
  • The Carp promoted Dominican lefty Dioni Soriano to ichi-gun, and he promptly pitched a scoreless inning of relief in his debut. Soriano took the long way to NPB — playing at the Carp’s Dominican Academy, moving to Japan as a renshusei (practice player), spending time in the Shikoku Island League, re-joining Hiroshima as an ikusei player, and finally signing a regular contract this season. If Soriano pans out, he gives the Carp a much-needed bullpen lefty.
  • Scouting news: SoftBank has hired Kent Blasingame as its US-based scout, and former Hanshin scout Tom O’Malley is working with the Wasserman Media Group with the intent of helping NPB players move to MLB. Blasingame’s father, Don, played in Japan and managed the old Nankai Hawks and later the Hanshin Tigers.

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Kikuchi’s First Day of Meetings

» 16 October 2009 » In mlb prospects, npb draft » 2 Comments

Yusei Kikuchi conducted his first day of meetings on the 16th, and has so far talked with four teams. Here’s what they told him, paraphrased by me:

Orix: “we still have Ichiro’s dormitory room as it was when he played with us.”. From another article: “we developed Ichiro, and Ichiro and So Taguchi train with us in the offseason.”

Seibu: “we had Kazuo Matsui and Daisuke Matsuzaka who made good numbers in Japan and went to the majors.”

Hanshin:”it would be better to build up your technique, physique strength, and mental strength and then trying (MLB).” Hanshin also said they’d be willing to post Kikuchi later on.

Yomiuri: “we’re drafting Hisayoshi Chono. Thanks for your time.” The Giants reportedly didn’t take their full 30 minutes so it looks like they’re serious about Chono.

It’s interesting that Yomiuri is really sticking to it’s foolish guns with Chono, and that Hanshin is already dangling the posting carrot. The mention of posting at this early phase just makes me glad that Steve Phillips isn’t involved. And I give Orix credit for trying, but if Ichiro is a motivating factor for Kikuchi, he could sign with Seattle…

Meanwhile, Japanese Red Sox pitchers Junichi Tazawa and Daisuke Matsuzaka have offered Kikuchi some advice from a far. I translated these directly rather than paraphrasing:

Tazawa: “it’s his own life so I want him to make a choice he won’t regret,” before commenting on his year with the Red Sox, “the training and 2A start were both good. I didn’t make a mistake with the club I chose. I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone but (the Red Sox development program) was good.”

Matsuzaka: “I thought about it (going to MLB after high school) too, but I didn’t yet have what it would take to make the decision, and I thought I would go after getting results in Japan. If he has confidence that he can do it, either way is good. It’s better that he thinks over a lot of things in this limited time and then decides. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”

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Uehara Buiding up his Repertoire

» 27 January 2009 » In mlb » 3 Comments

In his Japan career, Koji Uehara mostly got by with a fastball and forkball, while also mixing in a cutter and shuuto. For the start his Orioles career, the control specialist is shoring up his repertoire with a couple new pitches. The first is a changeup. “It’s got good movement. I’m going to use it in games,” said Uehara of his change. Later adding, “even if I can’t miss bats with it, it’ll be good if I can upset the batter’s timing. I’m planning to use it”.

More noteworthy, however, is Uehara’s new spike-curvey pitch of his own creation. Uehara’s never really thrown a curveball much — 1-2 times per game in Japan, though I don’t remember ever seeing him throw one. He’s calling his new creation a “one finger curve”, which he grips with his middle finger only. You can clearly see the grip in this Nikkan Sports photo of him working on this pitch. Said Uehara of the grip: “if I apply my index finger, I can’t use my middle finger and the ball doesn’t break. So I arrived at this grip.” The idea is to throw with a speed and break in between a traditional curve and a slider. Uehara also committed, “my form is still loose, but I want to use the pitch”.

Commenting on the MLB ball, Uehara said: “the Japanese ball is less slippery and easier throw. But the breaking pitches really move”.

Uehara is currently working out with Houston infielder Kazuo Matsui, and working on adjusting to the MLB strike zone and building up his stamina. Uehara heads to camp with the O’s from February 15.

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The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 4

» 03 January 2009 » In nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

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. Some of the teams still haven’t replaced the production they lost. 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.

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The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 2

» 03 December 2008 » In nichibei » 3 Comments

Part two of the series… take a look at part one here.

Part three will look at players that came over from 2001-03, and part four will draw some conclusions from the culmination of the last eight years of player movement.


Takashi Saito (RP, BayStars -> Dodgers): Saito explored a move to the majors after the 2002 season, but didn’t get a satisfactory offer and returned to Yokohama. After three more mediocre seasons by the bay, he decided to give the majors another shot and signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers. He didn’t make the team out of spring training, but got promoted when Eric Gagne was injured and has never looked back. 

Yokohama, meanwhile, has bounced back and forth between near-.500 respectability (2005, 2007) and Central League doormat (2006, 2008). I’m sure Westbaystars-san can better explain why Yokohama has been so manic recently. 

Impact: Low. I don’t think anyone saw Saito’s success in LA coming, as he had never put up such dominant numbers in Japan (MLB K rate: 11.63; NPB K rate 7.63). The impact would have been much greater if Yokohama had been able to get the best out of Saito.

Kenji Johjima (C, Hawks -> Mariners): While SoftBank survived the loss of Tadahito Iguchi, Johjima’s last year in Fukuoka would be the last of the Hawks dynasty that saw five Pacific League 1st place finishes, three Japan Series appearances and two Japan Series Championships between 1999-2005. The team effectively re-tooled around an talented, though inconsistent, rotation featuring Kazumi Saito, Toshiya Sugiuchi, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Nagisa Arakaki, but couldn’t replicate the success of the earlier offense-led dynasty. The Hawks have finished 3rd, 3rd, and 6th in the three years since Johjima’s departure.

Other factors have played roles in SoftBank’s regression — injuries to the pitching staff, sub-par production from guys like Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Hiroshi Tamura, manager Sadaharu Oh’s bout with cancer — but I would suggest that the absence of Johjima’s stabilizing presence behind the plate and in the order had the largest impact.

Impact: High. SoftBank lost an excellent defensive catcher and a mid-lineup slugger that they still haven’t replaced. The Hawks seemed unprepared for Johjima’s departure, as they never seemed to have a reliable backup for him while he was there. SoftBank drafted independent league catcher Hayato Doue in the instructional round of the 2008 draft, so maybe he’ll develop into a decent offensive or defensive catcher.


Tadahito Iguchi (2B, Hawks -> White Sox): The old Daiei management made two moves in the 2004 offseason that significantly weakened their team without getting anything in return. First, they released Iguchi from his contract so that he could pursue an MLB career. Daiei also “traded” star 3B Hiroki Kokubo to Yomiuri for nothing. Yes, nothing. Daiei then got out of the baseball business with the sale of the Hawks to SoftBank.

The departure of Iguchi didn’t have an immediate effect on the Hawks, as they took their third straight 1st place Pacific League finish with an outstanding 89-45-2 record. For the second straight year, however, they lost in the playoffs and failed to reach the Japan Series. Jolbert Cabrera was signed to fill in for Iguchi until reinforcements arrived, and while he spent two years in Fukuoka he was never really as good as Iguchi.

Impact: Medium. Shortstop Munenori Kawasaki effectively took over the infield leadership from Iguchi,but 2005 was the last year of the Hawks’ dynasty. Eventually young infielders Yuichi Honda and Nobuhiro Matsuda emerged, but they still need some time to mature and will probably never be as good as Iguchi was. A double play combination of Kawasaki and Iguchi would have been great to watch as well. Iguchi wasn’t posted, which means that Daiei got nothing in return for him. 

Keiichi Yabu (SP, Tigers -> A’s): Yabu was one of Hanshin’s better starting pitchers during the team’s lean mid-90’s years, but by the time he left for Oakland he was a more of a back of the rotation kind of guy. He seemed have a way to put a string of good starts together, but was injury-prone and a bit inconsistent. 

Impact: Minor. Pitching depth is good in any league but the Tigers still won the Central in 2005. They got destroyed in the Japan Series, but it’s not like Yabu could have prevented that.

Norihiro Nakamura (3B, Buffaloes -> Dodgers): Nori was clearly in decline when he asked the Buffaloes to post him. They happily complied, freeing themselves of his $4.5m salary. He only got a limited look at the MLB level, and failed to impress in the renowned hitter’s paradise in Las Vegas. In 2006 he was back with Orix, where his performance hit bottom. After the ’06 season he negotiated his release after falling out with Orix’s management, then caught on with Chunichi where he rediscovered the plot and managed to win the 2007 Japan Series MVP.

Impact: Very low. I was on the fence about including him in this. Nori’s ups and downs are a good story, but I consider his MLB experiment more of a blip.


Kazuo Matsui (SS, Lions -> Mets): Hiroyuki Nakajima picked up right where ‘LIttle’ Matsui left off, and Seibu went from finishing 5.5 games out in 2003 to winning the Japan Series in 2004. Nakajima also contributed to the Lions’ Series win this past season. 

Impact: Low. Seibu obviously had a capable replacement waiting in the wings in Nakajima. Nakajima hasn’t been quite the perennial MVP candidate that Matsui was, but he’s still been the top shortstop in the Pacific League most seasons since taking over as Seibu’s starter. 

Akinori Otsuka (RP, Dragons -> Padres): The old Kintetsu Buffaloes posted Otsuka after the 2002 season, but there were no takers, so they wound up trading him to Chunichi for cash. After a solid 2003 season, Chunichi posted Otsuka again, and this time San Diego won his rights with a $300k bid. 

Chunichi improved from 2nd in 2003 and 1st in 2004, going on to appear in Japan Series’ in 2004 and 2006, and finally winning in 2007.  One of the team’s strength’s was a deep bullpen, even without Otsuka.

Kintetsu didn’t fare as well. The franchise collapsed under heavy financial losses in 2004, just three years after reaching the Japan Series, and merged with the former Orix Blue Wave franchise. It looked like NPB was at risk for contraction, but the players went on a fan-supported strike and persuaded NPB to admit the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles as an “expansion” team.

Impact: Low. Chunichi got a minimal return for Otsuka, but he was expendable given the team’s bullpen depth. Kintetsu, unfortunately, had problems that couldn’t be solved by the presence of Otsuka. 

Shingo Takatsu (RP, Swallows -> White Sox): When Shingo announced that he was working out for MLB teams, there was a feeling that he was trying to drive up his price in Japan. Wrong. Shingo had a geniune desire to play major league ball, and put up great numbers in his first year with the White Sox. Yakult got by with out him, going 72-62-2 in 2004 vs 71-66-3 in 2003.

Shingo fell apart in 2005 and was back with the Swallows in 2006, where he pitched two more seasons before getting released. He was in camp this spring with the Cubs, but failed to catch on and played for Woori in Korea in 2008. Shingo seemed to really enjoy his time in Chicago, which endeared him to me as a native Chicagoan.

Impact: Low. What gets overlooked here is that Shingo was pretty inconsistent for his last two years in Japan, and Ryota Igarashi seemed ready to take over as the closer. Where Shingo and Otsuka had a large impact, however, was in establishing the reputation of Japanese relievers as effective in MLB. 

Any comments on this group of players?

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