Tag Archive > Masahide Kobayashi

Hanshin’s Shopping List

» 16 October 2009 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 9 Comments

The news about Hanshin’s list of offseason acquisition targets is flying fast and furious. It kind of reminds me of this old Onion article. Here’s what I’ve seen so far.

Via NPB Free Agency…

  • Shugo Fujii (Nippon Ham) — this probably makes the most sense of any of these acquisitions. Fujii wouldn’t make the Tigers a championship club on his own though
  • Hiroyuki Kobayashi (Lotte) — another rather low risk, medium reward type

Via Trade…

  • GG Sato (Seibu) — coming off a career year
  • Shunsuke Watanabe (Lotte) — can’t see Lotte moving him, but would be interesting to see how he adjusts to the Central League
  • Nagisa Arakaki (SoftBank) — one of my favorite pitchers, but has been hurt for the last two years

From Korea…

  • Brad Thomas (Korea, Hanwha Eagles) — former Nippon Ham Fighter
  • Rick Guttoromson (Korea, Kia Tigers) — Sports Hochi reported on him and Thomas
  • Kim Tae-Gyun (Korea, Hanwha Eagles) — Matt tipped me off to this info on Kim
  • Lee Bum-Ho (Korea, Hanwha Eagles) — Matt also pointed out that if the already last-place Hanwha loses all these guys, they might as well field a him of himself, me and Shinsano

Possible MLB Returnees…

  • Hideki Matsui (NY Yankees) has been speculated over since the summer, seems like Matsui will get chances to stay in MLB
  • Masahide Kobayashi (ex Cleveland Indians) — makes sense, I wonder if they went after him during the season
  • Kenji Johjima (Seattle Mariners) — reports in the Japanese media say that he has an escape clause in his contract allowing him to return to Japan. Cot’s knows nothing about this. Hanshin is said to be prepared to offer 500m yen annually (about $5m), so for this to work Joh would have to take a pay cut, and the Mariners would have to not convince him to stay
  • Akinori Iwamura (Tampa Bay Rays) — saw some speculation about this a week or two ago, Iwamura didn’t say much other than that he would go where he was evaluated the most highly

There are also reports that Hanshin is going to be looking to the US market as usual, but I haven’t seen any legitimate names published yet. Hanshin sent team president Nobuo Minami to the States this season in an effort to learn how to evaluate US-based players. In the process, he had his picture taken with Bobby Cox, and met with the GMs of the Braves, Yankees, Mets, as well as front office personnel from the Red Sox.

What do NPB fans think? Would any of these moves make Hanshin the team to beat next year?

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Yokohama Considering Japanese Major Leaguers

» 03 September 2009 » In npb » 15 Comments

The Yokohama BayStars have routinely had the worst pitching staff in Japan the last few years, and word from Sponichi has it that they’ll be looking to re-import some help from the States this off-season. Said an unnamed member of the ‘Hama front office: “we’re two or three starters short, and getting a pitcher who can close is a point to improve on. We’re seeing if we can use any of the Japanese pitchers who are playing in America.” Ironically, this is the team that wouldn’t take Satoru Komiyama back after he returned from the Mets.

Sponichi mentions Tomo Ohka, Yasuhiko Yabuta, and Masahide Kobayashi as guys the BayStars could look at. Ohka spent time with Yokohama early in his career, but requested and was granted his release to pursue a shot at the Majors. Two other names I’ll throw out are Kei Igawa, who would have to take a pay cut to return to Japan (among other things, see comments), and Takashi Saito, who is much more of a wildcard — he’d need to be non-tendered, and he’s also performed much better in the States than he did in Japan.

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The Meikyukai

» 19 August 2009 » In nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

With Kaz Matsui becoming the latest player to enter the Meikyukai by surpassing a total of 2000 hits between NPB and MLB, it seems like a good time to address what the Meikyukai is and how players can enter the Golden Players Club.

The Meikyukai was first organized by Masaichi Kaneda in 1978 as a voluntary organization, but quickly became a corporate organization built by former players with Kaneda as the president and Shigeo Nagashima and Sadaharu Oh as co-vice presidents. The Meikyukai was organized with the goals of giving back to disadvantaged in the community and contributing to build the grass roots of professional baseball. Main activities of the club includes teaching classes to the younger generations, promoting baseball and participating in volunteer activities throughout the communities.

In order to join the Meikyukai, there are some milestones players need to surpass. Pitchers are able to join after earning 200 or more wins or 250 saves. On the other hand, position players need to surpass the total of 2000 hits. The regulations changed in November 2003, such that the numbers can be a total combined from both NPB and the MLB. Three current players on MLB rosters have made it in to the Meikyukai; Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees, Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners, and now Kaz Matsui of the Houston Astros. The list of every player in the Meikyukai can be seen here.

The next pitcher in line to join the Meikyukai are Masahide Kobayashi, who is 17 saves shy. Tuffy Rhodes, were he eligible, would need 114 more hits (as of 8/16; thanks to commentor passerby for the clarification). A list of the other players nearing induction can be found on the Meikyukai’s website.

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Indians Release Kobayashi

» 19 July 2009 » In mlb » Comments Off on Indians Release Kobayashi

Stumbled across this on Sponichi in Japanese, then found it in English on the Japan Times site — the Indians have released Masahide Kobayashi at is request. The Japan Times has a translated comment from Kobayashi: “Nothing is decided at the moment and I am having my agent look for a team for me (in the United States). In the meantime I will just keep myself ready to pitch.”

Kobayashi was better in the minors than with Cleveland, but still uninspiring. I always take AAA numbers with a grain of salt though, as he could have been working on a changeup or something. Walking away from a contract is a gutsy move, though assuming he’s healthy I think someone will take a flyer on him.

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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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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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