Tag Archive > Masahiro Tanaka

Maeda, Through the Lens of His Predecessors

» 24 February 2014 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 8 Comments

In recent weeks, I’ve written about some of the better MLB prospects who are currently active in Japan, and looked back at some of skills that have translated well from NPB to MLB. Now we’ll see how Japan’s Next Top Pitcher, Kenta Maeda, stacks up against his most recent predecessors.

Maeda let the cat out of the bag during his 2014 contract negotiations that he wants to play in MLB in the future, leading to widespread speculation that he’ll be posted following this season. Let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that he enjoys another Maeda-esque season in 2014 and is indeed posted after the season. What will he bring to the MLB negotiating table? Here’s my breakdown of his strengths and weaknesses:

Maeda’s strengths:

  • A fastball that won’t be a liability at the MLB level.
  • An ability to locate at least two breaking pitches, a slider and a changeup.
  • He gets his curve into the strike zone as well.
  • An ability to suppress hits. Maeda has allowed just 7.51 per 9IP over his 1116.1 inning career. In 2013, he allowed just 6.61 hits per 9IP.
  • Health and durability. Maeda has never had a serious injury, and has topped 175 IP in each of the last five seasons.
  • Consistency. Maeda’s WHIPs over the last four years: 0.98, 1.02, 0.99, 0.99.

Maeda’s weaknesses:

  • Overall his stuff is just not as whiff-inducing as Yu Darvish’s or Masahiro Tanaka’s.
  • He has lacked the eye-popping K:BB ratios of guys like Tanaka, Koji Uehara or Colby Lewis, though he is no slouch at about 5:1.
  • I’ve noticed he can nibble a bit.
  • On my list, Maeda’s build and stuff resemble’s Kenshin Kawakami’s more than anyone else.

I started off being pretty lukewarm on Maeda, but I’ve warmed up quite a bit. He doesn’t measure up to Darvish or Tanaka, but that’s setting the bar pretty impossibly high. Kawakami might be the best comparable among NPB starters who have made it to MLB in the last five years, but Maeda is younger, healthier and more consistent than Kawakami was. And let’s also remember that Kawakami was something like an average National League starter in his first MLB season. My guess is that Maeda can hack it in MLB, though he’s probably a mid-rotation guy.

Of course, the 2014 season hasn’t yet begun, and anything can happen. But I don’t really expect Maeda to deviate much from the consistent performance he’s shown over the last five years.

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What If Japanese Players Were Compensated With Equity?

» 17 February 2014 » In npb, something else, sports business » 3 Comments

When Rakuten was mulling over what to do with Masahiro Tanaka last December, a thought occurred to me: what if Rakuten came up with a compensation package that included company stock? Obviously Rakuten was never going to approach what Tanaka ultimately got from the Yankees, but if they had offered him, say, a grant of one million shares in Rakuten (TYO: 4755), that would have been a little more creative than just offering to double his salary. Of course in the end they did neither.

Unlike Major League teams, which are mostly owned by groups of wealthy individuals, Japanese baseball clubs are mostly subsidiaries of large corporations. While a few clubs are significant sources of revenue, many are operated as marketing loss leaders for their parent corporations. Rakuten’s Golden Eagles club, for example, seems to fit in to the latter category.

In my industry (technology/software), it’s commonplace to compensate employees with company equity, usually in the form of incentive stock options or restricted stock units. Japanese companies seem to prefer cash bonuses as variable compensation, but that bit of reality wasn’t enough to dissuade me from this thought exercise:

What if Japanese teams partially compensated their players with company stock? Would the players be better or worse off?

To explore the question, I took a player drafted at some point over the last ten years from each team owned by a publicly-traded company, and estimated how much money they’d have today if they had taken 10% of their draft signing bonus in company stock. I deliberately chose first round picks that haven’t panned out for this exercise.

The results are below, but before we get to them, here are some points to remember:

  • This is a thought exercise. I’m not suggesting that anyone should do this.
  • The starting share value is the closing price on December 1 of the year the player was drafted.
  • Share values are as of market close on February 14, 2014.
  • Lotte, Seibu, Yomiuri, and Chunichi are privately held, so they aren’t included here.
  • The currency unit is Japanese yen. If you’re more comfortable with US dollars, JPY 100m is about $1m, and JPY 10m is about $100k.
  • I didn’t account for dividends, and fortunately none of these stocks split over the periods I looked at.
  • If you find mistakes in my calculations please let me know.
  • I cheated for DeNA. Kota Suda was drafted and played his rookie season under Yokohama’s previous Tokyo Broadcasting System ownership. But this is a thought exercise, and it wouldn’t be fun looking at TBS’s stock, or a very recent DeNA draftee. So we’re clear, I denoted Suda with **.
Team/Parent Corporation Player Year Drafted Signing Bonus 2014 Share Value (est) % Change Notes
Rakuten Shingo Matsuzki 2005 JPY 80m JPY 13.504m 68.8% It was a pain to get this data, since Rakuten switched from the JASDAQ to the Tokyo Stock Exchange
Softbank Shingo Tatsumi 2008 JPY 100m JPY 47.596m 475.96% Softbank is the clear financial winner here
Orix Daisuke Nobue 2006 JPY 70m JPY 3.6211m -48.32% Orix took a beating in the financial crisis of 2008 but followed the market up a bit in 2013
Nippon Ham (Nippon Meat Packers) Ken Miyamoto 2006 JPY 90m JPY 11.574m 28.6% Stagnant until Abenomics kicked in in 2013
Hanshin (Hankyu Hanshin Holdings) Ikketsu Sho 2008 JPY 100m JPY 10.905m 9.05% Hankyu/Hanshin an old, mature business
Hiroshima (Mazda) Michito Miyazaki 2006 JPY100m JPY 6.097m -39.13% Mazda is profitable, but share price was diluted by a large public offering in 2012
Yokohama DeNA** Kota Suda 2010 JPY 100m JPY 8.764m -12.36% DeNA seems to be performing well financially but in an inherently risky market (mobile games)
Yakult Mikinori Katoh 2007 JPY 100m JPY 17.721m 77.21% Yakult finished in last in the standings in 2013, but the parent company’s stock surged

To my surprise, most of the players would have come out ahead, with only Orix and Mazda really taking a beating. And even then, both were casualties of the 2008 global financial crisis and clawed back share value in 2013.

It’s not much of a surprise to see Softbank and Rakuten at the top of the growth table, as both are giants consolidating positions of global leadership in their industries (mainly telecommunications and e-commerce, respectively). It is a bit of a surprise to see Yakult up there, I haven’t looked into that one. I thought DeNA would have grown more, but they do seem to have a diversification problem and are in a notoriously fickle market (mobile games).

It would be irresponsible to write a post like this and not point out that much of the growth listed here happened in 2013, fueled by Abenomics monetary policy. While Abenomics seems to have coincided with stock market growth, there has also been some volatility, and it obviously remains to be seen if it leads to the end of Japan’s long problem with stagnation.

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Who’s Next?

» 15 February 2014 » In mlb prospects, nichibei » 15 Comments

Within minutes of Masahiro Tanaka signing with the Yankees, I started getting questions on Twitter about the next star out of Japan.

The short answer is that there’s no one of Tanaka’s caliber that we’ll see in MLB in the next few years.The longer answer is that there are a number of interesting pitchers currently active in Japan who could eventually wind up in North America. Here are the ones I’m watching most closely.

Kenta Maeda RHP starter, Hiroshima Carp: Maeda is Tanaka’s heir apparent as Japan’s best pitcher, but he grades well below Ma-Kun as an MLB prospect, both on pure stuff and statistical dominance. On this list, he compares most closely to Kenshin Kawakami, but with the advantages of youth and health. A reasonable expectation is that he’ll be a viable mid/back rotation starter for someone. Maeda is expected to be posted following the 2014 season, so we should see him in MLB in 2015.

Chihiro Kaneko RHP starter, Orix Buffaloes: Kaneko is pretty good, but for whatever reason, frequently overlooked in discussions about Japan’s best pitchers. He’s a bit less consistent than Maeda, but has more breaking stuff and generates a few more whiffs. Kaneko is eligible for domestic, NPB-only free agency after the 2014 season, and there are already rumors that Yomiuri is going to go after him. If he wants to play in MLB it likely wouldn’t be until 2016 at the soonest.

Seung-Hwan Oh RHP closer, Hanshin Tigers: 2014 will be Oh’s first year in NPB, having spent his career to this point in Korea. He was expected to move to MLB this past offseason, but wound up signing a two-year deal with Hanshin instead. The thought is that he could move on to MLB at the conclusion of his contract, so that would be 2016. I haven’t seen Oh yet so I haven’t formed an opinion of him as a prospect.

Hideaki Wakui, RHP starter, Chiba Lotte Marines: A few years ago, Wakui would have ranked among Japan’s better MLB prospects, but now he’s a bit of a question mark. He hit his peak in 2009, winning the Sawamura Award, but overuse, a contentious relationship with his team, girl trouble, and possible conditioning problems has resulted in several steps backward. I’ve been hearing for years that Wakui wants to move to MLB; he signed a two-year contract with Lotte this offseason where he could rebuild value.

Takuya Asao, RHP reliever, Chunichi Dragons: Asao was so dominant in 2011 that won the 2011 Central League MVP Award, despite pitching in middle relief. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been the same since, suffering from shoulder discomfort and pitching 30 and 30.2 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. If he’s healthy, there’s no doubt his stuff — mid-90s fastball, hard splitter, funky palmball — is good enough for MLB. He’s a few years away from free agency so we’ll see what happens.

Yusei Kikuchi, LHP starter, Seibu Lions: Kikuchi made waves in 2009 for considering forgoing NPB to sign with an MLB club. He ultimately remained in Japan, and was drafted by Seibu. In 2013, Kikuchi was in the midst of making good on the potential that made him such a hot commodity as a high school prospect when he was stricken with shoulder inflammation and lost for the season. It obviously remains to be seen how he’ll fare when he returns, but so far he’s at least show that he can turn his ability in to results. Kikuchi is at least six years away from free agency.

Shohei Ohtani RHP starter/OF, Nippon Ham Fighters: Here’s where it gets interesting. Like Kikuchi, Ohtani also showed an interest in jumping right to MLB out of high school. Unlike Kikuchi, he seemed intent on actually doing it, but Nippon Ham drafted him anyway and eventually convinced him to sign. Despite flashing 100mph heat in high school, Ohtani opened the 2013 season as Nippon Ham’s starting right fielder. A few months later, he made his ichi-gun debut on the mound, and pitched 61.2 innings, becoming the first nitouryu (double-bladed) player since Yozo Nagabuchi in 1968. Ohtani’s offseason training centered on pitching, but he’ll reportedly continue to play both positions this season. Nippon Ham has been publicly supportive of sending Ohtani to MLB after a few years of seasoning, but of course that was before this posting system nonsense took place.

Shintaro Fujinami RHP starter, Hanshin Tigers: Ohtani’s 2013 rookie brethren Fujinami might not be as flashy, but he’s a lot more polished. Fujinami opened the 2013 as Hanshin’s third starter, and essentially stuck in the rotation for the duration of the season, an impressive feat for an 18 year-old. At this point, Fujinami probably has the best potential of any pitcher on this list. He already shows polish and pitchability, and he’s extremely lanky 6’7. As he fills out and adds strength, it’s reasonable to expect that he could develop a bit more fastball velocity, and handle more innings pitched. At age 19 he’s a long way away from free agency and MLB, but if 2013 is any indication fans on both sides of the Pacific have a lot to look forward to.

Tomohiro Anraku RHP starter Saibi High School: Anraku’s still a high school student, but he’s an interesting prospect. Clearly the top player in last year’s spring Koshien Sembatsu tournament, he was famously pitched into the ground by his manager. The bodily wear he sustained from the effort led to worse performances later in the year, and his stock as an NPB draft prospect has dropped. We don’t know what 2014 holds, but it’s conceivable that he could follow in Kikuchi and Ohtani’s footsteps as a player who tests the MLB waters out of high school.

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160 Pitches? Let’s Ask Masahiro

» 11 February 2014 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 8 Comments

Much has been written about Masahiro Tanaka’s famous two-day, 175-pitch Nippon Series pitch-a-thon. If you’re reading this, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Pretty much all the commentary in the North American media has been that Tanaka throwing 160 pitches in a start (a loss no less), and then 15 in relief the next day is, at best, a bit of a question mark, and, at worst, a sign of abuse or overuse. It seems that few that have provided commentary cite primary sources, or even saw the games.

I was traveling on the days that games 6 and 7 took place, and I didn’t see game 6 live, but I did catch the tail end of game 7, including Tanaka’s relief appearance. He certainly did look worn out, but not quite worryingly so. What was a little odd was that of his 15 pitches, about 10 were splitters, and only two or three were fastballs. His velocity was okay, but didn’t approach his peak. In retrospect, Tanaka and Rakuten were fortunate that he was able to shut down the Giants when he did, as continuing to pitch could have been disastrous.

What’s getting lost in the shuffle a bit is that Tanaka voluntarily kept himself in game six, and made himself available for game seven. There are plenty of times when it’s totally reasonable to criticize Japanese managers for overworking pitchers, but I’m not sure this is one of them. It’s not unreasonable to fault Rakuten manager Senichi Hoshino for risking injuring Tanaka, but in this case I don’t blame him. Put yourself in his shoes: you’ve got a real shot at winning your first Nippon Series, you’ve got the best pitcher in the league, he’s telling you he’s ready to go, and this is your last chance to use him. What would you do?

With that commentary out of the way, let’s take a look at what Hoshino and Tanaka had to say about this at the time it happened.

Hoshino after game 6, on wanting to remove Tanaka after throwing 120 pitches: “He wasn’t in the mood to be replaced, and he himself was planning on going. He felt like he wanted to be on the mound until the end.”

Hoshino after game 6 again: “I think it’s an ace’s will. This could be his last day to pitch in front of the fans, so there’s also that. It’s wonderful. The fans would be very happy to see Tanaka lose. Well, no they wouldn’t.”

Tanaka after game 6: “I want to do what I can.”

Hoshino during game 7 (really this is Sponichi’s reporting with a quote from Hoshino): “Hoshino asked him numerous times ‘are you really okay?’ but his determination was unchanged.”

Tanaka after game 7: “I was feeling depressed because my pitching yesterday was so pathetic. So I prepared myself in the bullpen, with the feeling that I would be ready to go any time, if I was to be put in the game. I want to show my appreciation for my teammates and fans, who set this stage.”

Tanaka, after game 7 again: “I had some fatigue, but since we’ve come this far I couldn’t just say that, so I pitched with the feeling that this would be the end.”

Hoshino, prior to the Asia Series: “Tanaka, Norimoto, and Mima aren’t going (in the Asia Series). You’d call me dumb if I had them pitch here.”

My opinion is that Tanaka’s game 6 and 7 workload was more gutsy than risky. I think Tanaka felt like he could do it, so he went for it, and it was more like a calculated risk than recklessness.

And one last thing: Tanaka was just the sixth pitcher in NPB history to throw over 160 pitches in a Japan Series game. The most recent prior to Tanaka? Ephemeral Pittsburgh Pirate Masumi Kuwata, who threw 167 pitches in game 5 of the 1994 Series.

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Starting Pitcher Skills

» 01 February 2014 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about Masahiro Tanaka and how he might perform in year one of his newly-minted mega deal.

My theory is that observable skills are a better predictor of MLB success than statistics. As an example, a pitcher with good control of an obvious out pitch is a better bet than a pitcher who is good all around, but lacks a dominant skill. This might sound obvious, but the media and casual baseball conversation centers around Tanaka’s 24-0 record and 1.27 ERA, rather than his ability to suppress walks and home runs.

So, I took a look back on the group of starters that have moved from NPB to MLB on Major League contracts since I began writing in mid-2008.

1st MLB Season Pitcher Strengths Weaknesses MLB fWAR
2014 Masahiro Tanaka suppressed walks, great splitter, good slider, healthy not quite Darvish ?
2012 Yu Darvish dominant in every way year after year The legacy of Daisuke Matsuzaka 9.8
2012 Hisashi Iwakuma great splitter, groundball machine, limited home runs injured in 2011, didn’t look like himself 4.8
2012 Wei-Yin Chen lefty who at one time showed electric stuff, dominant in 2009 had regressed quite a bit by 2011 4.3
2012 Tsuyoshi Wada decent control, decent changeup undersized; poor fastball velocity; looked spent at the end of 2011 0
2010 Colby Lewis phenomenal K:BB ratio, good arm was improvement in control due to him or the league? 9.6 (post return)
2009 Kenshin Kawakami great cutter, innings eater not much upside beyond #3 starter 2.4
2009 Koji Uehara phenomenal K:BB ratio, great splitter injury history, could he handle starting? 8.8 (mostly in relief)

My first reaction is that this is pretty good group. Wada was a bit of a bust, but he was injured. Kawakami comes the closest to being evidence of my theory, as he didn’t really dominate any statistical category, but I think he could have shown more if the Braves hadn’t buried him. The rest of these pitchers have either met or exceeded expectations since moving to MLB.

This seems to bode pretty well for Tanaka, as he shows two above average pitches and dominated a number of statistical categories in NPB. We’ll see how it bodes for the pitchers who are currently active in Japan in a follow up article in the next couple of days, assuming the writing gods smile upon me.

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Masahiro Tanaka’s 2013 Pitch Counts

» 22 January 2014 » In mlb, nichibei » 3 Comments

I keep getting asked for this, so here it is, taken from Isao Chiba’s article in the December 16 2013 issue of Shukan Baseball.

Note: regular season only.

Date Opponent IP Runs Allowed Pitches
April 2 Orix 7 1 89
April 9 Nippon Ham 7 1 109
April 16 Softbank 7 3 122
April 23 Orix 8 3 133
May 1 Nippon Ham 8 1 129
May 8 Nippon Ham 7 2 95
May 14 DeNA 8 3 128
May 22 Yomiuri 9 1 113
May 28 Hanshin 6 2 99
June 3 Chunichi 9 1 113
June 9 Yomiuri 7 0 96
June 16 Hanshin 9 0 127
June 25 Seibu 7 0 93
July 2 Lotte 8 0 116
July 9 Nippon Ham 9 0 116
July 16 Orix 9 1 105
July 23 Lotte 9 2 90
August 2 Nippon Ham 9 1 136
August 9 Softbank 7 0 92
August 16 Seibu 8 1 106
August 23 Lotte 7 0 116
August 30 Softbank 7 3 102
September 6 Nippon Ham 9 2 128
September 13 Orix 9 2 125
September 21 Nippon Ham 8 1 104
September 26* Seibu 1 0 19
October 1 Nippon Ham 6 2 97
October 8 Orix 7 2 83
Totals 212 35 2981

*Relief appearance in Rakuten’s Pacific League clincher.

Tanaka averaged 106.4 pitches per game in 2013, or, more importantly, 109.7 pitches per start.

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Rakuten’s Championship Roster

» 21 January 2014 » In npb » 3 Comments

In 2004, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles didn’t exist. The Kintetsu Buffaloes did, and after years in the red, the Kintetsu corporation decided to divest itself of it’s baseball operation. When no buyer could be found, Kintetsu’s management opted to merge with the neighboring Orix Blue Wave franchise, resulting in the contraction of the Kintetsu organization. Both the Osaka-based Kintetsu and the Kobe-based Orix were minnows in terms of fan base compared to the region’s beloved Hanshin Tigers, so some market contraction actually made sense.

But no one liked the idea of league contraction. The Orix-Kintetsu merger would leave an 11-team NPB, and there were talks of contracting another team and doing away with the two-league format. Fans held protests, Livedoor.com founder Takafumi Horie stepped in with an offer to buy the Buffaloes, and late in the season the players union held the first, and so far, only, strike in its history, refusing to play weekend games. It worked, and the owners agreed to allow an expansion franchise. By this time, Rakuten founder Hiroshi Mikitani had gotten involved, and a hearing was held to decide whether Livedoor or Rakuten would be awarded the new franchise. The hearing panel chose Rakuten, citing its more stable business and ownership of the Vissel Kobe J-League soccer team. The Orix-Kintetsu merger proceeded as planned, with the resulting team to be known as the Orix Buffaloes.

And so the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles were born, to begin play in 2005, based in Sendai in Japan’s Tohoku region (northern Honshu). The team would play in Miyagi Stadium, the 1970’s home of the Lotte Orions (now the Chiba Lotte Marines).

Eight years later, in 2013, the Eagles won their first NPB championship. So how’d they get there?

Rakuten started out with a roster of zero, and there was to be a surplus of players from the Orix-Kintetsu merger, so NPB held a dispersal draft of sorts. All of the players from the previous Orix and Kintetsu teams were placed into a pool, then the new Orix team was allowed to select 25 players all at once, in the first “round”. Then Rakuten could choose 20 players from the remainder of the pool. The Orix could choose another 20, and so on until all the players were assigned to a new team.

While the initial draft process was stacked in favor of Orix, it did yield two players who played in game 7 of the 2013 Japan Series for Rakuten: outfielders Toshiya Nakashima (from Orix) and Akihisa Makita (from Kintetsu). More notably, Kintetsu ace Hisashi Iwakuma refused to play for the merged team, and demanded a trade to Rakuten. The Eagles started off as kind of a literal embodiment of the common sports radio topic “if you had one player to start a franchise with, who would it be?”

From there, Rakuten set about building their team the traditional way, mostly building through the draft. There are enough words in this already, so let’s fast forward to 2013 and look at where the Eagles’ primary contributors came from (2013 acquisitions bolded):

Position Player Acquired
C Motohiro Shima 2006 draft, 3rd round
1B Ginji 2005 draft (high school), 3rd round
2B Kazuya Fujita 2012 mid-season trade from Baystars (Kensuke Uchimura)
3B Casey McGehee* 2012-2013 offseason MLB free agent
SS Kazuo Matsui 2010-2011 offseason MLB free agent
IF Tatsuro Iwasaki 2012-2013 offseason trade with Dragons (cash)
OF/C Takero Okajima 2011 draft, 4th round
OF/DH Andruw Jones 2012-2013 offseason MLB free agent
OF Ryo Hijirsawa 2007 draft, 4th round
OF Shintaro Masuda 2005 draft (high school), 3rd round
OF Teppei** 2005-2006 offseason trade with Dragons (cash)
SP Masahiro Tanaka*** 2006 draft (high school), 1st round
SP Takahiro Norimoto 2012 draft, 2nd round
SP Manabu Mima 2010 draft, 2nd round
SP Brandon Duckworth 2012 midseason acquisition from Red Sox
SP Kenji Tomura 2009 draft, 1st round
SP Wataru Karashima 2008 draft, 6th round
SP Satoshi Nagai 2006 draft, 1st round
RP Koji Aoyama 2005 draft, 3rd round
RP Darrell Rasner 2008-2009 offseason acquisition from Yankees (cash)
RP Takashi Saito 2012-2013 offseason MLB free agent
RP Kohei Hasebe 2007 draft, 1st round
RP Kenny Ray 2013 midseason acquisition from Mexican League
RP Norihito Kaneto 2012-2013 offseason trade from Yomiuri (cash)
RP Hiroshi Katayama 2005 draft (high school), 1st round
* Signed with the Marlins for 2014
** Traded to Orix for 2014
*** Has been posted to MLB for 2014 but not yet signed with a new team

The first thing that jumps out is the obvious divide between position players and pitchers Rakuten’s drafts. Rakuten has never used a first round pick on a position player, and has never developed a home-grown offensive star. 65 of the Eagles’ 97 home runs were provided by MLB free agent signees McGehee, Jones, and Matsui. The home-grown players are on-base types, at best.

Rakuten’s pitching staff was primarily acquired through the draft as well, mostly with earlier round picks. The Eagles mostly hit singles and doubles with their picks, but connected for a home run with Norimoto, and launched an epic grand slam with Tanaka. Beyond those two picks, the pitchers in this list are a bunch of singles and doubles. Hasebe finally broke out a bit in 2013, but still only provided 34.1 innings of relief work, and that’s the first sign he’s shown of coming anywhere close to his 1st round billing.

So does Rakuten have another championship-caliber roster in 2014? Maybe. Signing Kevin Youklis to replace the departing McGehee was a gutsy move, but Youk’ll have to be healthy to fill Casey’s shoes. And key offensive cogs Jones and Matsui are another year older.

The bigger departure, obviously, is Tanaka. Filling his shoes is obviously going to be impossible, but the Eagles might be able to claw back some of his competitive value with improved depth. Rakuten’s three and four starters were pretty mediocre (Mima, 4.12 ERA in 98.1 IP; Duckworth, 4.31 in 87.2). Maybe Travis Blackley shows up and pitches 150 innings of 3.50 ball. Maybe Satoshi Nagai bounces back toward his 2010 form (182.2 IP, 3.74). Perhaps lefty Takahiro Shiomi, who missed all of 2013, recovers and provides 100 IP. Or maybe wakawashi like Yoshinao Kamata and Yudai Mori chip in some value.

Or, even if none of that happens in 2014, at least the Eagles get to play the season as defending NPB champions. In their 55 years of existence, the Kintetsu Buffaloes never did.

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A Conversation About the Posting System With My Brain

» 09 December 2013 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 6 Comments

So, Brain, the posting system is changing. Apparently the details are still being formalized, but the main changes are that the NPB chooses the posting fee, the $20m limit on fees, and the player’s right to negotiate with any team that makes the maximum bid. Thoughts?

Well, it looks like MLB is trying to save its teams from themselves. It feels like both of the proposals started from the point of MLB wanting to reduce posting fees without significantly increasing the Japanese team and player’s negotiating leverage. In that sense, NPB did a good job securing some new leverage for it’s players. Giving the players multiple MLB teams to negotiate with is a surprisingly player-friendly inclusion, which has been welcomed by a union that has so little come their way.

The real, immediate loser here is Rakuten — and any other NPB that intends to post a marquee player. For teams in that situation, the $20m limit is almost diabolical.

What do you mean by that?

In case like Masahiro Tanaka’s, the new posting system makes the deal significantly better for the player and significantly worse for the team. So the incentive for the player to go and for the team to hang on have both increased. I think this could drive a wedge between the player and team, which we’re kind of seeing with Tanaka and Rakuten right now.

But the highest posting fees were indeed astronomical.

Yeah, they were. There’s no denying that. But there have only really been two huge ones, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, who both clocked in at about $51m. Matsuzaka was a flop; Darvish is looking good so far. No one seems bothered by the $25m fee the Dodgers paid for Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu last year, and the Yankees $26m bid for Kei Igawa seems to have been written off as a miscalculation, a knee-jerk reaction to the Red Sox’ acquisition of Matsuzaka. Then we have Ichiro at $14m way back in 2000, then Kazuhisa Ishii at $11m in 2001. All the other postings have been sub-$5m.

And let’s not forget that the MLB teams have set the market for big postings. People in Japan were shocked when Boston bid $51m for Matsuzaka, and later on, that was thought of as an outlier. The expectation was that Darvish would draw a bid of $30-40m. MLB teams have a knack for spending more than anyone expects.

People seem particularly annoyed by the $51m fee that Boston paid to Seibu for Daisuke Matsuzaka, and it’s understandable given his performance, but what gets overlooked is that it’s not unusual MLB teams transfer money to one another. No one batted an eye at Detroit including $30m in the recent Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade. No one cared that Texas agreed to send the Yankees $67m to help them undo their A-Rod mistake either.

So this is really about one guy then.

Yeah, probably. If Masahiro Tanaka wasn’t perfectly positioned to command another $50m+ posting fee, I doubt anyone would be having this discussion, at least not right now. There’s no one else in NPB that immediately commands to mind as being that hot a commodity; the other elite players are a few years away. So this is really about preventing his price from getting out of hand. The smarter thing might have been for MLB to try to push this kind of change through last year, when there were no postings from NPB. Hyun-Jin Ryu was posted from KBO, but I have to assume that it would have been easier to sell KBO on a $20m limit.

Maybe that’s a good thing, right? What if he’s a bust?

That’s part of the risk that MLB front offices are paid to evaluate. There was no limit imposed on what MLB teams were allowed to spend on Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jhonny Peralta…

Hang on. The luxury tax is a deterrent from going overboard on player salaries.

So prorate the posting fee over the term of the contract and apply it to the acquiring team’s luxury tax number. That way, at least the number comes from what the market is willing to pay, rather than a an artificial cap. The luxury tax is a deterrent, not a hard cap.

Yeah, I know they can’t do that because the MLB CBA is set in stone for the next couple years, but then so be it. MLB teams have made their beds, they can lie in them.

Why would NPB ownership agree to this?

Some of them don’t recognize the Posting System and refuse to use it. They don’t care if there’s a limit or not. I can only speculate as to why the others would go along with this… maybe they see it as something that won’t come into play very often, or maybe they see it as a disincentive to post their own players. Or maybe they just don’t want to face Tanaka next year.

No one seems to like the Posting System. Why does it exist?

It comes down to NPB teams needing to have a way to get something in return for players than are inevitably going to lose to MLB via free agency. Conceptually there is nothing wrong with this; in fact MLB clubs transfer players to Japanese teams for fees that range up to the low seven figures. Case in point, Softbank paid the Cubs $950k last year for Bryan LaHair’s contract.

What does it matter anyway?

From a practical standpoint, I don’t know, actually. Seibu invested the money they got from Matsuzaka into improvements to their home stadium, the Seibu Dome. Nippon Ham doesn’t seem to have re-invested their Darvish money back into their baseball operation in an obvious way. Perhaps there are more subtle ways that I haven’t picked up on.

In the bigger picture, a vibrant Japanese baseball culture and a financially healthy NPB is a very good thing for MLB and baseball in general, and limiting how much a team can benefit from developing a superstar player can’t possibly help.

There are two baseball leagues in world where a significant number of players earn over $1m annually — MLB and NPB (there might be a few guys in Korea by now). Having 42 organizations that employ baseball players is certainly better than having 30. If we include Korea’s 11 teams to the mix, it’s better to have 53 than 42.

Another thing is that part of the reason that Japan is a good market for MLB is because Japanese Major Leaguers bring huge fan followings with them. Guys like Darvish, Ichiro and Hideki Matsui were stars before they ever stepped on a Major League field. I don’t have the numbers on this, but I would assume that the market for MLB has grown many times over since Hideo Nomo braved the Pacific in 1995.

Thanks Brain.

No problem. I’m gonna go back to thinking about other things now.

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Time To Start Writing Again

» 02 April 2013 » In npb draft » 7 Comments

Well, it’s been a while. Life has kept me hectically busy, but every once in a while I get the urge to express myself creatively by way of printed word again, so I’ve decided to attempt to begin again.

The change this time around is that what I post will probably be less straight translation of news events, and more commentary and writing writing. I hope I turn out to be good at it.

Here’s what I have in mind for the next couple months:

  • The influx of rookies into NPB and the true changing the guard it signifies.
  • Tomohiro Anraku and the cautionary tales of Koshiens passed.
  • How Nippon Ham persuaded Shohei Ohtani to remain in Japan and whether it will work or not.
  • How to become a consumer of Japanese baseball without speaking a word of Japanese.
  • The pending internationalization of NPB.
  • The Major League futures of Masahiro Tanaka and Yoshio Itoi.
  • More Yakyu Nihongo lessons.
  • Finally follow up on this post from 2009.
  • Some reflection on my baseball “expertise”.
  • Some reflection on my experience writing and developing a following.
  • (Baseball) stuff I find on various 2ch/matome sites, which I have become fascinated by.
  • How not to suck at programming. Or, at least, sucking less at programming.

We’ll see how it goes.

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Oshogatsu (New Year’s)

» 05 January 2012 » In npb » 2 Comments

Today’s Japanese word of the day is Oshogatsu (お正月), which refers to New Year’s Day or the New Year.

Oshogatsu is a big deal in Japan. It’s easily the biggest holiday Japan celebrates, and the country largely shuts down for about a week while its citizens gather as families and take part in the traditional activities, such as visiting shrines and eating Osechi ryori.

Here’s an roundup how some NPB players spent Oshogatsu, all found via the very handy @npb_players Twitter feed.

 

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