Tag Archive > Masumi Kuwata

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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Giants Win, Giants Win

» 03 November 2012 » In nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

So, baseball in 2012 has come to an end (aside from the winter leagues and whatever daigaku yakyu remains this autumn). Both MLB’s and NPB’s Giants came out on top, with Yomiuri’s Kyojin-gun closing out the Nippon Series against the Nippon Ham Fighters on the 3rd. The San Francisco Giants swept the Detroit Tigers last week.

Normally I would write something about the Nippon Series around this time of year. I watched it this year but was too frequently disrupted to generate any decent level of insight into the series. So, I point you to the very capable Jason Coskrey and his article on how the series wrapped up.

In lieu of deep analysis, today I turn to trivia. This year was the first time that the Giants on both sides of the Pacific won their league championships, but it’s not the first time they’ve played for titles in the same season. Of course, Yomiuri is in the Nippon Series often enough that that’s not much of a coincidence. And here they are:

  • 2002: San Francisco lost 4-3 to Anaheim; Yomiuri swept Seibu. San Francisco’s Tsuyoshi Shinjo became the first Japanese player to appear in a World Series, while Yomiuri’s winner featured future MLBers Hideki Matsui, Koji Uehara and Hisanori Takahashi.
  • 1989: In a World Series remembered mainly for being disrupted by the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake, San Francisco was swept by their Bay Area rival Oakland A’s. On the other side of the Pacific, Kintetsu took Yomiuri to seven games, but the Giants ultimately prevailed. Incidentally, former Pittsburgh Pirate Masumi Kuwata was in the prime of his career with Yomiuri at this point.
  • 1951: The New York Giants’ 1951 are probably best remembered for Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World which got them in to the World Series, where they lost to the Yankees 4-2 in Joe Dimaggio’s final Series appearance. Meanwhile in Japan, Yomiuri played the old Nankai Hawks in the second Nippon Series ever stage. Yomiuri won in five games, their first of 22 Nippon Series wins.

 

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A Fitting Tribute

» 03 January 2012 » In npb » 3 Comments

The other day, Sports Hochi reported that, in the event that he signs with the Rangers, the Nippon Ham Fighters will “semi-retire” Yu Darvish’s number 11. The number won’t be officially retired, but will remain unused until the team develops another “absolute, Darvish-caliber ace”.

So it’ll be something like a Nippon Ham adaptation of number 18, Japanese baseball’s recognized “ace number”. Incidentally, Darvish wore 18 for Japan’s 2008 Olympic Team, because Kenshin Kawakami had 11. I could have my historical facts not-quite-right here, but I believe the ace number tradition was popularized by 18-wearer Tsuneo Horiuchi, Yomiuri’s 60’s and 70’s-era ace. After Horiuchi retired, number 18 was eventually passed down to Masumi Kuwata who went on to have a lengthy career. Every NPB except Yakult currently has number 18 assigned to a pitcher. In the Major Leagues, Hiroki Kuroda, Daisuke Matsuzaka and now Tsuyoshi Wada wear number 18.

I’m on board with this one, I think treating 11 as a new ace number is a great idea. Darvish’s tenure in NPB has been short, but legendary, and he’s certainly left his mark on Japanese baseball.

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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.

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Will Kudoh Get a Shot?

» 11 October 2009 » In mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

If 46-year old lefthander Kimiyasu Kudoh looks to MLB, will there be any takers?

In recent years we have seen veteran pitchers from Japan sign minor league deals and then contribute to the big league team. 39 year-old Masumi Kuwata made his major league debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2007, and 40 year-old Ken Takahashi enjoyed his first season in the majors with the New York Mets this year.

Although neither pitcher left eye-popping numbers with their teams, they both brought intangibles to the table with experience and character. Needless to say, the Japanese media were all over stories, which in turn fueled stories in the US media (see Kuwata attracts crowd and The Mets’ 40-Year-Old Rookie).

Kudoh was released from the Yokohama Baystars and will be looking for a suitor this off-season. He stated his desire to continue playing and in a recent interview mentioned that NPB is his first option. However if negotiations stall and an offer from overseas arrives would he decline? It will be interesting how the situation plays out and if any MLB teams will look to follow the trend of signing Japanese veterans as roster depth.

To give you a sense of what Kudoh brings, check out pitching clip from September 16 versus Yakult, and this velocity chart from the same game..

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Prime Minister to Throw Out First Pitch

» 22 September 2009 » In international baseball, nichibei » Comments Off

The prime minister of Japan, Yukio Hatoyama is throwing the first pitch in Pittsburgh before he gets down to business at the Pittsburgh G-20 Summit.

Preparing to throw a strike right down the pipe, he has been practicing with former Pittsburgh Pirate Masumi Kuwata. The prime minister received a baseball cap and jersey from Kuwata and started warming up. After the meeting, Hatoyama stated, “I appreciate the opportunity to play catch with the world’s Kuwata. Good things happen when you’re the prime minister.” This gives you an idea what type of icon Masumi Kuwata has been in the baseball world in Japan.

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Sport Management in Japan

» 07 February 2009 » In sports business » Comments Off

The words “Sport Management” and “Sports Business” have recently become trendy in Japan. Some universities jumped at the opportunity to expand interest from students to the community, while other universities have quietly been observing what opportunities sports business may bring. The idea of sports being able to make money and individual teams being able to operate independently was fart-fetched due to the long history of professional teams being dependent on parent companies, which is still the fact today in most cases.

One of the universities jumping at the opportunity is Waseda University, to which Masumi Kuwata has recently been accepted. Their school philosophy from founder Shigenobu Okuma was to be involved in athletics as much as academics. Even though their implementation of sports activities in the classroom has run since 1964, their history of the Sport Management and business courses has started recently in 2003, which illustrates how short the history of sports business has been in the mind of the academia. Now many of the universities that have been observers are jumping at the possibility and developing a new area in sports studies at a significant pace.

As more individuals have looked overseas to play professional sports, more of the Japanese population has shown an interest in the sports world overseas. Along with the creation of professional soccer and basketball leagues in the last twenty years, people have started to recognize that sports, indeed have an opportunity to bring in revenue. That is the same for Japanese professional baseball and teams has started to expand their strategies by learning from other professional teams and started to bring some creativity to their strategies. With the economy being unstable, the importance of professional teams not being dependent on their parent companies might be crucial in the future. As more and more individuals start to develop sport management knowledge on Japanese campuses, the new generation might be able to bring a CHANGE to the sports business in the future. I will look into some of the new sports business ideas implemented in team management throughout Japanese professional baseball in my next entry.

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Masumi Kuwata Going Back to School

» 31 January 2009 » In sports business » Comments Off

Former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Masumi Kuwata has been accepted to the Waseda University Sports Management Graduate Program. Before being selected first overall in the 1985 draft by the Yomiuri Giants, his desire was to attend Waseda University after his high school days at PL Gakuen.

The Daily Yomiuri has comments from Masumi: “My desire to study on Waseda University’s campus has not diminished after 23 years.”

Since his retirement, there has been much speculation on Masumi’s future in baseball. Although the most popular speculation was his future being in coaching, he stated his bigger dream.

Nikkan Sports has comments from Masumi: “I felt that I will not be able to change the baseball world by being a coach. There are people above controlling the organizations. I have a bigger dream than what people imagine.”

After his retirement from baseball as a player, he spent his time attending independent league and high school games in Japan to view a different perspective of baseball. “Being a coach is wonderful, but I also have a desire to study management and marketing. I understand the inside of the baseball world and now I want to look at the outside.”

So what is he looking forward to being on a college campus?

Comments from Nikkan Sports: “I will like to be a part of the Waseda-Keio rivalry game and enjoy the atmosphere. There should be a lot to gain from watching the student athletes on campus.”

The sports business in Japan is gradually growing; influenced by how big the industry has become across the sea in the United States. A national icon like Masumi learning the fundamentals of sports business at one of the most recognized programs might raise awareness and stimulate the growth of sports business in Japan. With my knowledge, experience, and what I see from the news, I hope to add the business side of development in Japanese baseball to this website.

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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 3

» 14 December 2008 » In nichibei » Comments Off

Here’s the last piece of the player-by-player analysis portion of the series. Please check out parts 1 and 2 as well.

Part four will draw some conclusions from a big picture level.

2003

Hideki Matsui (OF, Giants -> Yankees): Turned down what would have been the largest contract in NPB history in 2000 (8 years,  6bn yen($60M)) to take a one-year contract, citing his goal of eventually playing in MLB. He eventually did after the 2002 season, and the Giants went from sweeping the Japan Series to finishing in 3rd place (71-66-3). Yomiuri had another 3rd place finish in 2004, then unthinkable consecutive sub-.500 finishes in ’05 and ’06 before finally recovering in 2007. The Giants made it back to the Japan Series in 2008, six years after Matsui’s departure. They had played in four Japan Series’ in the 10 years Matsui spent with the team (’94, ’96, ’00, ’02), winning three times. The team’s popularity took a hit as well.

So what went wrong? Yomiuri had a pretty weak strategy in replacing Matsui: they signed former Yakult 1st baseman Roberto Petagine and played him in right field, moving Yoshinobu Takahashi to center. Petagine played decent defense at first but was never mobile enough for right field, nor did he have the arm for it. Takahashi said he never felt comfortable in center, and obviously didn’t trust Petagine in right.

Things got worse when manager Tatsunori Hara left and was replaced with grouch Tsuneo Horiuchi. The Giants core offensive threats of Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Akira Etoh, Toshihisa Nishi, and Takayuki Shimizu and pitchers Kimiyasu Kudoh, Masumi Kuwata, Yusaku Iriki, and Koji Uehara all became old and/or ineffective at the same time. The team cycled through replacements like Gabe Kapler, Hiroki Kokubo, Tuffy Rhodes, and Jeremy Powell before finally assembling a team that worked in 2007.

Impact:Huge. No single player’s departure has had a greater effect on his former team than Matsui has had on the Giants. Yomiuri was probably headed for a downturn anyway, but the loss of Matsui certainly prolonged the team’s lean years.

2002

Kazuhisa Ishii (SP, Swallows -> Dodgers): Yakult posted Ishii after winning the Japan Series in 2001, and got about $11m from the Dodgers. Kevin Hodges took Ishii’s place at the top of the Swallows’ rotation and the team went from a 78-56-6 record in ’01 to a 74-62-4 record and 2nd place finish in ’02, 11 games behind the Giants. Had Ishii been around, the race might have been tighter but Yakult was still probably would have been a 2nd place team. Hodges posted a 5.90 era in 2004, and Yakult fell further.

Ishii returned to Yakult in 2006, but the team had faded into an also-ran by then. He left after 2007 for Seibu.

Impact: Medium. $11m was a good return for Ishii. Yakult may have been able to remain competitive for a little longer if he had stuck around, but that was an aging team.

So Taguchi (OF, Blue Wave -> Cardinals): Surprisingly, Orix mananged to maintain a solid record the year after Ichiro was posted, but fell from 70-66-4 to 50-87-3 after Taguchi left. Taguchi’s presence was never worth 20 games in the standings; the team’s offense tanked completely in 2002.

Impact: Low. Taguchi was actually a pretty average player in japan. He really improved his game in his time in America.

Satoru Komiyama (SP/RP, BayStars -> Mets): Yokohama dropped from 69-67-4 to 49-86-5 after Komiyama left. While the ‘Stars missed Komiyama’s 12-9 record and 3.03 era, I would say that Yokohama’s weak offense was more responsible for the team’s meteoric drop.

Komiyama didn’t perform at the MLB level, and returned to Japan after one season. Yokohama still owned his NPB rights, but refused to sign him to a contract for the 2003 season. After a “ronin” year, the BayStars finally released him and he re-joined the Chiba Lotte Marines, his original team. He’s been there ever since.

Impact: Low. Given the way Yokohama treated him, it didn’t seem that they wanted him back. They could have traded him to another NPB team and gotten some value back, so to me it was a case of the team cutting off it’s nose to spite it’s face. In general I’m a fan of Komiyama’s and I think he could have added some stability to Yokohama’s staff and mentored the team’s young pitchers. In that sense, it’s a big loss for Yokohama, but not one that I attribute to his MLB trial.

2001

Ichiro (OF, Blue Wave -> Mariners): This one needs no introduction. Orix posted Ichiro after the 2000 and Seattle won his rights with a $14m bid. I was living in Japan at the time, and it was such big, exciting news. It seemed like just announcing his move to MLB made him a bigger star than he already was.

Orix appeared in Japan Series’ in 1995 and 1996, but were a .500 team for the last few years of his tenure. The Blue Wave maintained it’s .500 record the year after Ichiro was posted, but fell apart in 2002. The team stunk again in 2003, and mid-way through 2004 announced that it would merge with the Kintetsu Buffaloes. The new Orix Buffaloes took the field in 2005 with a group of guys taken in the in the Orix/Kintetsu dispersal draft, and ranged from doormat to also-ran until their surpring 2008 campaign.

Orix’s popularity at the gate was flagging even with Ichiro, and his departure didn’t make things any better. The team suffered from the inconveniently located Green Stadium Kobe, and the proximity of the popular Hanshin Tigers. The post-merger team plays most of it’s home games in Osaka Kyocera Dome, which is a shame because Green Stadium is much nicer and was easily my favorite place to watch a game in Japan. For me, the old Blue Wave had a level of charm that the post-merger team lacks completely.

Impact: Medium. Everyone knew Ichiro was going to America at some point, and Orix did the right thing in posting him. I would argue that Ichiro’s MLB success is better for Japanese baseball than if he stayed and broken every NPB record. Orix’s competitiveness and popularity took a dive without Ichiro, but this was inevitable.

Tsuyoshi Shinjo (OF, Tigers -> Mets): Shinjo turned down a four-year offer from Hanshin to take a one-year minor league deal from the Mets. The Tigers felt no impact in the win column, going from a 57-78-1 record to 57-80-3. Hanshin backfilled Shinjo by drafting Norihiro Akahoshi, who has been the team’s center fielder ever since. Akahoshi has never had any power, but he has better on-base skills than Shinjo ever did and has won multiple Gold Gloves.

As a side note, Shinjo announced his move around the same time as Ichiro did. Though his move was viewed with some skepticism, he proved he could play at the MLB level, which helped inspire a wider range of players to make the jump across the Pacific.

Impact: Low. Hanshin built a balanced team after Shinjo left and has been competitve since 2002. Shinjo held his own at the MLB level, played in the 2002 World Series, and then returned to Japan to help build Nippon Ham into a competitive, popular franchise. I’d say this one worked out well for all parties.

That’s it for the player-by-player analysis. Anyone I missed? Anyone disagree with my assessments?

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