Tag Archive > Tadahito Iguchi

Bari Bari Major Leaguers

» 04 December 2012 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 3 Comments

Today’s Japanese word of the day is bari bari. In a baseball context, bari bari is frequently used to describe a big star, like this: “bari bari Major Leaguer came to our restaurant today!” In English we might translate that by saying “a real Major Leaguer,” but that doesn’t feel quite right. The very useful Jisho.org has a definition that doesn’t quite capture this context; maybe some of the more skilled linguists in the audience can help me find  a better English equivalent.

The Softbank Hawks imported a bari bari Major Leaguer this offseason, signing Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair to a two-year deal. LaHair was coveted NPB teams last winter, but the Cubs gave him a chance to be their starting first baseman, and he responded with a great first half and an All-Star appearance. Unfortunately, he cooled off in the second half and lost his job to prospect Anthony Rizzo, and wound up moving to Japan anyway. But as an All-Star, he commanded a higher salary than he otherwise would have, and crosses the Pacific with the feel of an established Major Leaguer.

LaHair’s move inspired me to write about some of the other players that have moved to NPB after strong performances in MLB. Japan has a long history with MLB veterans, so I didn’t attempt to include all of them (this is the longest thing I’ve written in quite some time as it is). For whatever reason most of the guys I’ve chosen to include were busts. I didn’t set out to make it that way, I guess those just seemed like the more interesting stories.

This isn’t an attempt to compare LaHair with any of these players. Most of these guys were well passed their prime years by the time they went to Japan. LaHair is only 30 years old and fits the mold of being a consistent 3A performer with some upside left to explore.

So with those disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look back at some of the bari bari Major Leaguers from the years gone by.

2012 Brad PennyLooking to replenish a rotation depleted by the departures of starters Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi, and DJ Houlton, Softbank signed Penny to lucrative (by NPB standards) one-year deal. Penny started one game, then put himself in the injured list and eventually requested his release, which was granted.

2011 Chan Ho ParkPark was well passed his prime years as a starter, but in the midst of somewhat of a late-career revival as a reliever when Orix signed him for 2011. Park was a starter in Japan, and looked a bit better than his 4.15 ERA implies, but got hurt after 42 innings and was never heard from again. He moved on to the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO for 2012, where he retired after posting a poor season.

2005 Tony Batista: In late 2004, the troubled Daiei supermarket group sold the Hawks baseball team to Softbank as part of a large reorganization. On their way out the door, Daiei’s management weakened the team by sending 3B Hiroki Kokubo to Yomiuri in a musho (uncompensated) trade, and releasing 2B Tadahito Iguchi so that he could pursue a career in MLB. Softbank made a splash in replacing them, signing Big Leaguers Batista and Jolbert Cabrera to replace them. Despite his on-base flaws, Batista was an established 30 home run hitter in MLB, and signed for a massive $14m over two years. Batista spent 2005 as the Hawks’ number three hitter, and his .263/.294/.463 line in 2005 was about in line with his MLB career norms. Apparently this wasn’t enough for Softbank, as they released him prior to the second year of his contract.

2003 Kevin MillarMillar was coming off two very good offensive seasons for the Marlins when his contract was sold to the Chunichi Dragons for $1.2m, with whom he provisionally agreed to play for at about $3m a year. But when the Marlins put Millar on waivers, a procedural move so he could sign his contract with Chunichi, the Red Sox violated protocol and put in a claim on him. After the Red Sox claim, Millar had a change of heart and refused to complete his contract with the Dragons. Chunichi put up some opposition at first, but eventually relented and let him go to Boston, where he continued to hit well and became a clubhouse fixture. In his place, Chunichi signed Alex Ochoa, who spent four years in Nagoya and contributed to two Central League winners.

2000 Tony FernandezUnlike many of the players on this list, Fernandez’s move to Japan was unmarred by contract or performance problems. Fernandez had put up strong seasons for Toronto in 1998 and 1999, didn’t miss a beat with Seibu in 2000, posting a .905 OPS. After his season with the Lions he returned to MLB for 2001, closing out his excellent career with a curtain call in Toronto. Coincidentally, 2000 was my first year in Japan, and my reaction to seeing him on TV was “oh cool! Tony Fernandez is here!” I was less excited to see Tony Tarasco playing right field for Hanshin.

1997 Mike GreenwellIn what has become the standard bearer incident for gaijin busts in NPB, Greenwell signed a big ($3m or so) contract with Hanshin, broke his leg seven games into the season, and immediately retired, claiming he got a “message from God to quit baseball” (野球を辞めろという神のお告げ). That’s the way it’s told in the Japanese media anyway. The counterpoint that I’ll offer is that he likely would have missed significant time anyway with his injury, and the “message from God” statement was probably not a great translation of what he actually said. I don’t have the original English quote, but I’m going to assume it was something less literal, like a metaphoric “sign from God”. Mike, if you’re reading this and can clear that up, I would love to know what actually happened. Incidentally, Greenwell’s $3m salary still stands as the most Hanshin has ever paid a foreign player.

1995 Shane Mack (Yomiuri), Kevin Mitchell (Daiei), Julio Franco (Lotte), Glenn Davis (Hanshin), Darrin Jackson (Seibu), Pete Incaviglia (Lotte): In the wake of the 1994-95 MLB player’s strike, a number of big league free agents signed with teams in Japan. The notable moves for me as a teenager were Franco and Jackson, two players who helped my hometown White Sox to an excellent record in 1994. Aside from those two, the under-appreciated Mack was very good for Yomiuri, Mitchell couldn’t adjust to Japan and bolted, and the other guys were mostly pretty good. Amazingly, Franco, despite being 37 in 1995, played another 12 seasons between NPB, KBO, MLB and Mexico.

1992 Jack Eliott: Okay, just kidding. For the real story, see the next paragraph.

1987 Bob HornerIn a season immortalized in text by Robert Whiting, Horner turned to Japan when he couldn’t find an MLB team to meet his contractual demands. Japan Inc. was at the peak of it’s bubble-driven economic powers, and the Yakult Swallows signed Horner for a year at about $2.6m, on par with what the top Major Leaguers were earning at the time. Horner got off to a hot start, hitting six home runs in his first four games, and despite being injury-limited to 93 games, slashed .327/.423/.683. Still, Horner was never comfortable in Japan and turned down a 3-year/$15m deal from Yakult, which would have made him the highest-paid baseball player in the world. Instead he replaced Jack Clark with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he lasted a year before retiring.

1984 Warren CromartieIn the late 70’s and early 80’s, Cromartie played a very capable outfield in Montreal alongside future Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Tim Raines (2013?). He left as a free agent for Yomiuri, where he played seven seasons and became one of the representative NPB players of the 1980’s. Cro slugged 30 or more home runs in each of his first three NPB seasons, and twice batted over .360. He remains revered by Kyojin fans, and still occasionally turns up in Japan for TV commentary and other media appearances.

1974 Frank HowardHoward signed with the Taiheyo Club Lions (currently the Saitama Seibu Lions) to close out his venerable career. Unfortunately, he injured his back in his first at-bat in Japan and never played again.

1973 Joe PepitoneYakult, then known as the Atoms, signed Pepitone to much fanfare in 1973. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but Pepitone would up playing only 14 games in Japan. Pepitone now turns up in Shukan Baseball’s annual foreign player issue, mainly as a source of ridicule for his hairpieces and habit of claiming to be injured, only to be spotted at nightclubs.

1962 Don Newcombe, Larry Doby: 1962 saw the first players with significant MLB careers move to NPB, with Doby and Newcombe both joining the Chunichi Dragons. Neither should need an introduction to baseball fans: Doby broke the color line in the American League and is a Hall of Famer; Newkcombe was among the first generation of black Major Leaguers, an ace pitcher and on a path to the Hall himself before alcoholism lead to a premature decline. Doby had retired from MLB in 1959, and hit .225/.302./.396; Newcombe played left field and hit .262/.316/.473. Neither player made a big impact on the field with the Dragons, but they started the trend of MLB veterans extending their careers in Japan, which still continues to limited extent today.

1953 Leo KielyThe first Major Leaguer to play in NPB, Kiely was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox who was drafted into the military and stationed in Yokosuka. The Mainichi Orions (currently the Chiba Lotte Marines) needed pitching help and, in August 1953, signed him to a “part-time” contract that allowed him to appear in games around his military schedule. Kiely went 6-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 45 innings over six games on the mound, and 10-19 at the plate. In September, Kiely’s assignment to Yokosuka ended, and he returned to the US. Kiely resumed his career with the Red Sox the following year, and NPB’s commissioner enacted a rule prohibiting teams from signing US servicemen as part-time players.

The late Cappy Harada said NPB of the early 50’s was around the level of an American Class C minor league (modern day 1A). The league has come a long way over the last 60 years.

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NPB Bullet Points: Monthly MVPs, Darvish the Hockey Player

» 06 June 2011 » In nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

First links roundup in a while, as usual all in Japanese today.

  • The monthly MVPs were announced yesterday. In the Pacific League, Yu Darvish and Tadahito Iguchi won, while Wladimir Balentien and Tetsuya Utsumi took home the prizes in the Central League. It’s nice to see Balentien get the award this month as I think he got robbed in April.
  • At an elementary school visit, Darvish was asked “why did you start to play baseball?”, to which he answered “when I was an elementary school student I also played ice hockey but the practices were tough.” I could see Darvish as a defenseman with great reach.
  • Nippon Ham racked up a team scoreless streak of 52 innings last week, tying the NPB record set by Hanshin in 1942. After the streak came to an end Saturday against Yakult, Nippon Ham immediately went out and put up back-to-back shutouts against Yomiuri, so they already have another 18 inning scoreless streak. Nippon Ham has a cool 2.21 team ERA, which amazingly is second to Softbanks 2.15.
  • My re-translation of Alex Cabrera’s comments regarding his 350th NPB home run wound up getting translated to Spanish for a Venezuelan publication. Now that this has gone through a few iterations I’d love to see how close this Spanish translation comes to Cabu’s original remarks.
  • Cleveland minor leaguer Tooru Murata has a blog going. One post that caught my eye was this one, in which he writes about traveling by bus, saying “the air conditioning is too strong so the bus is too cold. I lose the feeling in my fingertips.” Murata seems to be on the DL, but he has a good K:BB ratio so far this year. He very experienced for his level though.
  • Orix is selling “pro model uniforms” jerseys this summer, for JPY 34,500.
  • This photo was taken above Hakkodate Ocean Stadium in Hokkaido back on May 15th.
  • Personal non-news observation #1: I haven’t watched much major league baseball at all this year, but yesterday I watched a bit of the Giants game against Colorado. The Giants started a righthanded #32, who I had never seen before, and I kept thinking “wow, this guy is great, who is he?” It turned out to be former Hanshin and Orix pitcher Ryan Vogelsong.
  • Personal non-news observation #2: I don’t think any pitcher in NPB enjoys what he does as much as Orix’s Yuki Nishi does. I’ve really enjoyed watching him this season.

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Watching Baseball, April 18

» 19 April 2011 » In npb » 3 Comments

Last night, thanks to some justin.tv channel surfing I was able to catch bits and pieces of three NPB games, and I’m catching up on Yu Darvish’s start against Orix as I write this. Here are a few things I noticed.

Seibu vs Lotte

  • Crowds were sparse at all the games I watched. Yokohama appeared to draw the best audience for their game against Hiroshima.
  • Takashi Ogino is a threat to steal every time he reaches first with second base open. I’d like to see him dig in and go after third as well.
  • Hideaki Wakui’s fastball velocity was in the 142 kmph range, which is a little bit sub-optimal for him. Lotte seemed to get better looks at him after the first time through the lineup.
  • Yoshihisa Naruse, on the other hand, was pretty much vintage in shutting out the Lions. He only K’d six, but he made few mistake pitches and induced a large quantity of pop up outs.
  • The defensive play of the game was rookie Shogo Akiyama’s jumping catch at the wall, on Saburo’s long fly ball to right field. I had always perceived Saburo as being vulnerable to hard pitches away, but the pitch he hit was a fastball over the outside corner, and he drove it the other way. Maybe Saburo has refined his approach, or maybe Wakui’s velocity wasn’t enough to make that pitch effective.
  • Akiyama’s bat is still way behind his glove. He struck out in his only two at-bats, the first time on three pitches.
  • Tadahito Iguchi has really filled out. He and Tae Kyun Kim have got to be the portliest right side of any infield in Japan.
  • Seibu infielder Hideto Asamura again looked extremely confident at the plate. He wound up going 1-3 with a double.

Chunichi vs Yakult

  • Yahoo had identified Kazuki Yoshimi as Chunichi’s starter, but it was actually Kenichi Nakata that took the hill.
  • Joel Guzman looked absolutely terrible against Masanori Ishikawa, and finished 0-4 with three strikeouts. NPB pitchers, take note —  Guzman should not see anything other than breaking balls out of the zone until he proves he can lay off them.
  • Kazuhiro Hatakeyama has stepped in to Yakult’s lineup with Josh Whitesell temporarily sidelined. He’s responded by going 5-8 with three home runs in the two games he started.
  • Despite his offspeed woes, Wladimir Balentien made contact with a couple of breaking pitches yesterday. Yes, they were groundouts, but there may be hope for him.
  • As noted by Jason Coskrey, it got darker at Jingu Stadium as the game progressed. Jason tweeted that NPB would consider using stadium lights for safety purposes during the night game ban.

 

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I Disagree About a Few Things

» 19 November 2010 » In npb » 6 Comments

The other day, NPB held its awards ceremony and announced the winners of this year’s MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Best Nine awards. Gen over at Yakyu Baka has transcribed all the winners (MVP/RoY, Best Nines), which saves me the trouble of doing it here. I don’t plug Gen often enough, so here’s another link — go and look at his site.

I published my picks about a month ago, and amazingly, the NPB voters mostly agreed with me. But there were a few differences.

Pacific League MVP — my pick: Tsuyoshi Nishioka (Lotte SS), winner: Tsuyoshi Wada (Softbank SP)

Wow. I don’t think I can disagree with this more strongly. NPB MVP voters have an annoying habit of favoring players from the league winner. That, combined with Wada’s one win more than Softbank teammate Toshiya Sugiuchi, was enough to propel him to the award. Nishioka had a historic year in which he drove Lotte’s league-leading offense with 206 hits and 121 runs (17% of Lotte’s total). Penalizing him because his team finished 2.5 games out of first is both archaic and illogical. Then again, maybe the voters were punishing him because he is a bit of a prima donna, or because he’s bolting for MLB.

Pacific Leage RoY — my pick: Keisuke Kattoh (Softbank RP), winner Ryo Sakakibara (Nippon Ham RP)

I didn’t realize Sakakibara was eligible; I guess that’s why I’m not an official voter. Kattoh finished second, no complaints.

Pacific League Best Nine P — my pick Yu Darvish (Nippon Ham), winner Tsuyoshi Wada (Softbank)

Not much to say here — Darvish was superior to Wada in every category except wins. I would have put Sugiuchi and Chihiro Kaneko ahead of Wada as well, so he would have been my fourth choice for this award.

Pacific League Best Nine 2B — my pick Tadahito Iguchi (Lotte), winner Kensuke Tanaka (Nippon Ham)

I was actually kind of on the fence about this one. In the end I took Iguchi’s glove, power and walks over Tanaka’s batting average. The voters didn’t agree though, and Iguchi finished in third. In second was Softbank’s Yuichi Honda who hit .296 and led the PL with 59 steals.  Yasuyuki Kataoka would have been my third choice, but he finished a distant fourth despite better overall numbers than Honda.

Pacific League Best Nine OF — my picks Teppei (Rakuten), Yoshio Itoi (Nippon Ham), winners Takumi Kuriyama (Seibu), T-Okada (Orix)

I picked T-Okada as the DH on my Best Nine, so I can live with him winning as an outfielder. I just don’t see how Kuriyama beats either Teppei or Itoi though, particularly Itoi, who was superior in slugging, on-base percentage, and base stealing.

Pacific League Best Nine DH — my pick Okada, winner Kazuya Fukuura (Lotte)

Fukuura put up a respectable .295/.354/.475 line, but didn’t get enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title.

Remarkably, the voters and I only disagreed on one Central League award:

Central League Best Nine SS — my pick Hayato Sakamoto (Yomiuri), winner Takashi Toritani (Hanshin)

I succumbed to the shiny allure of Sakamoto’s 31 home runs on this one. Toritani had a better batting average and on-base percentage, and made fewer errors.

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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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The Makuhari Steamroller

» 24 June 2010 » In npb » 4 Comments

Put the 2010 Chiba Lotte Marines season down as something I was wrong about. In a year when I thought they’d be mid-division at best, Lotte has by meany measures been the best team in the Pacific League this year. They lead the league in team scoring with 370 (SoftBank is next with 323), run differential at a whopping +106 (Seibu has a +32), batting average (.284), and home runs (72). The pitching staff has done its job too, holding the opposition to 264 runs in 67 games. Lotte has fallen behind Seibu in the standings, but if they keep this up, as they have through the first three months of the season, they’ll be in the race all year.

I’ve only watched two Lotte games this year (a Yuki Karakawa start against Seibu early in the year, and a game against SoftBank prior to interleague), so I’m not the best guy to analyze Lotte’s success (I would recommend this guy, actually), but I won’t let that stop me. Here are a few observations.

In the lineup…

  • Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Toshiaki Imae are healthy and hitting like the Tsuyoshi and Imae we all know and love.
  • Takashi Ogino was having a great rookie year until he went down with a knee injury that required surgery.
  • Everyone’s getting on base: Lotte has five of the Pacific League’s 10 best OBP’s lead by Tadahito Iguchi with a robust .450. Iguchi is leading Japan in walks with 59; no one else has more than 42 and no one else in the Pacific League has more than 35.
  • With a .290/.372/.524 slash line, Kim Tae-Kyun has been the best Korean hitter we’ve seen in NPB since Lee Seun-Yeop’s heyday, and has already given Lotte more production from their foreign hitter slot than they got from anyone they had last year.

On the mound…

  • Yasuhiko Yabuta has put up outstanding numbers in his return engagement, and SoftBank castoff Akichika is looks like an inspired pickup.
  • Bill Murphy has moved into the rotation and won all six starts he’s made so far. I’m trying to think of the last time a suketto had any success as a starter with Lotte… Dan Serafini maybe?
  • Yoshihisa Naruse is off to a strong start, with 95 K’s in 104.1 innings so far to go along with a 2.95 ERA. I could see him setting new career highs in innings and strikeouts this year.
  • Hiro Kobayashi has made a successful transition to the closer role, picking up 12 saves so far this season.

There are a few minor question marks…

  • Ogino won’t be back until the All-Star game, in late July. His return should be a huge boost.
  • Yuki Karakawa has been out since taking a line drive off his right hand on May 13, and his return is unclear.
  • Without Karakawa, a rotation front three of Naruse, Murphy and Shunsuke Watanabe is a shade below the front three’s of Seibu, Nippon Ham, and Rakuten.
  • Spare a thought for Shunichi Nemoto, who was replaced in the lineup by Iguchi despite a solid 2008 season, and has fallen into no-man’s land.

The Pacific League is pretty well-balanced this year, so you never know what will happen, but Lotte’s chances look pretty good.

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Answering Google’s Questions

» 19 June 2010 » In Uncategorized » 4 Comments

Some of the search engine queries that wind up on this site are phrased as questions. Not all of the questions are answered directly by the content on the site, so I thought I’d answer a few of the more interesting ones here.

- Who is the shortest person in the npb?

This one has shown up multiple times. My best guess is Rakuten infielder Kensuke Uchimura, who is 163 cm or 5’4.

- Where does Hayato Doue play?

Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

- Who is the best hitter in Japan today?

Today, I would say it’s Kazuhiro Wada, who is tearing up the Central League to the tune of .356/.454/.662 with 17 hr and 44 rbi.

- What pitches does Ryota Igarashi throw?

Mostly a fastball and a splitter. I wrote a profile of him last year, haven’t seen enough of him with the Mets to know if it’s still accurate.

- What is a 4 shake ball?

A knuckleball thrown with a forkball grip. See here for more.

Who does Tadahito Iguchi play baseball for in 2010?

Chiba Lotte Marines.

Who did the SoftBank Hawks trade for Roberto Petagine?

No one, Petagine was signed as a free agent.

Who is Dioni Soriano?

The latest graduate of the Hiroshima Carp’s Dominican Academy to reach NPB. I wrote a little bit about him over at FanGraphs.

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NPB Bullet Points: While I Was Away

» 07 May 2010 » In mlb, nichibei, npb » 6 Comments

It’s been a while since I’ve written any actual content about Japanese baseball… sometimes real life gets in the way. Let’s see if we can fix that, at least for now.

  • The surprise of the season so far for me has been the performance of the Chiba Lotte Marines, who are neck and neck and neck with the SoftBank Hawks and resurgent Seibu Lions for the Pacific League lead. Lotte is getting it done in style too, leading the Pa-League in team runs scored, runs allowed, batting average and era. Will it continue? You have to figure that Kim Tae-Kyun and Tadahito Iguchi will cool off at some point, but they have a decent lineup 1-9. The pitching is a little bit of a concern too, as new manager Nishimura is letting some of his starters go a bit further into games than Bobby V used to. We’ll see if that turns into a problem down the stretch.
  • Over in the Central League, it’s nice to see the Yokohama BayStars competing with a respectable 16-18 record so far. Yokohama is getting good production from a number of pitchers, including newcomers Naoyuki Shimizu, Shigeru Kaga, and Shintaro Ejiri. The ‘Stars are still struggling in spots offensively, but should be better over the course of the season by virtue of the sheer number of weak bats they took out of the lineup last offseason.
  • Bridging the gap between those first two bullet points is the apparently impending trade of Yuji Yoshimi from Yokohama to Lotte. The big lefty was once a promising starter, but injuries derailed him for a couple of years and recently he’s been more of a middle-of-the-pack long reliever. Lotte seems to want him as a starter.
  • And more on Lotte: reliever Hiroyuki Kobayashi has qualified for international free agency, and is reportedly likely to seek a move to the majors. This has come up before with Kobayashi so it isn’t exactly a surprise at this point. I could see him playing for the San Francisco Giants, if they have an opening for a righthander. Former Lotte man Shun Kakazu scouts Japan for the Giants, and Brian Sabean can be creative in putting together his bullpen.
  • Former Hanshin lefty Jeff Williams wants to return to the Tigers as an active pitcher, but the Tigers want to bring him back as a scout. The idea would be for current scout Andy Sheets to focus on hitters, while Jeff would look for pitchers. Jeff certainly knows what it takes to succeed in Japan, but I would love to see him pitch for the Tigers again and eventually get a proper do-age send-off.
  • Who will be this year’s Junichi Tazawa or Yusei Kikuchi? Maybe it will be Chuo University pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura, who seems to be eclipsing Yuki Saito in terms of media ink. The Giants and Mets each had a scout at Sawamura’s most recent scout, with Mets’ Isao Ojimi saying that it would “be a waste for him to say in Japan”, while the Giants’ Shun Kakazu said that he hit 97 on his gun. Draft Reports has a quote from Sports Hochi from February saying that Sawamura is favoring playing in Japan.
  • Moving along to Kikuchi, the young lefty now known simply as Yusei struggled with both his command and velocity in his first couple ni-gun appearances, but showed signs of improvement on May 4th, when he threw five scoreless innings and hit 147 kmph (92mph) on the gun. Seibu is saying he won’t be promoted before the All-Star break, but could get a look afterward.
  • Casey Fossum bought the PSP version of Pro Yakyu Spirits 2010 for his five year-old son, but was annoyed to learn that Konami made him pretty bad in the game, and vowed to use it as motivation to do well and be a better player in next year’s version of the game. Speaking of Fossum, he’s blogging about his experiences in Japan.
  • Off-topic bullet point: I came across this essay about the state of Japan’s technology and IT sector (link to PDF file), and why it’s in trouble. It makes some good points, but overall I found it disappointing as it covers the usual tired criticisms of over-reliance on manufactured consumer goods and an under-developed services sector.

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A Global World Series

» 30 January 2010 » In nichibei » 11 Comments

File this one under shameless self-promotion — I contributed a couple of thoughts to Jon Paul Morosi’s recent article on the idea of a MLB vs NPB World Series. One of the questions Jon asked me was if any of the recent NPB champs would have had a chance against their counterpart World Series winner. I went with the 2003 Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, who had four MLB-caliber starters in Kazumi Saito, Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi and Nagisa Arakaki, as well as future MLB’ers Kenji Johjima and Tadahito Iguchi.

I think that MLB would have the upper hand on NPB nearly every year, but looking at the last ten years, I think there are a couple of matchups where the NPB team would hold there own.

2009 — Yankees vs Yomiuri: I have a hard time seeing this year’s Giants team putting up much of a fight against the Yankees, but it would have been a great event. Dicky Gonzales had a great year, but I can’t see him shutting down the Yankees the way Cliff Lee did.

2008 — Phillies vs Seibu: I’d score this one a little closer. Seibu featured a couple of strong pitchers in Hideaki Wakui and Takayuki Kishi, a good infield defense, and a well-balanced lineup. Cole Hamels strikes me as a guy that NPB players would be able to hit, but he was really on his game in the 2008 post-season.

2007 — Red Sox vs Chunichi: The Dragons had almost everything you want to see in a short series: a strong defense, a good bullpen, some on-base skills, and three-run homer power. What they didn’t have was a lot of standout starting pitching beyond Kenshin Kawakami, though Kenta Asakura has always been good when healthy, and Daisuke Yamai-Hitoki Iwase combined with for a perfect game to close the Japan Series. Of course, Boston pummeled Colorado in the ’07 World Series, and would have had an edge over Chunichi.

2006 — Cardinals vs Nippon Ham: Yu Darvish was on the winning 2006 Fighters, but hadn’t yet broken out as Japan’s best pitcher. Tomoya Yagi Nippon Ham’s staff ace, and the Fighters got it done with strong, balanced offense. I actually had tickets to the World Series in 2006, had it been in Oakland, but alas the A’s got stomped in the ALCS by the shockingly good Tigers. I fully expected the Tigers to stomp the Cardinals too, but the Cardinals just played better. So I think the Fighters would have had a chance against the Cards.

2005 — White Sox vs Lotte: I grew up a White Sox fan, and followed Hanshin in Japan, so I’ll have to try extra hard to be objective with this one. 2005 was a case of both champions getting hot at the right time. The White Sox steamrolled everyone in their path in the 2005 postseason, and Marines destroyed Hanshin in the Japan Series. Baseball Prospectus simulated a hypothetical series between the two teams, and the White Sox won, 4-1, but the Marines were competitive.

2004 — Red Sox vs Seibu: This would have been interesting — Daisuke Matsuzaka vs his future team. The Lions also had a still-effective Fumiya Nishiguchi and a once-promising Chang Chih-Chia. They would have had to go up against a Red Sox team that came back from 3-0 against the Yankees, and then swept the Cardinals. So destiny would have worked against the Lions in this one.

2003 — Marlins vs Daiei: As I said earlier, I think this would have been a good series. Daiei’s biggest weakness was their bullpen, but they could have gone with a three-man rotation and stuck a starter (maybe Arakaki) in the bullpen. The more I think about this matchup, the more I think Daiei really would have had the edge in this one.

2002 — Angels vs Yomiuri: I think this would have been another good series. The 2002 Giants featured Hideki Matsui and Koji Uehara, who were both really in their primes (2002 was Matsui’s near-Triple Crown season); as well as Masumi Kuwata, Kimiyasu Kudoh, and Hideki Okajima. I think they would have given the Angels a good series.

2001 — Diamondbacks vs Yakult: The 2001 World Series is one of my all-time favorites (along with 1991 and 2005), so I’m a little biased here. Yakult had a balanced lineup with a good defense, and four future MLB’ers: Kazuhisa Ishii, Shingo Takatsu, Akinori Iwamura, and Ryota Igarashi. So maybe they could have taken a game or two, but it’s hard to pick against Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in a short series.

2000 — Yankees vs Yomiuri: The 2000 Japan Series was the first I was actually present in Japan for, so again I have fond memories of this one too (my three favorite players in Japan, for a time, where Okajima, Akira Etoh and Darrell May). Anyway, this Giants team would have gone up against the last World Series winner from the Yank’s late-90’s dynasty.

Alright, you’ve sat through 700+ words from me, if you’re still here, what are your thoughts?

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The List of Free Agents

» 27 October 2009 » In international baseball, mlb prospects, nichibei » 2 Comments

It’s that time of the year again when each team starts to look forward to the offseason stove league, aside from the Giants and Fighters who are set to do battle for this year’s big prize. The main talks of the off-season will be centering around the movement of the free agents and today the list of qualifying players was released.

Potential candidates that might consider a move overseas are starting to buzz  around the rumor mill and Ryota Igarashi and Naoyuki Shimizu are two of  the bigger names in the news at this point. Toshihisa Nishi is another guy who wants to play in MLB, but he’s 38 and looking at MLB as a swansong. The situation might change once the offseason begins, but there have been no talks about big names being posted and it might be a relatively quiet offseason for new Japanese players coming to the States for a new challenge.

DOMESTIC

  • Fighters: Shugo Fujii (LHP), Hichori Morimoto (OF)
  • Golden Eagles: Yosuke Takasu (INF), Akihito Fujii (CA)
  • Lions: Yoshihito Ishii (INF)
  • Marines: Hiroyuki Kobayashi (RHP), Tadahito Iguchi (INF, under a three-year contract)
  • Buffaloes: Tsuyoshi Kikuchihara (LHP), Osamu Hamanaka (OF), Alex Cabrera (INF)
  • Giants: Shinnosuke Abe (CA)
  • Dragons: Hidenori (OF)
  • Tigers: Atsushi Fujimoto (INF), Norihiro Akahoshi (OF)
  • Carp: Ryuji Yokoyama (RHP), Yoshikazu Kura (CA)
  • Baystars: Atsushi Kizuka (RHP)

INTERNATIONAL

  • Fighters: Tomochika Tsuboi (OF), Yoshinori Tateyama (RHP)
  • Hawks: Hitoshi Tamura (OF, staying put)
  • Marines: Tasuku Hashimoto (CA), Naoyuki Shimizu (RHP), Shingo Ono (RHP),
  • Buffaloes: Hidetaka Kawagoe (RHP, has been released and will move on)
  • Giants: Hisanori Takahashi (LHP), Shigeyuki Furuki (INF), Alex Ramirez (OF), Kiyoshi Toyoda (RHP)
  • Dragons: Masahiko Morino (INF, under a multi-year contract), Motonobu Tanishige (CA)
  • Swallows: Ryota Igarashi (RHP), Kazuki Fukuchi (OF), Masao Kida (RHP, will move on)
  • Baystars: Shigeru Morikasa (OF), Toshihisa Nishi (INF, has been released and is looking to play in the States in ’10)

Note that the player’s status, where known, appears in brackets beside his name. We’ll update this page as the offseason progresses.

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