Answers, Part 1

Last week, I asked you for questions regarding Japanese & Asian baseball. There were more replies than I expected, so I’m going to have to split my responses into two or three posts. So let’s get started with part 1.

Ed says: January 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm

I’d be interested in how often pitcher arm injuries happen in Japan/Asia versus how often they do in MLB/MiLB. On that subject, what the average pitch speeds are as well in comparison.

My casual observation is that there are more Mark Prior-style, one-year wonder flameouts in Japan than in MLB. Without giving it too much thought, I can come up with Kazumi Saito, Futoshi Yamabe, Kenjiro Kawasaki, Shinji Imanaka, Tomohiro Kuroki… each of whom had one or two outstanding seasons before succumbing to injuries. Imanaka, who threw 249 innings of 2.20 ball at age 22 and his last pitch at age 30, recently said in the news that “rest is important”.

On velocity, there are fewer pitchers in NPB who throw 95+ mph than there are in MLB. You can get a sense for what pitchers throw and how hard at my NPB Tracker Data site. It doesn’t compare to the pitch f/x data we have on Fangraphs, but it will give you a sense of how NPB pitchers mix it up.

mymrbig says: January 22, 2010 at 1:04 pm

I’ve read that baseball used in Japan are a slightly different size than those in the US. Does this pose much of a problem for pitchers moving either way, or is the difference small enough that it doesn’t really matter?

Did you realize that early-90s hair metal stragglers Mr. Big enjoyed quite a following in Japan? Anyway, commenter KaminaAyato provided a solid answer for this question in the comments of the previous post, but I will add that I do think it makes a difference for some pitchers. Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s forkball hasn’t survived the move across the Pacific, Yu Darvish had trouble throwing his curve with the WBC ball, and Kenshin Kawakami said he spent more time working on his breaking pitches early in spring training in 2009 than he would have previously. But then again, guys like Hiroki Kuroda and Takashi Saito have seemed to adjust just fine. Keiichi Yabu seemed about the same in the US and Japan too.

The Frankman says: January 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm

How big is the impact of the different strike zones is it for a pitcher coming from Japan? I’m wondering since guys like Ryota Igarashi will have to deal with it.

Chris says: January 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Yeah, I would like to hear this one. I always hear that the strike zones are bigger in Asian baseball — any truth to that?

My (unofficial) translation of the official rule is “the strike zone’s upper limit is the point mid-way between the batter’s shoulders and the top of his pants, the lower limit is the bottom of the batter’s knees, and covers the area over homeplate”. So that’s not too far off the MLB strike zone. In practice, I have noticed that the umpires can get a little generous at times, the most obvious example that comes to mind being that Koji Uehara always seemed to get the close calls.

MetsFan says: January 22, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Is there some sort of MLE for pitchers, or certain statistics that are more predictive than others of MLB performance? For hitters, it seems like it might be harder to do because of how power translates

There were a couple of questions on this, so I’ll point out Jim Albright’s work in this area again.

Jon says: January 22, 2010 at 1:16 pm

Thanks for doing this! I’m intrigued.

1) What is the average $(or yen)/WAR in Japanese baseball? Significantly lower than MLB I assume, but do you have any data?

2) I’ve heard pitchers are used differently in Japan (tactically, that is). Pitch Counts? Side sessions? Bullpens? 5 man rotations? What’s the story?

3) Is Japan typically a lower run scoring environment than MLB? If so, is that due to different offensive strategies (sacrifices, “small ball”, etc.)?

4) Is there pitchfx data in Japan?

I have more, but that’ll do for now.

Thank again!

I already posted a reply to this, but I’ve given question #1 a little more thought. The problem is the “R” out of WAR — I don’t think anyone has translated the concept of replacement player to NPB. If the expected performance of a replacement-level NPB player could be nailed down it should be possible to apply the rest of the concept to NPB. Another approach would be to look at the foreign players who move to NPB each season, what their MLB projections are and how much they make in Japan. Projected MLB WAR isn’t necessarily a good predictor of NPB performance, but it might give some insight into how much NPB teams pay to import talent.

That’s all for this round. If I didn’t get to your question this time, I will in an upcoming installment.

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Patrick Newman is a veteran enthusiast of Japanese baseball who happens to write about it at, and on Twitter @npbtracker.

25 Responses to “Answers, Part 1”

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  1. Joe says:

    Thanks for the info. Is this going to be a regular or semi-regular column?

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    • I’m here to post on Japanese baseball on a regular basis. I will come back to the Q&A format at some point if there is the demand for it, after I finish up this current set of questions.

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  2. Patrick,

    What is the asian-league equivalent to the MLB in terms of hitting and pitching? College baseball is said to be a AA-equivalent. What would you assign to NPB, etc.? MLB-equivalent? AAA? etc.

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    • Alex says:

      I’ve heard that your average NPB player falls somewhere between AAA and MLB caliber. Note that a lot of quad-A and fringe-type players from the majors go on to find some success in Japan.

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    • Sal Paradise says:

      There was an article on hardballtimes (I believe) about 4 years ago that went over MLB performances by NPB players, and vice versa, to see the comparable league strengths. It may have been updated more recently. I couldn’t find it on a quick search, but I’ve read it and it’s out there somewhere.

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  3. Sal Paradise says:

    On the strike zone:
    The umpires set up differently than they do in the US if I recall correctly (I just don’t know much of it), and many players from the minors complain about the inside/outside strike zone much more than the up-down.

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  4. Matt B. says:

    What is the general reaction to the modest struggles (mostly) of Dice-K in North America? From what I have heard, he was a near legend over there and looking at his Japan numbers, I see why, but overall (IMO) has been a bit disappointing over here.

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    • Derek R-C says:

      I disagree. I think he has been fairly successful. He was injured last year. The year before that he had good numbers. He has only been here 3 years.

      That being said, I think he is still in the transition phase. In Japan pitchers didn’t have rigorous pitch counts like over here. His biggest problem is his control. He has ALOT of plus pitches with heavy movement. It is hard for pro players to have great control of 2 or even 3 pitches, let alone 8 or 9.

      He needs to have confidence in his stuff and throw strikes, and he will get alot of swing and misses.

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      • Matt B. says:

        Don’t get me wrong, I think Dice-K is an intriguing and talented arm who has done some things well (8.8, 8.2, 8.1 K/9) but I would think “disappointing” is fair (4.31, 4.70, 4.83 xFIP). Especially when compared to his other world numbers in Japan…

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    • KaminaAyato says:

      One issue is talent. The structure of baseball in Japan is fairly fragmented.

      At the highest level is NPB, with the only “minors” to speak of being each teams “ni-gun” or 2nd teams. There isn’t the extensive AAA, AA, High A, etc. that we have here.

      Then there’s the various independent leagues and industrial teams. Independent leagues at times have a hard time staying afloat, although the Shikoku-Kyushu Island League is the most stable. Industrial teams are just that. Just like the fact that corporations own the NPB teams, other corporations sponsor their own sports teams (and that doesn’t just include baseball). So for instance, Junichi Tazawa came from ENEOS (aka Nippon Oil).

      So because the levels of baseball in Japan are so shallow, sometimes the talent in NPB is also a bit shallow. Which can lead good players such as a Matsuzaka or a Kuroda to have stellar numbers. When they transition to the US, the talent level is so much deeper that their once great numbers don’t look as good.

      The other issue is the fact that players who come here are right at their prime baseball terms. Since players who sign with an NPB team are under club control for 9 years that means for a HS student drafted, they’re around 26-27 when they are eligible for FA.

      That’s why the whole Yusei Kikuchi going to MLB was so interesting. Could a bonafide “star” who would be drafted #1 in NPB be molded and made into a success in the US with their training? He eventually decided against it, but it would be interesting to see what would happen. The only thing is that the guaranteed contracts offered to the draftees give players a good incentive to stay home.

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  5. BGriffith says:

    What would you recommend as a good, english websites for Japanese baseball? Basic stats, standings, that kind of thing.

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  6. Goyo says:

    Thanks for the Q&A Patrick. Lots of questions about NPB pitchers. Can you give us an overview of NPB hitting? What would be the major differences in approach(es) taken by NPB/MLB hitters respectively? Or, if that query doesn’t float your boat, what salient observations would you have about NPB hitting in general?

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  7. dorasaga says:

    Mr. Newman, I wonder if we can clear out answers that generat more questions than exploring the core, the truth, for what they are worth? I’ve been wondering had pitchers in NPB (Japan) acted according to different reasons that pitchers in MLB (USA) would not. In some discipline, we call those “incentives.”

    Pitchers (and their “love-mate,” the catcher) in NPB seem to stress more, than in MLB, on the calls, or sequence of pitch selection and location to work on batters. One possible theory would be the talent of batters, and the pool size for them. Though good batters are still good batters no matter where they go, with only 12 teams and a roster, including minors, of about 66-man, the pool in NPB for good batters is thin.

    For example, weight training was not formerly introduced to Japan’s pro-ball until 1980s (according to a coach I know). Some teams didn’t see home-grown talents could bat a low and away breaking ball like Manny or many others we are accustomed in Major League Baseball. Some teams like Lotte Marines only carry less than 44% of batters on their overall roster.

    A pitcher in NPB would be more well off by devise of a plan to work an individual batter than in MLB, where those plans might not work. I wonder if that’s why DiceK throws more breaking pitches for Red Sox than he did for Seibu. The strategy must change because pitchers from Japan now, in MLB, can’t rely as heavily on where to put his fastball after throwing a breaking pitch to mislead batter-A, for example.

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    • dorasaga says:

      *I mentioned weight training because I had “power” in mind. MLB batters in general clearly demonstrate more power than their japanese counterparts.

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    • dorasaga says:

      **Of coures, I mentioned “incentive” to describe how Japanese pitchers had success ni Japanfor different reasons from what they cannot have after crossing the Pacific “strait”.

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  8. berselius says:


    Do you know any sites that have splits for japanese players? Fukudome has been awful vs LHP in MLB, but I heard anecdotally that his splits in Japan were very small. Do you know anything about this?

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  9. Nate says:

    @ Patrick: Great to see you writing for fangraphs!

    @ Everyone else: Not sure if Patrick plugged his own site, “NPB Tracker,” in any previous threads, but it is a great read for info. on NPB in general and potential MLB crossovers. Check it out!

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  10. jdodson says:

    What is the front office structure of a team in the NPBL?

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