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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.