Answers, Part 2

Okay, time for another installment of the answers series. I did part 1 last week, and the original questions post the week before. I’m planning to do one more installment and then get back to regularly scheduled programming. If you have a question that I haven’t answered so far, you can always reach me at I may use your question in a future post.

Time is of the essence, so let’s get rolling.

ryan says: January 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

Welcome aboard!

1) Are there any rule differences between American and Asian baseball? Is the DH used?

2) Is there an arbitration process, and how does team control and free agency work?

3) Can you comment on the skill level differences between Japanese and American ball? How would you expect a .300/400/500 hitter to perform coming here from Japan?

Regarding item #2, as others have pointed out, there actually is an arbitration/inter-mediation process for teams an players, but it is rarely used.

Colonel Kurtz says: January 22, 2010 at 1:31 pm

I was wondering the difference of playing levels between Japan-Korea-Taiwan and now China. And if there’s an American equivalent talentwise i.e. Taiwan = Single-A

Also, there was a very good Korean player who was playing in Japan, lefty bat, great swing (maybe a Young or Kim <– yeah, I know). Will he come to the States?

A number of readers asked about the how the levels of play compare to MLB/MiLB ball. I find it somewhat problematic to make a direct comparison, because the intent of professional teams in Japan and Korea is to win games and championships, while MiLB teams focus on developing young players as well as win games. But that said, the main difference to me is depth. There is certainly MLB-caliber talent in Japan and in Korea, but the talent level drops off quickly as you move down teams’ rosters. It’s pretty generally accepted that the level of skill in Japan is somewhere between Triple-A and MLB. I haven’t seen nearly as much of the Korean League, but based on the fact that quite a few foreign players who don’t do well in Japan find their way to Korea, I’ll say the talent level is a step lower.

The Korean player I believe you are referring to is Seung-Yeop Lee, who is a lefthanded power hitter (here’s a video of him facing Yu Darvish in the 2009 Japan Series). Lee had a great pro career in Korea and a fantastic 2006 season in Japan, but has struggled the last two years. He’s made overtures toward MLB in the past, and his contract expires after this season, but his best days appear to be behind him and he’s not much of an MLB prospect at this point.

Sean D says: January 22, 2010 at 1:33 pm

What do you think of Tsuyoshi Nishioka? In the 2006 WBC he seemed like one of the better prospects among Japanese players. I read that he’s been banged up over the last few years. Is he injury prone or is there a chance he overcomes those types of injuries some day? Is he the type of guy that would be interested in playing in MLB? Japanese players have 10 year contracts, so that would make him a free agent in 2013?

He’s a talented player who runs and fields well, and has developed some power and patience at the plate over the last two years. I haven’t paid close attention to his injuries, but my brief research suggests that he’s had some nagging leg, wrist and neck problems, so we’ll see how he does in 2010. It’s worth noting that the playing surface at his home Chiba Marine Stadium is notoriously bad. I could see him making a move to MLB, probably as a utility guy, but haven’t read or heard that he’s specifically interested in making the jump.

Joe R says: January 22, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Are Japanese teams beginning to run and model themselves in the same way that MLB teams have, sabermetrically? I ask this due to the number of monsters from Japan that average-ify state side.

Eric says: January 22, 2010 at 1:46 pmThis is more about the baseball community than the game itself, but is there a sabermetric community over there like there is here? By that I mean are sabermetrics more/less prominent over there, and if they are, is there similar hesitation to accept more advanced statistics like there is in the US? It might be ignorant to think that the world of statistics would differ from here to Japan, but I’m curious as to how player evaluation compares.

There certainly wasn’t the scouting vs sabermetrics argument that we had in the States a few years ago. I don’t great visibility into the inner-workings of NPB teams, but from the outside it doesn’t appear that they are specifically implementing sabermetric systems. One of the big differences between NPB and MLB is that there are many, many fewer player transactions in Japan than there are in MLB. So Billy Beane’s moneyball approach doesn’t really exist at all. When a league’s free agency market is only a couple of guys and there are only a handful of trades per year, there are no market inefficiencies to exploit.

Player salaries are, for the most part, negotiated yearly. I think defense and team performance plays a bit of a bigger role in player evaluation in Japan than it does in the US, but aside from that NPB teams have a lot of the same tendencies MLB clubs have — highly valuing metrics like wins, saves, and batting average.

At a fan/media level, it feels like there is more data available in Japan via traditional means. Newspaper box scores usually show what happened in each at-bat, and it’s normal to see batting average with runners in scoring position and shutouts with no walks allowed listed with all the normal stats MLB fans are used to. There are also a lot of observations in the media that you wouldn’t see in US. One example that sticks out for me was reading about which player reached safely in the most games one season.

Dan says: January 22, 2010 at 2:16 pm

I’m curious about what an expert on Japanese baseball would have to say about Yu Darvish:

1. How does his stuff translate to some of the best in MLB? Is there a similar ML counterpart we can compare him to?

2. When can we expect him to come to the US? if at all?

3. If he does post, what kind of fee will the winning team have to pay?

4. How big a contract can he get?

1. Darvish has a fastball that he threw around 90-94 mph most of the time in 2009, a slider, a curveball, a forkball/splitter, a two-seam fastball, and the occasional change-up. You can get a sense of his repertoire and velocity on my data site. The first five pitches I listed are all well above NPB average, particularly his slider. As for an MLB comp I’d probably go with Tim Lincecum or Jake Peavy, though Darvish is taller than both and skinnier than Peavy.

2. He has adamantly denied any interest in moving to MLB, but I suspect he’ll change his mind. He has four more years of service time left to go before becoming eligible for international free agency. If he were to be posted it would almost certainly be his last year before free agency.

3. That’s pretty impossible to predict. The Japanese media was talking about $30m for Daisuke Matsuzaka, and he wound up going for $51m. The interesting thing about the posting system is that it’s a blind auction, so it forces teams to evaluate players in isolation of the overall market. So it only takes one high bid to drive the price way up, yet the teams can’t knowingly bid against each other.

4. It obviously depends on his health and performance, and the economic climate when he signs. If he had been a free agent this offseason though, I think he would have easily beat out the $30m Aroldis Chapman got.

That’s all for today. I’ll have more next time, then start working these back into regular posts.

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

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“When a league’s free agency market is only a couple of guys and there are only a handful of trades per year, there are no market efficiencies to exploit.”
The other way to exploit inefficiencies is through the draft. Does Japan have something analogous? Any indication either way that OBP is a focus in evaluating players, or that some of the advanced stats have found their way in the discussion?