Ask Away 2011

About a year ago, shortly after joining Fangraphs, I did a post inviting questions on my area of expertise, Japanese baseball. It’s been a year, so I’d like to do the same again today. This time I’ll add a single rule: please adhere to a limit of one question per comment. I’ll make my best effort to respond to every (serious) question that is posted.

Fire away!




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


96 Responses to “Ask Away 2011”

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  1. Andrew says:

    What are the best books on Japanese baseball?

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    • I’ll go with the books authored by Robert Whiting, notably You Gotta Have Wa.

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      • I love his books. I enjoyed his book on the Yakuza, Tokyo Underworld.

        His baseball books do tend to repeat themselves, and the most recent (“The Meaning of Ichiro,” also known as “The Samurai Way of Baseball”) isn’t nearly as good as the first two, “The Chrysanthemum and the Bat” and “You Gotta Have Wa.”

        But you gotta read “You Gotta Have Wa.”

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  2. Robert says:

    What stories can we expect to hear once Yu Darvish officially makes his way stateside? When Daisuke was posted, stories of the Gyroball and his insane Koshien appearance were all the rage.

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    • The interesting thing is that the stories about Darvish are already being told, by writers like me and others in the more mainstream media. Darvish did throw a no-hitter at Koshien and experimented with a gyro pitch in last year’s All-Star game. His marital issues came up in the US media last autumn as well.

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  3. Rodney says:

    Are you thrilled with how Colbyashi has performed thus far in his return to MLB, and glad that you somewhat foresaw his ability to translate his numbers?

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    • By all accounts Colby is a good guy and I was happy to see him do well last year. You’re observation is correct, I thought he had a chance to do well based on the standout control he displayed in in Japan, but honestly he did a bit better than I expected.

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  4. Pierre says:

    will we see Norichika Aoki in MLB, and if so, when? How does he project?

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    • He’s got a few years left before free agency, and it doesn’t seem like Yakult wants to post him. He’s quieted down about wanting to move to MLB, but I think he will at some point. At this stage in his career, he’s an elite NPB contact/line drive hitter. In the OF he gets to everything but has a weak arm.

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  5. cowdisciple says:

    Could Tsuyoshi Nishioka handle SS defensively?

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  6. phoenix2042 says:

    Do you have any theories on why it seems so difficult for Japanese players to transition to the MLB? I find it incredible when the best pitchers or hitters in Japan come over to the MLB and sputter out (with notable exceptions of course).

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    • Actually I think there have only been a handful of unqualified busts — Igawa, Kazuo Matsui, Irabu — but there have certainly been guys who didn’t quite meet expectations. Just in general, there are a lot of adjustments that players have to make: more travel, playing games against more teams, playing more games, subtle differences in the style of play, and other more personal things like dietary and cultural adjustment.

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      • cowdisciple says:

        The travel seems like a big issue to me. Do we really understand why players hit worse on the road? Is every game like a road game for a Japanese player?

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  7. bear says:

    Who are the top 10 Japanese baseball players now? Who are the top 10 of all time? Which Japanese players do you see making the jump to MLB in the next two years? What are your predictions for them? What are your opinions on a “true” world series between mlb and Japanese teams?

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  8. Matty Brown says:

    How fearful are the Japanese of a potential resurgence of Godzilla?

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  9. DonCoburleone says:

    I’m sure you’ve probably answered this question before or talked about it at some point, but how much money (in US Dollars) do the highest paid Japanese players make?

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  10. JoeIQ says:

    Wild guess on Hoffpauir’s Japan stats?

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  11. S.M. Jenkins says:

    PN: How do you think Tsuyoshi Nishioka will fare in Minnesota in terms of his offensive game?

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  12. Danya says:

    What Japanese cities that don’t have NPB franchises now might get one in the future?

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  13. Jonathan says:

    I find it ridiculous that Francoeur, Melky and Nick Punto have spots on MLB rosters and Matt Murton doesn’t. Any idea why there has been so little interest in Murton stateside?

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    • nolan says:

      As weak as Punto’s bat is, he is way better than Melky and Francoeur. He plays terrific lights-out defense at three positions. He probably didn’t deserve all those at-bats that Gardy threw at him the past few years, but the lack of depth at infield in Minnesota isn’t his fault, is it?

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    • Murton was unfortunate in that his last two MLB organizations were both deep at OF. I don’t think his NPB success has gone unnoticed and expect him to be back in MLB in 2012.

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  14. SweetChenMusic says:

    What’s the latest on Wei-Yin Chen’s contractual status and whether Chunichi will let him go after this season, and how do you suppose he would perform in MLB in 2012?

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    • He’s agreed to a one-year deal with Chunichi, with a clause forcing him to be released at the end of the season. I’d like to watch him this year before guessing how he’ll do in 2012, but he has a great arm.

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  15. gobaystars! says:

    As recently as 2008 there was a talk of Shuichi Murata giving MLB a try. Is this still the case or have recent injuries, struggles and turning 30 closed that window?

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  16. Frank says:

    What do you think of Kyle Blanks now that the hype has passed. Can he be a breakout stud this year?

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  17. Jeff Zimmerman says:

    I was going to ask about what the BASIP level is for Japanesse players, but I should just look that up. Which leads me to my real question:

    What is the best website for stats from Japan in English?

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  18. MonteroSmash says:

    What are your expectations on Byung-Hyun Kim? He hasn’t pitched professional for few years and glad to see him sign with Rakuten.

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  19. Nick says:

    Who are the top 3 players likely to come to the US within the next year and what do you expect out of them in the US? Thank you.

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  20. Tarik says:

    How established is the baseball pipeline between Korea and NPB? Is it similar to the way that Latin-American players have avenues into MLB?

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    • Korean players usually move to Japan after establishing themselves as professionals locally in the KBO. In that sense, it’s more like the NPB – MLB relationship than MLB and Latin America. Players from Taiwan do sign with NPB clubs as amateurs though.

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  21. nolan says:

    My question would be: How much coverage does the MLB get in Japan? Is it predominately Yankees, Red Sox, and Seattle games? Is there a channel dedicated to MLB/baseball? What’s the proportion of NPB to MLB coverage in their news? (I know this is more than one question, but the rest just clarify the first question.)

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    • I don’t know if there’s a dedicate channel, but there are MLB games broadcast on satellite TV every day. The focus is on teams with Japanese players. MLB coverage on the news is focused almost entirely on teams with Japanese players.

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    • They broadcast just enough to blackout japan from mlb.tv and they always use the worst local team announcers.

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    • gradygradychase says:

      In 2010, probably 60% of MLB games broadcasted in Japan were about the Mariners.

      And now few games of the Red Sox are broadcasted, because more Japanese fans don’t expect Daisuke Matsuzaka to pitch well. There were less games of the Yankees in 2010, because of Hideki Matsui’s depature, but still more than the Red Sox.

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  22. Brad says:

    Seems like everyone above me sucks at following rules. Do you think we will see Matt Murton back in the States anytime soon?

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  23. Mr. Met says:

    Could Bobby Valentine win a political position?

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  24. Derek says:

    Could you talk a little bit about late-game strategy in NPB? I’ve seen a few games and it seems like if the game is close, 1-run game or tied, teams will bunt a lot and play for 1 run only as opposed to going for more. Is this really the case or is my opinion skewed by a small sample-size? If this is so, will most managers bunt with their best batters (say if a runner is on first), or will they let him swing away?

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    • There is definitely a preference for bunting in NPB. I’ve actually seen NPB managers play even more conservative, like not pinch hitting for a star reliever in order to preserve a tie. Ties are valuable in the NPB standings, so there is some degree of playing not to lose.

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  25. Big Jgke says:

    How much better were Ichiro and Matsui than an average NPB player?

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    • Light years. They were both perennial MVP candidates in Japan.

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    • Ryan S says:

      That’s a skewed question. Even in the states Ichiro is light years ahead of the ‘average’ MLB player offensively and defensively (He’s average 5+ WAR over TEN seasons) and was an MVP winner. Heck even Matsui was much better than the average MLB player even though my dog was a better fielder. The real question should be how much better is the avrage MLB player than the average Japanese player. Then you’ll have your true value.

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  26. Patrick – I love your stuff, especially when you wrote about the conditions under which the posting system works, so my question has to deal with the posting system. Had Oakland actually signed Hisashi Iwakuma, there was talk he would have been just a fourth starter caliber pitcher, though Baseball America said he would be Oakland’s #1 prospect without question in their 2011 Prospect Guide. What numbers (ballparking it) would you have expected out of him this season in the American League? Would he have been worth the outlay?

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    • He might have been a #3. I think Baseball America tends to rank guys who are closer to the Majors toward the top of their lists, and Iwakuma would have been a Major Leaguer in his first year with the organization.

      I think he would have posted good rates but maxed out at about 180 innings or so. Would he have been worth it? I don’t really know. What did a guy like Jake Westbrook sign for?

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  27. Tomas says:

    Could you comment on what you see in the future for NPB, and whether or not the increasing trend of star players coming to play in the United States is seen as a significant concern in NPB circles?

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    • It’s not really an increasing trend. Tsuyoshi Nishoka is the first star-caliber player to come over since Uehara and Kawakami a few years ago, and the league will go on without him. I think there are people who are concerned and there are things NPB can to do improve, but I personally don’t think it threatens the league. I actually think it’s a very good thing that there is MLB-caliber talent coming out of Japan.

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  28. Dixon says:

    Randy Ruiz left the Jays last year to go to Japan, did he ever make anything of himself? I was always curious what he would have done if we gave him a chance.

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    • He didn’t set the world on fire — .266/.333/.450 in 312 PAs for a pretty weak offense. We’ll see if he’s any better this year with Akinori Iwamura and Kazuo Matsui in his lineup.

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  29. SteveS says:

    What are the best stadiums in Japan to catch games in? Would it be worth it for a tourist visiting Japan to try and find the time to take in a game?

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    • gobaystars! says:

      My non-expert opinion. Please go to an NPB game if you are visiting Japan. If you are at all a baseball fan it is a must. I lived there for a few years and made it to Yokohama Stadium, Tokyo Dome, Meji Jingu Staduim, Yahoo Dome, and Koshien. I’d say Koshien near Osaka is worth it because, I believe, it is the oldest park in use and Tigers fans are some of the best in Japan. I’d also recomend taking in a game at Yokohama Stadium because it has a great central location and tickets are easy to get and cheap as the Baystars are consistently awful. Oddly enough I’d recomend skipping Tokyo Dome. While iconic, it is pretty much immitation MLB. They play loud pop music, sell Super Pretzels, and make PA announcements in English. At places like Yokohama the experience is its own.

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      • This is good advice. I agree that it’s definitely worthwhile to see a game in Japan and my recommendations would be:

        1. Koshien Stadium (Hanshin Tigers)
        2. Mazda Stadium (Hiroshima Carp)
        3. QVC Marine Field (Chiba Lotte Marines)
        4. Jingu Stadium (Tokyo Yakult Swallows)

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    • Great places: Koshien (Hanshin Tigers), Mazda Stadium (Hiroshima Carp), Green Stadium (Orix Buffaloes).

      Avoid: Osaka Dome, Tokyo Dome, or really any dome.

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  30. Moe says:

    How good would Hisashi Iwakuma be on Oakland and what do you think the chances are he comes to the U.S. in the next few years?

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    • I think he would have posted good rates but maxed out at about 180 innings or so.

      I’ll give him a 99% of moving to MLB after this season. I think it would take an injury to stop him.

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  31. How does the fan experience differ from MLB? I’ve heard that the fans in Japan don’t cheer, except for designated sections where the patrons are paid by the teams to mount highly ritualized cheers and chants. I’ve also heard that you can get a shot of sake directly into your mouth from a vendor with a backpack full of the stuff. If so, that is an innovation we are sorely lacking here.

    Also, the worst beating I’ve ever seen in my life was at a Phillies game at the Vet ca. 1985. Not an uncommon thing at Philadelphia sporting events, as well as cities like Boston, New York, and Detroit (I’m just speculating about those other cities, but I also lived in Houston and polite clapping was the rudest anyone ever got). Does anything like that kind of savagery happen with any frequency at a Japanese baseball game?

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    • The fan experience is great. Fans cheer, but the more dedicated fans sit in the bleacher cheering sections. They buy their own tickets though. The cheers are coordinated, and each player has his own “cheering song” (ouen ka). Beer vendors do roam the isles with back-mounted beer tanks, but they serve drinks in more traditional cups. I’ve never seen sake being drunk in shots in Japan the way Americans do.

      I’ve never seen anything other than civility among fans at Japanese baseball games. I guess there have probably been incidents at games, but nothing that would be on par with Philadelphia’s reputation.

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    • I’ve been beaten up at a sumo match in Nagoya, but never had anything like it happen at any other sporting event.

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  32. Jeffrey Gross says:

    Does experience in the asian leagues equate to “AA ball experience”, akin to Division I College Baseball, or somewhere higher.

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  33. My echo and bunnymen says:

    How would you suggest buying tickets for Japanese baseball games, for a planned trip in Nihon? And if you have visited any stadiums which are your favorites?

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  34. Mo says:

    You know Lim Chang-Yong? If he had not chosen to stay in Japan and had come to the U.S., could he become a Major Leaguer?

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  35. Jingu Stadium, home of the Yakult Swallows in Tokyo, and Koshien Stadium, home of the Hanshin Tigers in Osaka are the best parks by far. Skip Chiba Lotte, it’s a concrete bowl in the middle of nowhere (great fans though).

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  36. Furuhata Ninzaburo says:

    Will Ichiro become an actor once he retires? He did great on my show!

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  37. chuckb says:

    I’m sure that a WAR could be created for Japanese baseball but I wonder how those WAR would convert to MLB WAR. In other words, if we could convert Ichiro’s Japanese stats to MLB WAR, how much WAR would that add to his career MLB total? I wonder how his overall professional baseball numbers would compare to others throughout history.

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  38. KindOfAshamed says:

    I know you addressed the possibility of Yu Darvish coming to the states previously, but if you had to put a number on it, what percent chance do you think there is that he signs with an MLB team before the start of 2012? Sorry for being the one to ask the predictable Darvish question…

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    • Well, it’s not a situation where you can say “if a, b and c happens, Darvish will move to MLB, and there’s an n% chance of those things happening.” He’s still a few years away from free agency, and his team would obviously rather keep him. I think the only one that really knows is Darvish, and once he’s decided there will be some hints.

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  39. Jake says:

    how many australians play at the top level of japanese baseball?

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    • Off the top of my head, the only Australians I can think of in Japanese baseball this year are Adam Bright and Mike Nakamura. I don’t think Bright will reach the top level this year though. In the past, Justin Huber, Chris Oxspring, Adrian Burnside, Dave Nilsson and Jeff Williams have played in Japan. Williams was by far the most successful.

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  40. anthony says:

    obviously everyone expects the Yanks to offer huge at Yu Darvish if he ever wants to come over. What are the chances that the Mariners make a push too if that were to happen? They’ve obviously been known to do so and I would think that playing in a much more asian city would be more comfortable to a young pitcher like Yu. Plus he’d be with Ichiro.

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