Ask Away

Edit, Friday night: Thanks everyone for your questions. There are more questions here than I anticipated getting, and many of them tread similar ground, so I’ll answer anything I couldn’t get to today in my next post.

Being FanGraphs’ new resident Japanese baseball guy, I’d like to get a better sense of what this audience wants to know about that aspect of the game.

So, if you have any questions about Japanese or Asian baseball, leave ‘em in the comments.

I will make my best effort to answer all (serious) questions. I’ll check back periodically throughout the day, and answer whatever I can off the top of my head immediately. Questions requiring more research will be answered in a later post.

Okay, enough of the ground rules, 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.

80 Responses to “Ask Away”

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  1. Ed says:

    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.

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  2. mymrbig says:

    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?

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  3. ryan says:

    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?

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    • 1. similar to MLB, NPB’s Pacific League has a DH, while the Central League does not. Games are called ties after 12 innings.

      2. There is no arbitration process. Players usually negotiate their contracts year to year until reaching free agency. In effect it is similar to the arbitration process without the presence of an arbitrator.

      3. At a very general level, there is MLB-level talent in Japan, but not MLB depth. I would *probably* expect a 300/400/500 NPB line to translate to a MLB gap hitter, but there are a lot of other variables involved.

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      • ryan says:

        Thanks, very interesting.
        Regarding 2)… So if the player and team can not come to agreement, are there a lot of holdouts, players that are under team control but have not come to a contract agreement?

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    • dorasaga says:

      There is an arbitration process. According to the official rule*, any player who does not agree to the offer from the team can apply for an arbitration through the league (there’s two leagues in Japan, two independent commissioners–until this year, a joint commissioner and a new league office is established).

      The league will open a committee for hearing, and ask both sides to voice their plea. The great Ochiai Hiromitsu (third base, current Dragons manager) went through this process about 20 years ago. The NPB arb. is rare, but not new.

      *http://jpbpa.net/jpbpa_f.htm?convention/index.htm — Check around rule 30-33.

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  4. MetsFan says:

    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

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  5. jdodson says:

    I am actually learning Japanese to hopefully apply to the baseball industry. Do you know of any internship or possibilities of living in Japan and working with some teams to submerse myself and become fluent?

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    • Easier said than done, on both fronts, but if you can stick with it your effort will be rewarded in some way.

      On learning the language, I would suggest taking part in the JET program or something similar to get over to Japan. That would obviously be the best way to immerse yourself in the language and culture.

      More specific to baseball, I’d suggest setting up a site like http://www.npbtracker.com. It would be a long-term endeavor but if you can provide valuable information, you’ll be able to use that as a lead-in to a job down the road.

      Good luck!

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  6. The Frankman says:

    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.

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    • Chris says:

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

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  7. I’m with MetsFan and Ryan, I’m interested in if there is a form of MLE as well as a general overview of the skill differences.

    Also, what are the park factors like there? How do the stadiums differ (in terms of field size and walls, nooks/crannies/field conditions/etc. compared to American stadiums?

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    • KaminaAyato says:

      I can’t speak to park factors, but many stadiums feature short porches and high walls:

      Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters – Sapporo Dome
      100m-122m-100m (328-400-328), 5.75m (18.9 ft) wall

      Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles – Kleenex Stadium Miyagi (Outdoor)
      101.5-122-100 (331-400-331), no info

      Chiba Lotte Marines – Marine Stadium (Outdoor)
      99.5-122-99.5 (326.4-400-326.4), 4m (13.1 ft) wall

      Yomiuri Giants – Tokyo Dome
      100-122-100 (328-400-328), 4m (13.1 ft) wall

      Tokyo Yakult Swallows – Meiji Jingu (Outdoor)
      101-120-101 (331.4-393.7-331.4), 3.5m (11.5 ft) wall

      Saitama Seibu Lions – Seibu Dome (Dome/Outdoor – Safeco Fieldish)
      100-122-100 (328-400-328), 3.2-4.37m (10.5-14.3 ft) wall

      Yokohama BayStars – Yokohama Stadium (Outdoor)
      94-118-94 (308.4-387-308.4), 5m (16.4 ft) wall

      Chunichi Dragons – Nagoya Dome
      100-122-100 (328-400-328), 4.8m (15.7 ft) wall

      Orix Buffaloes – Osaka Dome
      100-122-100 (328-400-328), no info

      Orix Buffaloes/Hanshin Tigers – Skymark Stadium (Outdoor)
      99.1-122-99.1 (325-400-325), no info

      Hanshin Tigers – Hanshin Koshien Stadium (Outdoor)
      96-120-96 (315-400-315), no info

      Hiroshima Toyo Carp – Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium (Outdoor)
      101-122-100 (331.4-400-328), no info

      Fukuoka Softbank Hawks – Fukuoka Dome
      100-122-99.5 (328-400-326), 5.84m (19.2 ft) wall.

      As you can see, dimensions are generally smaller and more uniform, but they have very high walls. There are no nooks/crannies that I know of that you might see in a regular ballpark.

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  8. Jon says:

    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!

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    • 1. no data on that specifically. Since starting up with Fangraphs, I’ve been thinking about how WAR or VORP type metrics would apply to Japan.

      2. Japanese teams usually use a six-man rotation, and every week has one off day, so essentially starters go once a week for most of the year. Starters usually throw more pitches. Bullpen usage is more or less similar to MLB, where you’ll have closers, set-up guys, LOOGy’s, etc.

      3. My perception is that Japanese teams play more low-scoring games, mostly because of the number of teams that employ small-ball tactics, and also because of solid defense.

      4. Not really, but I have velocity data here: http://npbtracker.com/data/

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    • KaminaAyato says:

      wrt to Q3, there is a quite a bit of small ball emphasized in earlier levels. This can be seen in the HS Koshien Tournaments held annually (Spring Invitational and Summer National).

      There are many teams that qualify that play small ball to the extreme. Runner on 1st, sacrifice over sometimes even with 1 out. Runner on 3rd, less than 2 out – look out for a squeeze.

      If the average American were to watch the tournament, they could very well get frustrated over the amount of sacrificing that goes on.

      It’s not to say that there aren’t teams that employ more American tactics, or that there aren’t teams that just try to blow you off the map with sheer power… it’s just not as common.

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  9. JayCee says:

    Are the stadia there hitters’ ballparks? They all seem small to me, but that could be just because they are (all?) indoors.

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  10. MFG says:

    Advertisements on helmets, unis, etc…..do you ever get used to it?

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    • The ads on uniforms never really bothered me. They are pretty minimal compared to European hockey teams.

      Keep in mind also that the team names are basically advertisements in themselves — the Orix corporation, for example, said that they got a huge boost in brand awareness after they bought the Hankyu franchise, then known as the Braves.

      Last year Rakuten had an ad on outfield turf, and I found that annoying. Also, their home ballpark is called Kleenex Stadium, and I can’t get used to that. I don’t think the Japanese can either; they usually refer to it as K-Sta.

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  11. Sandy Kazmir says:

    I re-watched Mr. Baseball last year. I think I have a good grasp of what goes on.

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  12. Bradley says:

    I was wondering if there is a site — akin to MLB.tv — where we can actually watch Japanese ball (preferably with English announcers).

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  13. Colonel Kurtz says:

    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?

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  14. Sean D says:

    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?

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  15. Joe R says:

    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.

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  16. Eric says:

    This 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.

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  17. Matt says:

    I’ve heard bits and pieces that Taiwan’s baseball league was caught fixing games or something. what happened ot that?
    Also, I know of a world series type tournament that goes on between japan/korea/taiwan. what’s keeping them from creating a real league (ie, al/nl in mlb) across multiple countries? I know Taiwan is a bit lower relative to japan & korea, but i would think those two countries are close enough that they could feasibly have one central league that spans both countries… any hope of that happening?

    finally, this whole us vs japan post world series series thing…. doesn’t it make sense to just do it in hawaii????

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    • dorasaga says:

      Since I know Chinese and I hang out with baseball people, I’ll say this much: Fixing game in Taiwan has a long history, compared to the pro league’s shorter history.

      Pro. league was established in 1989 on the country of Taiwan. The first big fix here that caught the nation’s attention, on paper, was 1995. New stories, confirmed news and rumors alike, about fixing has been on and off every 2 years since then.

      Now we are certain that the whole league is fixing, and a complication of powerful gang groups, owners, coaches, and players are all involved.

      If a merge could ever happen, it would be Taiwan’s pro league (a smaller economic body) to join Japan’s (a bigger and more resourceful body), not vice versa. For Taiwan’s baseball to join Japan’s is not economically feasible for the time being. The gap between Taiwan and Japan is not only about the distanc e(with a dangerous strait, a big body of Pacific Ocean in between), but also the system. There’s no FTA b/w the 2 nations.

      Players can hop into a bullet train from the Hawks home game *(Fukuoka, a satellite city of Hakata), reach Tokyo, transfer to another bullet train, and reach the northliest Fighters (Hokkaido, in Sapporo) in 12 hours. And a domestic flight would be half as priced from Hakata to Sapporo than from Hakata to Taipei, Taiwan.

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  18. Jimbo says:

    How popular are the Japanese stars in MLB? Is Ichiro still an uber-celebrity for his crossover success? The media following he had early on was amazing!

    The thinking was that attracting a Japanese fan base (merchandise/broadcasting) generates a decent amount of revenue…wondering if you have any perspective on that.

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    • flamefox111 says:

      I know that Ichiro is being constantly followed by the Japanese media and the Japanese people that I know say he is a huge star.

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    • Yeah, Ichiro is still an uber-celebrity, though Matsui surpassed him last October.

      I would say that Japan is probably the best market for MLB-licensed merchandise outside the United States. Games are broadcast on cable but the broadcast rights still probably pull in a few bucks.

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  19. Jimbo says:

    How is pitching inside dealt with there? Do pitchers come in often, do batters crowd as much? Are there “warnings” or ejections if someone gets hit? If it is a cultural norm difference, do foreign pitchers adapt or do their own thing?

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  20. Dan says:

    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?

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  21. American baseball Player says:

    What I’ve always wanted to know is, how can they play baseball with their eyes closed? How the hell do they do it?

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  22. RA says:

    Pitch counts? Do the Japanese use them much or are they more willing to allow a pitcher to throw larger number of pitches?

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    • Kampfer says:

      I watch a lot of Japanese baseball myself and they like SP completing game a lot mainly due to their roster size which limits the size of their bullpen. 130 pitches per game is not unusual in Japan, and managers don’t get blamed for this kind of pitch counts. They pitch in 5~6 days rest though, so 130 may not be as bad as it sounds. For reliever usage, many managers in Japan tend to fall in love with one particular set of relievers because of the success of JFK, which is the reliever trio of Hanshin Tigers that was extremely effective before the crazy workload caught up to them. The best of the trio, closer Kyuji Fujikawa, was once used in ten consecutive games, and made 80 appearances in a much shorter NPB season (144 games). As you might guess, injuries have bugged him in the last three years and his innings pitched for the last three years was in a steady decline.

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    • KaminaAyato says:

      Again, I’ll speak to the HS level of Japanese Baseball wrt to this topic.

      For HS teams with a staff ace, pitch counts are thrown out the window. They will ride the arm until it falls off.

      Case in point was 2006 Koshien winner Waseda Jitsugyo and their ace Saito Yuki (who btw is slated to the one of the top picks in next year’s draft after attending Waseda University). He threw to every batter, save the first batter in the top of the 9th inning of the opening game.

      He had games on Aug 6, 12, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21.

      All in all, he threw 6 complete games, 69 innings, and 948 pitches over the 16-day tournament and in the final 4 days threw 43 innings and 553 pitches (The game on the 20th was the championship game and ended in a 1-1 draw after 15 innings and thus had to be replayed the next day!)

      Obviously the workload isn’t as big at University, Industrial or Pro, but these pitchers would immediately be drafted straight into NPB. Going back to Yuki, he would have been the overall #1 pick, but when he decided to head to college, it was the losing pitcher Tanaka Masahiro who was drafted #1 and is now the face of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

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  23. Sky Kalkman says:

    I’m interested in hearing about style of play, philosophy, unofficial rules, rituals, traditions… Thanks.

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  24. Jim says:

    It seems like MLB signs fewer Japanese players to their first professional deal than the Japanese talent output would justify. What motivates players to sacrifice control over at least 10 years of their career, when they could seemingly sign with an MLB organization and develop in the U.S.?

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    • dorasaga says:

      If you are not a Russian, why would you work in Russia? Away from home comfort, a system you fully understand, and higher risks of failing?

      There’s always a tradeoff, and mere economic investment into oneself cannot always justify the things a player lost.

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      • dorasaga says:

        *Not the mention the language or food. Food in Japan is just not the same as in the States. A pro. player’s controlled diet is moreso different b/w the two sides of Pacific.

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  25. bflaff says:

    I was wondering if you had info on whatever formal links, if any, exist between MLB and Asian teams or Asian baseball leagues. I know the Yankees opened up some sort of academy in China, and I’m wondering if other teams have done anything similar. Just in terms of branding and securing talent, it seems like Asia is a place that is still an untapped market, and I was wondering if any mlb teams were taking advantage of that.

    On a related note, how does the noise about creating a worldwide draft affect mlb’s relationship w/ Asian baseball? Thanks, and welcome to the site.

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  26. Dudley says:

    Are there any pitch types or styles used in Japapn that you don’t see here in the US? I remember hearing something about a ‘gyroball’ pitch a few years back.

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    • Mark says:

      There was big hype around the Gyroball when Daisuke came over to the States. Original reports were it was a pitch that would break horizontally something like 4x as much as a slider, which is ridiculous. I read some research online about the gyroball and a university study which concluded the “supposed” release and travel of the ball would act more like a changeup than anything else.

      I also read that the gyroball was completely fake and based off of a Japanese cartoon series, and that no one actually throws it.

      I would love to be proven wrong though, then taught how to throw it. :-)

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      • I own a book on the gyroball by the physicist who ‘discovered’ it, but I confess I’ve never read.

        Daisuke’s was a myth, though.

        Aside from that, the most common pitch in Japan that we don’t see in MLB is the shuuto, which is kind a variant on the two-seam fastball.

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      • Bryz says:

        @ Patrick: Some people claim that Greg Maddux threw a shuuto or something shuuto-like. http://www.baseballhistorian.com/shuuto/shuuto.cfm

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      • dorasaga says:

        Gyroball exists. It’s actually named by the founder (a coach named Tezuka and his co-researcher, a sports physics prof., Himeno), after a toy imported from America. It’s not mythical, just a non-conventional system of carrying out pitcher rotation–i.e. Gyro is not a kind of pitch, but a pitching mechanic.

        Apparently, some journalist from Japan spread out the word that DiceK throws a gyroball. Tezuka once appeared on a TV show as a commentator of high school pitchers, and he said that DiceK (then a rookie in Seibu) has the “potential” of throwing a gyroball. He never thought DiceK actually performed the mechanics required to pitch gyro.

        Professor Himeno was intrigued by Tezuka’s theory, and he used a lab to conduct researches to perfect mechanics expounding on the gryo one:

        http://www.riken.jp/r-world/research/lab/index.html

        You may also find relative studies of Tezuka’s work through a Yahoo journalist and Will Carroll (Prospectus).

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  27. Or says:

    Hi, Patrick. Having followed Japanese baseball, what are your thoughts on Colby Lewis, who pitched masterfully for two years in the NPB? What was his stuff like, and what sort of success could you see him having in the Majors, now that he’s signed with the Rangers?

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  28. brent in Korea says:

    I’ve never seen an intentional walk in Korea, but there aren’t that many hitters it would be worth to do that.

    The commenter who wanted to know about the level of Korea- The KBO is definitely a step down from Japan. The Japanese defense really shines in comparison. The talent level is really mixed- that’s why the Korean national team is great. There are some high level players and a lot of lower talent ones. Fastball speeds are around 86-88 mostly, but some throw in the 90′s. They throw a lot less fastballs than in MLB. They have a lot more players around on the bench all season than the MLB 24. The managers here love their pitching changes no matter the score T T

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  29. Is there any truth to the fact that Asian league baseball is at best a A-minor league equivalent? I’ve heard that College is a AA-league equivalent.

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  30. er, i did not mean to say “fact” — i meant to say “assertion”.

    my apologies

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  31. JH says:

    I’d be interested to hear about young Japanese talent coming through the draft. Amateur athletes are far more talked about in Japan than they are over here, so I think a sense of how Japanese media cover the draft and pay attention to rookies and younger players would be interesting.

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    • KaminaAyato says:

      The media are like hawks when it comes to the top draft picks – especially those that shine at their respective levels.

      For instance, although Kikuchi Yusei’s Hanamaki Higashi HS lost in last year’s spring invitational, his fiery presence on the mound (almost American-like) captured their attention. He was followed throughout the summer tournament, and his movements have since been followed almost on a daily basis since then – from how he was dealing with his US vs. Japan decision, to being drafted by the Seibu Lions, to them reporting that he almost primarily wore either his school or baseball uniform so he had no clothes of his own to bring to the team’s dorms. I think I remember one media outlet actually assigning 2 female reporters to specifically follow him.

      (Speaking of which, YakyuBaka had a post saying that “…Kikuchi may not have had any clothes when he moved into the players dorms, but it doesn’t seem like he has that problem any more. Seems about 5-6 fans have sent him a bunch of clothes. One woman apparently gave Kikuchi a Michel Klein coat worth 20,000 yen.”). That’s about $220 by the way for the coat.

      If you’re a HS player and you do something special, you pretty much gain rock-star status.

      You can see articles on the most recent 2009 draft here (http://yakyubaka.com/tag/2009-draft/)

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  32. Kirk says:

    I’m interested in the following:

    – how prevelant is sabermetrics in Japanese baseball (in the fans, press, front offices)?

    – there have been a lot of looks into how Japanese players and their stats translate over in the MLB, but it seems like a missed opportunity without examining how major or minor league players perform over in Japan. This would especially be useful for players like Julio Franco who went back and forth.

    – I would imagine Oh has to be consensus GOAT, but has there been other, say, top 50 players of all time lists?

    – how many MLB games are on Japan’s national TV (i.e., no specialty or strictly regional cabel channels) regularly?

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  33. Malemute says:

    What are some of your favorite player nicknames?

    Did the Japanese writer who didn’t give Mauer a first place MVP vote this year ever give an explanation as to why he thought Cabrera was better?

    Thanks.

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  34. Chris says:

    It would be awesome if you put together a database where you could see potential stars in Japan and what year they are eligible to come to the US, or even an article highlighting a few guys over the next couple of years.

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  35. Grady says:

    I have a Bum Ho Lee jersey from when he was still with the Eagles. If I were to wear it in South Korea, would I be murdered? How closely does this compare to a rivalry in the MLB (a la Johnny Damon BOS to NYY scenario)?

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  36. Ivan Grushenko says:

    How competitive with MLB would the Japanese leagues (and Korean ones) if they eliminated the 2 foreigner limit? Could the Kyojin for example then field a team as good as the Phillies or even Yankees? Do they have that level of resources/fan support?

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  37. lieiam says:

    i’m wondering about sources for data on japanese baseball. i’ve looked around online in the past with occasional success, but was wondering about both online and book sources for info. i am interested in both statistics as well as general information. i’ve been meaning to track down cromartie’s book but have yet to do so and the only one i won is “remembering japanese baseball”.
    anyway, i’m looking forward to your future columns!

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  38. brent in Korea says:

    The Korean teams couldn’t even come close to having enough resources and fans unless you only kept one team in Busan and one in Seoul (and had a dispersal draft to bump up those teams). They would need new stadiums to hold more people too.

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  39. Alex says:

    Hi Patrick,

    I had the opportunity to spent about 2 weeks in Japan over the summer, and I got to see some games on TV. One thing I noticed was that in-game strategy seems to be much more conservative there. Especially in the later innings, if the leadoff man got on, the next few batters would all try to bunt him around the bases and play for that one run as opposed to going for a big inning. Is this a small sample size issue or do most teams play this way?

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  40. kevin ogara says:

    i picked up a japanese baseball made in japan called a royal match ball black and red stitching in the orig. box. any info on the manufacturer

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