Maybe It’s Time We Stop Underrating Pitchers From Asian Countries

According to Baseball-Reference’s Place of Birth Report, there are 13 major league players currently active who were born in either Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan. Of those 13, only four are position players — Ichiro Suzuki, Norichika Aoki, Munenori Kawasaki, and Shin-Soo Choo. Major League Baseball has historically been more willing to bringing pitchers across the Pacific, and that remains true today. However, the performance of the nine active pitchers currently working in the big leagues suggests that perhaps the discount rate being applied to pitchers from those regions might still be too high.

Here’s how those nine pitchers have done in the first five weeks of the 2013 season.


Name IP BB/9 K/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Yu Darvish 45.2 3.0 14.2 0.6 0.282 78% 2.56 1.90 1.97 1.9
Hyun-Jin Ryu 43.2 2.5 9.9 0.8 0.322 70% 3.71 2.83 3.17 1.0
Hisashi Iwakuma 44.2 1.6 8.5 1.0 0.191 89% 1.61 3.19 3.36 1.0
Hiroki Kuroda 36.0 2.8 7.5 0.5 0.248 83% 2.25 3.15 3.72 0.9
Wei-Yin Chen 36.0 3.0 5.5 0.8 0.264 75% 3.50 3.96 5.22 0.7
Junichi Tazawa 14.1 1.9 11.3 1.3 0.281 89% 2.51 2.95 2.75 0.3
Koji Uehara 13.2 1.3 11.2 2.0 0.250 100% 2.63 3.82 3.09 0.2
Kyuji Fujikawa 4.1 2.1 8.3 0.471 40% 12.46 2.55 3.89 0.1
Hisanori Takahashi 3.0 6.0 9.0 3.0 0.250 83% 6.00 7.35 4.95 (0.1)

To put that in context, here’s the total 2013 line for those nine pitchers, compared to Justin Verlander‘s performance over the last calendar year.

Name IP BB/9 K/9 HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Group Total 241.1 2.5 9.6 0.9 0.267 78% 2.91 3.05 3.37 6.0
Justin Verlander 239.1 2.4 9.3 0.7 0.288 79% 2.48 2.83 3.20 7.2

All told, the 2013 active pitchers from Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea have put up the near equivalent of one Justin Verlander season. Darvish is obviously driving the numbers up with his ridiculous start to the season, but Iwakuma, Kuroda, and Ryu have also been excellent in their own right, while Chen is succeeding by keeping the ball in the ballpark, at least for now.

And then there’s the Red Sox duo of relievers, Tazawa and Uehara, who have combined to strike out 35 batters while issuing three unintentional walks. These crazy high strikeout-to-walk ratios are nothing new for Uehara, who already owns the best K/BB in the history of Major League Baseball. Tazawa, meanwhile, has been absolutely spectacular for the Red Sox after returning from Tommy John surgery last year, running a 63/8 K/BB ratio of his own since the start of the 2012 season.

And yet, besides Darvish, the rest of the gang pretty much still flies under the radar. Kuroda has quietly been one of the best pitchers in baseball since arriving in the U.S., and even after shifting to the American League East at the age of 37, he’s shown no signs of slowing down. Iwakuma signed with the Mariners for a few million dollars last year and got buried in long relief until mid-season, when the team finally put him in the rotation and let him show what he could do; since then, opponents have hit just .222/.277/.355 against him. The Dodgers were criticized for overspending on Ryu over the winter, since there was concern about whether he could succeed in the big leagues with an average fastball and a mediocre breaking ball. As Bradley noted yesterday, he’s destroyed National League hitters with ease so far.

The lingering memory of failures like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa, Hideki Irabu, and Kenshin Kawakami still loom in everyone’s memories, but this current crop of pitchers from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are dominating Major League Baseball right now. It could be that Major League scouts are just getting better at identifying which pitchers will succeed in the U.S., or perhaps these pitchers are just more ready to succeed in the highest levels than the pitchers who came before them.

Regardless, it’s time to recognize the great success that teams have had in plucking pitchers out of Pacific Rim countries. While they still get classified as prospects because of the lack of track records they have against Major League hitters, the performance of pitchers from these countries far outstrips anything we see from pitching prospects getting promoted through the minor leagues here in America. Of the nine active pitchers on the list, you could make a legitimate All-Star case for six of them right now. The success rate of this crop is absurdly high.

Now, we can’t simply say that because Darvish, Iwakuma, Kuroda, and the rest are all pitching extraordinarily well in MLB that every pitcher in a professional league in Asia is ready to make the jump any more than we can say that the success of Shelby Miller means that every pitcher in Triple-A is ready for the show. However, I do think it is fair to ask whether MLB teams are applying an inappropriately high discount rate to pitchers from these leagues. The emphasis on velocity and breaking balls in international scouting may very well be causing teams to underestimate the success that pitchers with average fastballs but great splitter/change-ups will have on this side of the ocean.

Darvish and Tazawa are the only two pitchers on this list that don’t feature a split or a change-up as their best off-speed offering, but these pitches are often the most effective at neutralizing opposite-handed hitters. By also commanding an average fastball and taking advantage of natural platoon advantages against same-handed hitters, the combination of skills has proven to be quite successful. 88-92 with a plus change-up/splitter might not profile as a top-end pitcher as well as throwing 95 with a knockout slider, but there’s no question that this skillset works in Major League Baseball, especially if you have top shelf command.

I think it is certainly possible that the types of pitchers that are successful in Pacific Rim countries are also the types of pitchers that are underrated in Major League Baseball. You could point to guys like James Shields, Doug Fister, and Tommy Milone as American versions of this same skillset, and none of them were considered top prospects coming up through the minors either. I don’t think this is so much a race issue as it is a skill valuation issue. But, at some point, we have to reevaluate what kinds of skills we’re placing an emphasis on, if pitchers with a different type of skillset are regularly outperforming our expectations.

Given their complete dominance of Major League Baseball right now, it’s probably time to recalibrate our expectations for pitchers from that region of the world.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


142 Responses to “Maybe It’s Time We Stop Underrating Pitchers From Asian Countries”

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  1. Jake says:

    Skipped straight to the comments when I saw you use spelled the plural form a pitcher as “pitcher’s” in the third sentence.

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    • Don’t forget Kozan “Makes the Water Smooth”, that’s an awesome Japanese pitcher.

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    • rustydude says:

      More from the grammar police. Title should probably use the pronoun I, instead of we, unless the body spells out who the “we” is, e.g. is it Fangraphs community, Fangraphs front pagers, MLB General Managers, Scouts, etc.?

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      • Well-Beered Englishman says:

        Title could have been “Let’s Stop…” if we’re really being pedantic arses about it.

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      • Baltar says:

        The “we” is you and Jake.

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      • JimThome says:

        no you are wrong.
        the damned article implies that he is no longer under rating them.

        we is people who observe and talk/write/think about baseball. this is so obvious. the ‘we’ implies that it’s time for a general shift in thinking on a whole region of pitchers. it’s dramatic. ‘I’ would make it sound like a boy in a basement on his computer. nobody wants to read about that.

        we have grammar rules in order to effectively communicate information. not to create barriers around creative expression.

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    • Jaack says:

      I’m going to bet there are far more typos in the comments section than in the article. Unless you like typos.

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      • Jim says:

        Commenters aren’t publishing work – just commenting on the work of others. No matter how compelling your argument, nobody will take what you have to say seriously if it’s filled with grammatical errors.

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        • Simon says:

          Speak for yourself. Most of us decide whether to take something seriously based on content.

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    • Westside guy says:

      That post really added substance to the discussion – thank you.

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    • JayT says:

      I truly love Jake’s comment. How could somebody write such a mangled comment when complaining about the author’s grammar? This might be the finest comment I’ve ever read.

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    • Baltar says:

      I immediately went back to the first paragraph to see this unbelievable error, but it had already been corrected.
      That ruined my whole day, as I have nothing better to do than make a big deal out of very minor errors.

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  2. Anthony says:

    Shintaro Fujinami plays for the Tigers in the NPB might be a big deal one day in the MLB has some raw stuff, just turned 19 in April.

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  3. Jonathan says:

    Maybe it’s time we just accepted that Daisuke Matsuzaka was not as good of a pitcher as some of us had assumed.

    *Sigh* What a waste… At least he contributed in the 2007 WS.

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  4. JayT says:

    Is it really even fair to call Matsuzaka a failure? I mean, the Sox definitely didn’t get their money’s worth, but it wasn’t because of performance, it was because of injuries. When He was actually playing, he was an above average starter.

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    • Joe says:

      On behalf of Red Sox Nation I would like to say that given expectations and overall investment, Dice-K was a collosal failure.

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      • Doug Lampert says:

        Same as Barry Zito for the Giants in a way, Matuzaka was a decent third starter and came pretty close to earning his salary.

        He didn’t come close to earning back that posting fee. It was a waste of money even though he was productive for three years.

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        • Bullpen Bully says:

          Barry Zito is a decent fifth starter who doesn’t come close to earning his salary.

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      • JayT says:

        My point is that he was a failure because of health, not because of performance. You can’t look at his stats and say that Asian pitchers can’t cut it in the US. Looking at Dice-K and saying that Japanese pitchers are risky just wouldn’t make much sense, unless you think they are more likely to get injured. When he was healthy, he pitched well.

        That’s in comparison to someone like Zito, who was paid to be an ace, but has been a below average pitcher almost every year of his Giants career.

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        • Doug Lampert says:

          Matzusaka cost $100,000,000+ for six years, he was not worth a pro-rata share of that on his BEST year for the Sox, his good years were as a good third starter and he was being paid as an ace at the time.

          He failed to earn back what he cost based on performance even when healthy (and he had 3 healthy years), the problem wasn’t injuries, it was that that posting fee was simply too high.

          If he’d never been injured he wouldn’t have been a good investment (unless you assume that the 2007 world series doesn’t happen without him and follow the flags fly forever philosophy of baseball decision making).

          Both pitchers were well above replacement most years, and hence not released, both were horrible disappointments to anyone who expected them to be worth their pay. Zito pitched like a back-end guy, healthy Dice-K like a number 3, but they were both being paid like aces, beating replacement, but failing to perform like aces.

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        • Synovia says:

          Matsuzaka was an elite pitcher one year, and a better than average one the year before, and then he was pretty much never not hurt.

          20M a year is just 4 wins. Daisuke was worth just under 10 wins in his first two years, or $50M.

          If he’d been healthy, he’d have made the $100M easy.

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        • JayT says:

          In his three healthy years, and it’s hard to call them healthy since he only started 25 games in 2010, he put up 9.7 WAR.
          Figure somewhere around $4.5-$5 million per win, and that means in those healthy years he was worth about $45 million. In other words, about half what they paid him for six years. Without injury, it’s easy to see him making good on the contract + posting fee.

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        • evo34 says:

          How is having a league-average ERA considered pitching “well”? He was thoroughly mediocre when healthy. And two things to note: no pitchers are 100% healthy over 6 seasons, so saying “if healthy” is not terribly useful. The expected DL time is already factored into contract prices, and he actually he wasn’t hurt all that much more often than the avg. pitcher is.

          Secondly, even when healthy, he was so inefficient (pitches/PA) that there is no way he ever would have put up the ~225 IP normally associated with a full season of ace pitching. I.e., the guy put strain on the bullpen that is not being captured by WAR.

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        • Bullpen Bully says:

          You can’t look at any one pitcher’s performance and say it’ll be representative of a group the pitcher is a part of. That’s rudimentary, primitive thinking and I’d like to believe that nobody is going to assume that Asian pitchers are all the same because hey look at what that one guy did.

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        • JayT says:

          Seriously evo? Tommy John Surgery is “factored in” to a contract?
          Dice-K had a 3.8 and 3.4 war in his age 26 and 27 seasons. That’s the makings of an ace, but obviously his career was derailed by injury.

          I agree that he didn’t live up to his contract, but he wasn’t a failure. That would be like calling someone like Mark Prior a failure.

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        • evo34 says:

          How many starts do you think the average pitcher misses in 6 seasons on a roster? Whatever than number is (and it’s not small) is by definition already factored into contract rates. No one in baseball “expects” a pitcher to put up 1200 innings over 6 years.

          As for the “makings of an ace” routine…how many aces put up a 5+ BB/9 rate in their second season? The guy never resembled an ace, even in his “best” season.

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      • McNulty says:

        Boston has some of the finest baseball fans in all the land, but when they refer to themselves as “Red Sox” nation, I can’t help but throw up in my mouth a little bit.

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        • Baltar says:

          When somebody first used that “nation” thing, it was mildly clever. Now it is nauseating.

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      • B N says:

        On behalf of myself, a Red Sox fan, I have never been a fan of the term “Red Sox Nation” nor especially “BoSox” (cringe). I also agree he was a bit of a failure, though not a colossal one. I’m willing to bet that Lackey’s lost value far exceeds Daisuke’s moving forward. At least Matsuzaka put up 2 solid years and helped win a championship. Making back less than half your purchase price is never great, but I prefer to think about the good times…

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    • NBarnes says:

      This was one of my reactions to the piece, too. Daisuke wasn’t OMG good like he had the potential to be, but he was very very far from a flop. He was good to very good until the injury train hit him, and better pitchers have been hit harder and fell futher due to similar issues. The Sox are probably much happer with what they got at the price they got it at than the Giants are/were with Zito or the Meta are/were with Santana.

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      • Ben says:

        Basically his career went to hell after the ’09 world baseball classic. He contributed to the ’07 WS and was very good in ’08, then he got injured after the WBC and was never the same.

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      • evo34 says:

        He was mildly above-average for two seasons (#2 looked great due to BABIP magic), then sucked. Those are the facts.

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  5. Sick Ducker says:

    I think we can all agree it is probably a better value to pluck a high performing Japanese pitcher for your team than an aging/injured veteran in the twilight of his career.

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  6. TKDC says:

    It seems silly to not look at the past few years. If you looked at pitchers’ whose names begin with the letter [BLANK], I bet one of the 26 would be doing fairly outstanding this year, but that doesn’t mean anything. Now obviously, there are some rational reasons for why Asian pitchers might be undervalued, which is why more evidence would help.

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    • Asian guys with first names beginning with Y are having great seasons thus far. I see your point.

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    • evo34 says:

      Good point. This article is lacking. Essentially: “A bunch of [insert race] pitchers are off to a hot start collectively. Therefore, that race is a much better investment than investments in non-[insert race] prospects”. I hope they can get Pitt to play Cameron in the movie.

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      • Simon says:

        No, it’s illustrating a point. It hypothesises that a particular skill set common in Asian pitchers that have been successful in MLB is undervalued.

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        • TKDC says:

          The point is, if this were true, it would likely hold for 2012 and 2011 as well. Unless there is some reason that all of the sudden in 2013 something drastically changed. But if you looked at a larger sample, I severely doubt that you would find the aggregate to look anything like Justin Verlander, so the article would not have as much pop.

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        • evo34 says:

          No. The author claims:

          “the performance of pitchers from these countries far outstrips anything we see from pitching prospects getting promoted through the minor leagues here in America. Of the nine active pitchers on the list, you could make a legitimate All-Star case for six of them right now. The success rate of this crop is absurdly high. ”

          He is not making a hypothesis; he is stating as fact that performance of Asian imports in general “outstrips” that of non-Asians, and that this particular crop is made up of mostly All-Stars. The backing for these outrageous generalizations: 5 weeks of one season.

          Well done.

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  7. Ben says:

    How many of those guys are new to the league? What happens when the league figures them out? That’s more interesting. Obviously Darvish, Kuroda, and Uehara are not new.

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    • tbjfan says:

      You could say the same thing about any MLB pitcher, after they completed their rookie season.

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    • TiensyGohan says:

      The names are hyperlinks to the players’ stats. It’s very easy to figure out how many of those guys are new, if you don’t already know who guys like Darvish or Kuroda are.

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  8. David says:

    Usually, a Japanese player is on the plus side of 30 when he arrives in the Major Leagues, unless the team wants to pay the posting fee. So we’re missing out on some of their peak years. Consider that when evaluating the stats of Japanese pitchers.

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    • MLB Rainmaker says:

      Great point, but also germane to the argument re:value. MLB-teams are missing the best years of most of these pitchers, so guys are much more likely to suffer injury or lose velocity than improve on past performances — you’d look at any other 32-33 pitcher the same way. Yes they are performing, but maybe not on a risk adjusted basis.

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  9. Pat G says:

    Shelby Miller love!

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  10. Dr.Rockzo says:

    I am not sure I understand what the purpose this article actually attempts to make. How are the pitchers being undervalued? Is it overall representation of Asian pitchers on MLB teams?

    Of the nine you listed four at relievers. One of whom has throw four innings, while another has thrown three. I don’t doubt Fujikawa will be a fine reliever, but using as an example of underrated Asian pitchers when he has four major league innings?

    Is the purpose of the article is to express that Japanese pitchers have succeeded without the same type of big profile of other scouted pitchers, such as big fastball, then shouldn’t this focus on Japanese pitchers who have succeeded without them? Darvish clearly doesn’t fit into this same underrated model. He was super hyped for at least a year before he was even posted, and a common name for a couple years prior to that.

    The rest of the pitchers are fine, but not these absolute dominate starters. Kuroda is certainly the best of them, but the others have 200 MLB innings tops? How often are you including relievers as the “undervalued” pitchers. Even including the ones not mentioned like Sasaki, how often do they come from Japan and have contracts paying them more than the minimum? Given how often bullpens are created using failed starters in the minors or other incredibly cheap options, are you advocating going to Asia to find guys who do not necessarily profile as top of the line relievers and given them 2+ million a year to find out? That seems like horrible use of resources.

    The point seems to be that despite having success in Asia, Asian pitchers rarely get the chance to prove they can also succeed in MLB as many Latin/US players get. I have to think part of this is cost. People like Milone/Fister/Shields were effectively already paid for when their teams had them in their system. They were not paying a posting fee THEN salary. They were not giving out a 6-10m contract over 2-3 years for a guy they didn’t know how they would do. Those guys cost about 400k. Those guys had been controlled by they system for the previous 3+ years. Those guys were cheaper than Asian alternatives and the team had more history of dealing with them.

    Isn’t it dramatically better use of resources to spend less money on an asset you are more familiar with than to take a chance on something more expensive?

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    • Shao says:

      I don’t see any of them is outperforming expectation either. Most scouting reports believe Darvish is an Ace, and Ryu and Chen could be a solid No3, and Uehara could be a No5 or effective RP if they can overcome mental and culture challenge.
      Iwakuma and Kuroda are different cases from others. They are not the same pitchers as they were in Japan. They didn’t, or almost all the pitchers in Japan don’t throw 2-seamer. They learned and master 2-seamer in the US at age 30+. That is something too unusual to blame on scouts. Tazawa is absolute a US farm product. Except for race, I don’t see any points you should group him with the others in the list.

      For success rate, the cost of bringing a player from Asian is much higher than from anywhere in America. That’s why clubs only sign elite players, and that’s why it is not fair to compare 9 elite players with the entire population of minor leaguers in terms of success rate. I don’t think any clubs underrates players in Asia. It is the cost issue to make the clubs only bring truly outstanding players. The cost issue is due to these three countries are all economic-developed and have their own, mature professional baseball league.

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      • Phillie697 says:

        I think that IS the point of the article. That’s right, we are picking the best of the best out of the Asian crop right now. The question is, if it’s working, why the hell are we not doing more of it, and instead still willing to play the Russian roulette with the crapshoot that is minor league pitchers. You just “criticized” the article by agreeing with its main point.

        Are you kidding me? If you told me, I can send a scout or two to Asia, bring over nine of them identified by the scouts, and end up with an entire rotation and a couple of dominant relievers, you’re telling me that’s not a good haul? On what planet do you get that kind of success rate in the minor leagues of any MLB team?

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        • Dr.Rockzo says:

          He is picking the specific people who did succeed and ignoring the overall cost associated with them or failures. What is the cost of Darvish vs Kershaw?

          The point appears to be that Asian pitchers are under represented, just look at how successful they can be when given a chance! The support is that Asian pitchers typically do not fit the same sort of scouting profiles that western pitchers hold. This is a valid point. The problem I have is that Darvish specifically DOES fit the typical scouting profile.

          Iwakuma, Ryu, and Chen have combined for about 5 wins over 400 innings? I am not going to say they will fail, but those three are 32, 26, and 27 and are decent but not spectacular. Chen is about 3.6m, Ryu is about 3.3 and Iwakuma is 6.5.

          The problem is not that Asian pitchers are not good enough to play, the problem is that it is basically like signing a double-A player to a 3 year 12million dollar contract. That is also not including potential posting fees. The Rangers are effectively paying 107million dollars for 6 years of Darvish. That is about an average of 18m a year. He is also the player that most fits the traditional scouting profile which the article indicates is not necessary to success.

          The point is not that there aren’t good pitchers in Asian who do not get the chance, there obviously are good pitchers in Asia that do not get the chance. The point is that Asian pitchers are more expensive relative to a player in the minors who is already in the system.

          If a team needs a guy to throw about 170-180 innings and they have a choice between a potential Asian pitcher who will cost around 10-15m dollars over 2-3 years, or a guy in the minors who will cost 450k for each of the next 3 years, which is the better choice? The minor leaguer also has bonus years of control which could cost about as much as the Asian pitcher total, but get 6+ years out of him.

          You can’t look at someone like Darvish while making an article about how there are Asian pitchers who can provide value despite not meeting the traditional scouting profile.

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        • Phillie697 says:

          If you think that the success rate of AA pitchers making it to the majors, nevermind being good, is 50%, then I would find some credence to your analysis. Except they are not. Sure Asians cost more, but so far they also proved to be a better bet as well, which makes sense because it’s a relatively untapped market for major league talent, and refined ones at that due to having an organized system over there. There are thousands of minor league players, and less than 20 Asian pitchers who have been given a shot in the majors EVER. You’re telling me you think that’s somehow about the right ratio?

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        • Dr.Rockzo says:

          I can try this again.

          Article point, there are Asian pitchers who do not get the chance to play in MLB because they do not fit the typical profile of an MLB pitcher.

          The final paragraph is the best debate point against the purpose of the article as a whole. It mentions Shields/Fister/Milone as atypical pitcher profile guys who were given a chance and have done well. This is the point, teams have guys that can fit this sort of awkward maybe they can be slightly useful for 2-3 years profile. Why pay 10+ million dollars to a Japanese free agent when you can find pitchers who are probably about the same value for 500k and no multi year guarantee?

          The issue isn’t if quality Japanese pitchers can be found. The issue is if it is worth PAYING MORE for that same chance because of another league pushing the cost of those players higher.

          Bartolo Colon is signed for 3million dollars for a one year deal. That is less overall cost than any of these Asian pitchers. Darvish and Kuroda are obvioulsy better, but they are also dramatically more expensive. Age and history are big reasons why no one will give him a multi year deal, but if he shows up and blows up there is minimal loss to the team.

          The issue is do people take the risk signing a non-traditional profile pitcher with minimal quality opposition to a multi-year deal worth upwards of 10+ million dollars? The other option is the rotating door of guys like Colon who you can get one one year deals or even minor league contracts just to see if they can be useful at all.

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        • B N says:

          On a side note, which does not seem to be addressed, the MLB does make at least a small effort not to step on the toes of the Japanese league. Mainly, that consists of only grabbing one or two players via the posting system every year and grabbing older vets who hit free agency. In rarer cases, the US sidesteps the Japanese league by signing amateur players (which makes the Japanese teams quite grumpy, as they are cut out of the deal entirely).

          If the MLB was getting a great deal on players from Japan, teams could just raise their posting fees until it became a worse deal. So then, the only potential “unexploited market” consists of the older free agents. There is definitely some value there (Saito put up more surplus than almost any recent import in his first contract), but it’s not like you’re going to strike gold on those guys. They’re more likely to be good relief role players. Which, by the way, beats trading for guys like Melancon. But it is hardly such a huge inefficiency to warrant hype.

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        • Phillie697 says:

          You’re harping on a point he was speculating about. He speculated that’s why the Asian pitchers do better, because of their non-typical profile. No one knows that for sure. What we DO know for sure is that so far, Asian pitchers, for whatever reason, are out-performing minor league pitchers as a whole, which means teams need to look at the Asian market more as the next untapped efficiency in the market. You, instead, used a point of speculation as a reason why we should just look within the existing market, ignoring empirical evidence. I like to stick to facts.

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    • Baltar says:

      Where are the grammar and spelling police when you need them?

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  11. Casey McLain says:

    It’s very interesting to compare these guys to Verlander, but it’s worth pointing out that these guys are combining to make more than $48 million in salary, not including a prorated portion of Ryu or Darvish’s posting fee, or the original negotation with Iwakuma before his injury was known. Also taking up nine roster spots, and likely due for a regression as a group. Glad this hasn’t turned into an unnessecarily controversial session of ESPN-style debate in the comments or in the post itself, though.

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    • Phillie697 says:

      Yu Darvish cost the Rangers $108M for 6 years. Verlander signed a 7/$180M contract, and Cole Hamels signed a 6/$144M contract. Yeah, sure, Asian pitchers sure are costing more alright.

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      • Jason H says:

        Yu Darvish cost $108M before throwing a pitch in MLB. Verlander and Hamels had track records showing them to be among the very best pitchers in MLB when they signed their deals. …not quite the same thing.

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      • Mike says:

        Verlander and Hamels both signed contracts after extended periods of success in the Major Leagues. Injuries and decline happen to everyone and are very difficult to predict. But, these guys proved over an extended period of time that they could play at a high level in the Major Leagues. Darvish got his contract before ever throwing an in game pitch using an MLB regulation sized baseball. Just a slight difference in the risk assessment there.

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        • Phillie697 says:

          And both of you JUST did exactly what the article is accusing you of doing, obviously assigning more risks to Darvish just because he hasn’t pitched in MLB. Nevermind that the Rangers will get comparable performance out of Darvish as the Tigers would out of Verlander and Philly out of Hamels at a fraction of the cost.

          If we all had a damn crystal ball, this would be easy, duh.

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        • Phillie697 says:

          Oh, not to mention, Yu Darvish was 25 when he signed, so he’s actually MORE valuable than Verlander and Hamels. Where do you get to sign a 25 year old ace if you don’t find them in Asia?

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        • Casey McLain says:

          This shouldn’t be judged on the same scale as established big leaguers, rather, prime age international free agents from other countries IMO.

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        • TiensyGohan says:

          The ball is the same size.

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        • Dr.Rockzo says:

          Verlander at 26 signs 5-80.

          Darvish at 25 signed what is effectively 6-107.

          Using Darvish in this article defeats the entire purpose. Darvish with no history in the league was more expensive than a similarly aged Verlander. The Rangers did not give him less money in an actual contract because of his lack of history, they gave him less money than Verlander because of the price they had to pay to sign a deal with him.

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        • Jason H says:

          Phillie,

          The article is not arguing that Japanese pitchers should be paid as if they are established MLB pitchers (at least I hope it’s not!).

          Also, the only actual value of youth is on the trade market. Darvish isn’t worth more than Verlander or Hamels just because he is 25. He will be worth more if he pitches better. ….being young might make him more likely to do so.

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        • TiensyGohan says:

          Verlander signed for 5-80 because he was under team control. Using Verlander as an example serves no purpose, nor does talking about AA players who have to be drafted into your organizations.

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        • Casey McLain says:

          Darvish wasn’t under team control but had only one team to negotiate with. Not entirely opposites.

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        • TiensyGohan says:

          No, Verlander’s 5-80 and Darvish’s 6-56 were signed under two entirely different situations. Verlander could have commanded a much higher salary on the open market. Darvish very likely couldn’t, or he wouldn’t have signed it. He had the alternative of continuing to play in Japan for about the same amount of money except in his home country where he is a superstar.

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        • Casey McLain says:

          Didn’t say they were the same. They are not completely dissimilar though. Each includes a substantially reduced amount of leverage.

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        • Phillie697 says:

          Any team could have posted the posting fee. After the fact Darvish may have had only one team to negotiate with, but at the start, any team had a chance to win that right. It’s not the EXACT same thing as Verlander and Hamels, but it’s pretty damn close. Essentially, you’re getting a younger version of Verlander and Hamels, but cheaper AND will not decline as much, if at all, over the length of the deal as Verlander and Hamels surely will. Rangers are winning out like bandits.

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      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        What?! An established major league ace cost more to sign than an elite pitching prospect?! No way!

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        • Phillie697 says:

          Again, doing exactly what the article is accusing of doing, undervaluing the pitchers from Asia. What makes you think Darvish was “only” an elite pitching prospect? Just because he hasn’t pitched in MLB? Really?

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    • rawwr says:

      It’s also worth pointing out that the $48 million is the total salary for a full year of pitching, when the article is looking at the stats from ~20% of the current season, so they’ve only been paid ~$9.5 million thus far. That should be the number you compare to Verlander’s $25 million per season.

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  12. Jason H says:

    Quite a presumptuous title!

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  13. marlins12 says:

    I don’t understand the point of the article either. How are these guys undervalued?

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    • Za says:

      How often have you heard about guys like Iwakuma and Tazawa despite their success? Kuroda’s been Mat Latos from 2010-2013 and better than Yovani Gallardo and Edwin Jackson, but you don’t see him get the respect he deserves.

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      • Wes says:

        Tazawa is a reliever who isn’t a closer, and Iwakuma pitched half a season for a terrible team that draws few fans. Of course they don’t get much attention.

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      • marlins12 says:

        Iwakuma pitches in Seattle. How many players from Seattle, with the exception of Felix, get any recognition? Tom Wilhelmson has been one of the better closers in baseball since taking over last year, yet you rarely ever hear his name being discussed as a top closer either.

        Tazawa has been a 6th/7th inning guy up until today when he was promoted to closer (and many are talking about him now). How many middle relievers are talking about on a consistent basis? That literally has nothing to do with him being Asian.

        I do agree that Kuroda is underrated. The only one on the list that I agree with. Although bringing up Edwin Jackson doesn’t help your case because Edwin Jackson is just another guy who’s underrated. A lot of analysts seem to think he’s still the same guy who once pitched for the Devil Rays. Edwin Jackson, himself, is rarely called positive things like “innings eater,” which he’s been for several years now.

        These things basically have nothing to do with being Asian.

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      • Bobby Ayala says:

        And we hear about Darvish all the time, although that’s because he transcends these comparisons. If you remove him from the above list, “We” appear to be “underrating” these players quite a bit less.

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      • B N says:

        Beats me. I love Tazawa. I’m very glad he’s back after suffering a pretty unfortunate injury after starting off well last year. I think he may eventually follow a Bronson Arroyo trajectory, settling into a solid but not dominant starter.

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  14. Eminor3rd says:

    Sounds like half of them turn out poorly. I think what you’ve shown is the it is erroneous to expect them to be busts, but it looks like there will still be a discount given for the risk that the team accepts by transporting a talented player into a new league.

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  15. ALEastbound says:

    Remember when the Jays signed Darvish? Sigh…

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  16. James says:

    Ask any Tigers fan about Bruce Chen and they will slip into a fugue state.

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  17. JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

    Question: is Darvish still Dice-K 2.0? If so, does that mean that we should expect Daisuke to be on the fast track to the Cy Young soon, or that Darvish will be pitching in AAA for the Indians soon?

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    • B N says:

      We’ll know in the 2014 season, won’t we? After all, Daisuke looked pretty good for his first two years… ;)

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  18. Mike Green says:

    “I don’t think this is so much a race issue as it is a skill valuation issue. But, at some point, we have to reevaluate what kinds of skills we’re placing an emphasis on, if pitchers with a different type of skillset are regularly outperforming our expectations.”

    Good point. There is a legitimate question about pitcher health in MLB in light of the differing rotation patterns/opposition in Japanese baseball. The concern doesn’t really apply to relievers and someone like Kuroda in late career. We’ll see how Darvish’s arm holds up, but you really need a larger sample to draw any firm conclusions.

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  19. DJG says:

    “However, I do think it is fair to ask whether MLB teams are applying an inappropriately high discount rate to pitchers from these leagues.”

    I did a (very) quick and dirty, back of the envelope calculation and got that, including posting fees, in the first contract received by these pitchers (the one that brought them to MLB) they were paid about $4.27 million per bWAR, on average (2013 prorated).

    Since the sample is biased towards good player and doesn’t include the busts who are no longer in the league (if you include Kuroda, I think you have to include Kawakami who came over after Kuroda) I don’t think the evidence of a significant discount exists.

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    • B N says:

      How far back did you run the numbers? And for what guys? Was it just the 9 included here? Because my calculations showed a significantly higher $/WAR (but only included pitchers from Japan signed from 2000-2012).

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  20. Realist says:

    Just dont let them drive. Please.

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    • yeah says:

      Phew, I thought for a second there I was going to read through a comment section on an article mentioning race on the internet without encountering a blatantly racist comment.

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    • Jake says:

      If you think thats wacist, then you just dont live in a city with any Asians.
      Im Asian, and Im terrified whenever I see another one behind the wheel… especially if its an Asian woman!

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      • chuckb says:

        No, Jake. It’s still racist regardless of your race or where you live.

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      • yeah says:

        well its true that woman can’t drive either, and i understand why you wouldnt want most asians driving, but its still racist.

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        • yeah says:

          It’s weird to me that someone else is using my username to make me look bad I guess? Anyway obviously the above “yeah” is not me.

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      • B N says:

        Whatever. My wife is an Asian woman and she drives excellently, having criss-crossed the country multiple times without incident and parallel parked in most major US cities. I’m also relatively certain that if she read this comment, you’d have good reason to be terrified to see her on the road, but more for her sharp wit than her driving skills.

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  21. BubbaNoTrubba says:

    Cameron, why are you bunching “Asian” players together as a unity? Asia is the biggest continent in the world, stretches all the way from Turkey through Afghanistan, Russia, India Malaysia all the way to Japan.

    Bunching together “Asian” players is similar to say “American” players and thereby include everyone from Venezuela and South America to north Canada.

    Canadian pitchers and Venezuelan pitchers have as much in common as Korean and Japanese pitchers. Two entirely different countries.

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    • FBI Surveillance Van says:

      But but but Obama is president. Racism is over. Will you libs ever be satisfied?

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      • Johnny Come Lately says:

        Only “libs” know how big Asia is?

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        • FBI Surveillance Van says:

          Not *only* libs. I’d say like 17 to 1, though. If I was being… conservative. (HA!)

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        • Bab says:

          I love libs. *Someone* has to make my coffee the right way.

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        • B N says:

          According to recent polls, yes. Only “libs” know how big Asia is. Unfortunately, only 50% of “libs” know that. ;) Remedial geography for all!

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    • Johnny Come Lately says:

      The sample size of 13 players, 9 pitchers was too big? We need to divvy that up some more?

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    • Jason H says:

      I’d just like to point out that there is no continent of “Asia”. The content is Eurasia. Europeans invented the continent of “Europe”, despite the obvious fact that there is no geographic justification for it, based upon nothing except for their racism.

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      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        Tectonic plates disagree with you.

        You might have heard India called “the subcontinent?”

        Same deal.

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        • Jason H says:

          I was unaware we define continents based upon tectonic plates. …but even if we did, the Eurasian plate is one of them, so tectonic plates are not exactly in your favor here.

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        • Jason H says:

          …besides, Europeans deciding “Europe” was its own continent predates the discovery of plate tectonics by a long while.

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        • Shlum says:

          India is called the ‘subcontinent’ because they love cold cut combos. Common knowledge.

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        • Cool Lester Smooth says:

          We do, but you’re right. I guess I just assumed that since NA and SA are separate continents due to plate tectonics, the same went for Eurasia.

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        • Jason H says:

          Plate tectonics was only worked out in the 1950’s and 60’s. I’m not that old, but I took geology in college from a prof who, himself, took introduction to geology prior to the widespread acceptance of plate tectonics. Continents were defined well before the 1950’s (mostly as large contiguous land masses). Plate tectonics explained why the continents are the way they are, but came about well after continents were already defined. If we were to strictly define continents geologically, Europe would be a small peninsula of Eurasia, and India would be its own continent. While many people are starting to do away with Europe as a separate continent (my field of evolutionary biology commonly uses Eurasia, for example), no one considers India its own continent.

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    • chuckb says:

      The players’ races or ethnicities are not at all the point of Dave’s article. Asia’s size is irrelevant to the discussion. He’s obviously referring to pitchers who have grown up playing in leagues in Asia rather than the U.S., Canada, or Latin America. It doesn’t matter what their ethnicities are, only that MLB scouts know less about them (because they’ve been pitching in Asia) than they do pitchers in American high schools, colleges, and professional organizations. If these pitchers are undervalued it’s because our scouts know less about them because they’re from Asia, not because of their race or ethnicity.

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      • BubbaNoTrubba says:

        This is a direct quote from Camerons article:

        “Given their complete dominance of Major League Baseball right now, it’s probably time to recalibrate our expectations for pitchers from that region of the world.”

        It seems to me that Cameron is generalizing and claiming that “Asian” pitchers have a common denominator, a quality.

        I don’t think twice whether Kuroda is Japanese or American, all I know is that he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball right now.

        And so is Clayton Kershaw, Verlander Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez.

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  22. Bab says:

    Darvish already almost to 2.0 WAR on the season. If he keeps this up than he makes a run for Carlton’s 1972 season at 12.1 (for post-1920s players). That’s pretty nuts.

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    • yeah says:

      WAR doesn’t typically only rise throughout a season, some outings will probably lower his overall WAR.

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      • Bab says:

        Hence ‘if he keeps this up.’ Ifs are important.

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        • yeah says:

          I’m just pointing out that that’s extremely unlikely so I wouldn’t get too excited yet.

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        • Bab says:

          @yeah

          Don’t piss on my parade.

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        • yeah says:

          Fair enough, I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer I’d love to see Darvish do something amazing this season. Hell, he could easily pass 300Ks this year, which would be awesome enough in itself.

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    • BubbaNoTrubba says:

      Look bro, I am a huge Darvish fan.

      I am positive that he’ll win the Cy Young award this year, he’s the number one pitcher in the AL, and will continue to be so.

      But I am also quite sure he won’t get to 300 strikeouts or match Carlton’s 1972 season.

      That doesn’t mean he’ll suck. He’ll still have a heck of a year. But keep the expectations to a reasonable level.

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  23. B N says:

    I think this analysis is somewhat silly, if you can call it an analysis. The sample suffers from extreme selection bias: guys who have pitched well enough to stay in the majors after coming over from Japan. Obviously, it excludes other pitchers who were paid but were not good enough to continue playing. By the same rate, I could say something like “Top prospects are way underrated” by excluding ones who flamed out in their first half a year and never played since.

    If you wanted to figure out if pitchers imported from Asia were underrated… why not just tally up all their WAR and compare it with their salaries? Is that some incredible difficult thing to do for like… 20 guys?

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    • B N says:

      Okay, I just did a very basic analysis by tallying up how much previous Japanese League pitchers since 2000 (inclusive) cost during their first contract (including posting fees). 26 such players were found. Then, I looked at how much WAR they provided. The average was about $6.9m/WAR. Given that the number ranges from 2000 to the present, with the $/WAR being much lower earlier, I would be hard-pressed to state that teams have under-invested in players from Asia based on those stats.

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      • B N says:

        A few other notes. I excluded 2013 as it is not yet complete and WAR values may decrease as the year goes on (April ERA is typically lower than later in the season). I do also know that I did not include other Asian league players (e.g., Korean and Chinese players), but I am doubtful they would be the deciding factor to make these figures much different.

        Assuming values of $5m/WAR, the following players provided the most surplus value: Saito, Kuroda, Okajima, Otsuka, Takahashi, Darvish (all with more than $5m in surplus value total for their contracts).

        The worst busts were: Matsuzaka, Igawa, Kawakami, Ishii, Yabuta, and Kobayashi (all with more than $5m in negative value over their contracts).

        To note, most of the lost value has been to a few major busts (Matsuzaka and Igawa amount to approximately $100m in losses). However, no player signed from Japan at least put up more than $15m in surplus value for their first contract (though Saito came quite close). However, by this standard, only 10 players produced positive value.

        Given that about 60% of players produced net negative value and teams paid almost $7m/WAR, it’s hard to support Cameron’s argument that the league is underrating such pitchers. Even looking at only pitchers who started in 2008 on (which is seriously cherry-picking, given that we’re almost intentionally excluding the two biggest losses), we’re still showing $5.35m/WAR (about market rate).

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        • Shao says:

          There have never been any Chinese players in MLB history. All the players born in Taiwan believe they are Taiwanese, not Chinese.

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        • B N says:

          @Shao: You are correct. I was speaking loosely of the region, which includes the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan). Additionally, Wikipedia at least thinks you are incorrect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Kingman (though he was a position player, not a pitcher). However, if you would like to further qualify other parts of Asia which play baseball, most (if not all) of the Korean players in the MLB have been from South Korea, if that is important. ;)

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        • B N says:

          With that said, Kingman, despite being born in China, was not likely Asian by the standard genetic markers one would focus on. Then again, neither is Darvish in many ways. (shrug)

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  24. JimPalmer says:

    Wada will be the best of the bunch.

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  25. John Morgan says:

    I think this analysis suffers from survivor bias. The data set should include all pitchers from (Southeast) Asian countries, including those that flamed out. Instead of writing the “lingering memory of failures like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa, Hideki Irabu, and Kenshin Kawakami still loom in everyone’s memories,” but excluding them from the data set–like the oft misinterpreted “exception the proves the rule,” the data set should be expanded to include those players.

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    • B N says:

      This. And you will see that in my comment above, those players have a huge impact on the analysis (well, not Irabu, as he was too old).

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    • TiensyGohan says:

      You guys are missing the point of Cameron’s article. What he’s saying is
      1. look at these guys that are playing right now, they are doing pretty well;
      2. some of them have a skillset that were traditionally overlooked (Ryu)
      3. maybe some teams are exploiting Asian baseball as a market inefficiency by improving overseas scouting and going for guys like Ryu.

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      • Jason B says:

        “”You guys are missing the point of Cameron’s article. What he’s saying is

        1. look at these guys that are playing right now, they are doing pretty well;”

        Perhaps, but I would venture that BN’s analysis of 13 years of data is a little more robust and telling than one month’s worth, no?

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        • TiensyGohan says:

          Either you’re borderline illiterate or being intentionally obtuse. Cameron is suggesting that the teams have gotten better at finding value from Asian pitchers than in the years of Matsuzaka and Irabu. BN’s “analysis” in that context is pretty much meaningless. You may or may not find the article interesting, but there is nothing to agree or disagree with as the article does not offer an analysis.

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        • B N says:

          @Teinsy: re:”Cameron is suggesting that the teams have gotten better at finding value from Asian pitchers” While there may indeed be value to be found among Asian players, nothing in the data beyond a tiny sample size indicates that teams are significantly better at identifying talent. If the hypothesis is “teams have gotten better since the Matsuzaka signing,” then the data somewhat indicates that (as my look at only post-2008 guys show). However, such an analysis is inherently flawed because it intentionally excludes the two biggest losses in value. Moreover, even when you exclude those two, more recent signings still show about $5/WAR (which is just about market value…). Dave might be suggesting it, and I agree there is some intuitive appeal, but I just don’t see the data to back it up.

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  26. NATS Fan says:

    Great Post! You are probably right. It is my view that the more top talent brought in from abroad the better for the game. Better both in the USA and abroad!
    I used to work in the Czech republic in the late 90s. They have a “professional” league. I would go and watch the BRNO team fairly often. That team had a guy from Panama that threw in the high 90s, but had no control. His games were real fun to watch! To quote Bull Durham: “16 strikeouts a new league record” ” 16 walks also a new league record”. Anyway the Brno Dragons had somehow recruited in Panama. Their is probably far more solid MLB talent outside the US than we know!

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  27. carramrod says:

    The Orioles also have Wada coming off the DL soon after having tommy john surgery last year. He was signed around the same time as chen on a higher annual contract and some thought he would be better, so it’l be interesting to see how he does. Still unclear if he’s a starter or reliever.

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