New NPB Imports for 2011

Last November, I asked you who should play in Japan this upcoming season. With NPB camps opening and offseason acquisitions basically complete. let’s take a look at who went over. Here’s the breakdown, using the categories I outlined in my original post:

* 6-7 starting pitchers — Brian Bannister (Yomiuri), Carlos Torres (Yomiuri), Anthony Lerew (Softbank), Kelvin Jimenez (Rakuten), Alfredo Figaro (Orix), Chan Ho Park (Orix), Evan MacLane (Orix), Bryan Bullington (Hiroshima), Brandon Mann (Yokohama), Clayton Hamilton (Yokohama)

* 7-8 relief pitchers — Jonathan Albaladejo (Yomiuri), Dennis Sarfate (Hiroshima), Byung-Hyun Kim (Rakuten), Bob McCrory (Chiba Lotte), Brent Leach (Yokohama)

* 2-3 1B/LF/DH types — Micah Hoffpauir (Nippon Ham), Mike Hessman (Orix)

* 2 third basemen — Chad Tracy (Hiroshima)

* an outfielder or two — Wladimir Balentien (Yakult)

* a utility guy — Joel Guzman (Chunichi)

* and possibly a 2B/3B type for Yomiuri — Rusty Ryal (will play 3B for Yomiuri)

Note: I’ve only included players that project as regulars in this summary. Players who were signed with development in mind, like Marcos Vechionacci, were not included.

Some follow up points on this list… Japanese teams signed more starters and fewer relievers than I had anticipated, but those numbers could flip depending on how MacLane, Mann and Hamilton are used by their teams. The other third base opening I identified was at Rakuten, who filled it by re-importing Akinori Iwamura. Rakuten also brought Kazuo Matsui back to Japan, after at eight-year tenure in MLB. I listed Guzman as a utility guy, but he could just as easily be categorized as a 1B/corner OF guy. For the last few seasons, Chunichi has carried a foreign-born utility player, but they’ve been more traditional middle infield types, rather than corner IF/OF players like Guzman.

Three players from my list of 15 signed in Japan this offseason: Torres, Hessman and Bullington. From the community, the prediction of Hoffpauir by commenter Michael turned out to be accurate.

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

10 Responses to “New NPB Imports for 2011”

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  1. Interesting both Bannister and Bullington have gone to Japan. Not that they have gone, but that they are both coming from the Royals, where, if I’m remembering correctly, they switched rotation spots a couple times.

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  2. Lee says:

    Hey Patrick,

    Ever been to Osaka? I just watched the No Reservations episode they filmed there… and it looks amazing. It sounds like their three favorite things to do are eat awesome japanese food, drink and watch baseball. It really made me want to visit.

    (ps – I guess I am just assuming you live in Japan – I think it read it on your blog? Though I may be confusing you with another hardcore japanese baseball fan/writer. If so, apologies!)

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    • Actually I used to live in/around Osaka. I live in California now.

      I did see that episode of No Reservations and I have been to Osaka Dome many times. It’s actually not a great place to watch a game. The other local stadiums, Koshien and Skymark Stadium, are outdoors and much nicer. Osaka is an ugly city, so eating, drinking and watching baseball are definitely the best things to do there.

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    • Max says:

      “awesome japanese food, drink and watch baseball”

      That, coupled with hot Japanese girls, sounds like heaven to me.

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  3. Ben says:

    Knowing essentially nothing about NPB, is an adequete MLBer or a AAAA type guy more or less guaranteed some measure of success in NPB, or is the level of competition such that a guy like that may end up looking like a scrub? Excluding players who are injured or have totally collapse, obviously.

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    • In nutshell, no. There are more factors involved that just the level of play though — cultural adjustment, getting a chance to play, strengths and weaknesses of the player, etc.

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      • Ben says:

        Ok, all makes sense–are there skills that play well in MLB that may not play so well in NPB? The cultural adjustment and opportunities to play thing makes total sense. A couple years ago when I was living in Israel I had the opportunity to see the Israeli Baseball League (all one season of it), and it was a lot of AA and AAA guys from the US, as well as some college guys. I got to meet a bunch of them at parties; the culture shock was a bit rude for a lot of them.

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  4. KJOK says:

    The biggest difference is the ballparks/baseballs, which greatly increases home runs for ‘mid level’ MLB sluggers, and conversely home runs allowed for MLB pitchers. So, being a fly ball pitcher will not play so well in NPB – those pitchers tend to not have any more success than they had in the U.S.

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  5. simon says:

    Actually, Japanese ballparks being small is a thing of the past. Teams mostly use recently built/renovated stadiums that are similar in dimension to MLB stadiums.

    However, the ball was definitely one of the factors. But that’s being unified this year to something that behaves a lot more like an MLB ball, since that’s similar to the standard international baseball.

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