The Fat Ichiro

A few weeks ago, Alex Remington published an article covering a Harvard study overweight baseball players. Had Harvard expanded their study to Japan, they could have included Ryoji Nakata, Japan’s portly rookie.

When Nagoya’s Chunichi Dragons drafted Nakata out of Asia University in the third round of last year’s NPB draft, he immediately took over as Japan’s roundest player. At a Fielder-esque 5’6 (171 cm), 260 lbs (118kg), Nakata inherited the distinction from Japan’s previous reigning heavyweight, Seibu’s Takeya Nakamura, who is comparatively svelte at 5’9 (175cm) and 224 lbs (102kg). Nakamura’s game matches his size: he’s a third baseman was a good first step, who has led Japan in home runs each of the last two seasons (46 and 48 respectively).

Nakata is different. He’s a first baseman, and lefthanded-hitter who relies on contact skills and strike zone control. In college, he was a gap hitter with a career slash line of .278/.355/.438, though this was dragged down by a horrible .102/.185/.184 Autumn 2008 season. You can get a sense of what he looks like at the plate in this spring training at bat against Orix reliever Daisuke Kato. Like many Japanese contact hitters, Nakata kind of turns himself towards first base on his follow through, which I think will make him vulnerable to NPB-level fastballs over the outside part of the plate. On the plus side though, he motors to second on the left fielder’s misplay, and advances to third on a sacrifice fly.

Skills aside, conditioning and stamina are the obvious concerns here. While Nakata appears to cover short distances surprisingly well enough, I doubt he’ll hold up over of the course of even a professional farm team season. He was visibly winded after running a sprint in a video I saw, and was finished a 4k run three laps behind his rookie teammates. And it will remain to be seen how the duration of the season affects his physique, and how that in turn affects his game.

So for me, putting it all together, Nakata has “pinch hitter” written all over him. He’s an unconventional player and it’ll be interesting to see how he develops with Chunichi’s farm team this season.

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

20 Responses to “The Fat Ichiro”

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  1. Vladman1327 says:

    This is a completely serious question (as in, I am not trying to be a jerk). Are sacrifice flies measured differently in Japan than the U.S.? In MLB, a sacrifice fly only occurs when a runner scores. Otherwise, it is just a flyout. Although, due to the more collective culture of Asian countries, it’s not inconceivable to think that advancing a runner is a productive event (albeit, an out nonetheless). It could have just been a mind gaffe, but the runner didn’t score, so it’s not a sac fly, is it?

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    • robbie says:

      Pretty sure that even in the good ol USA a sacrifice only means that you advance a runner. Even if the situation is a popout that moves the runner from first to second, it’s still a sacrifice hit.

      Think sac bunts. They rarely score a run but they are sac hits.

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      • Alireza says:

        That is left to the discretion of the official scorer. A player who hits behind a runner on a full swing and advances them will never get a sacrifice. Similarly, I have never seen a fly ball that didn’t result in a run scored as a sac fly, but as an out that advances the runner.

        I’ve actually seen Juan Pierre bunt a ball and advance the runner and not be given a sacrifice because the scorer correctly deduced that Pierre’s intent was to get a hit.

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      • Some plays are scored as “defensive indifference”. We see that in MLB too, notably on stolen bases. I haven’t noticed a difference between MLB and NPB in this regard.

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      • max says:

        A Sacrifice Fly can only be credited to a batter if a runner scores. And when that does happen, the batter does not get charged with an At-Bat. That is the MLB rule. I don’t know whether it is different in Japan.

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  2. dizzle says:

    But it’s all muscle!

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  3. rotorueter says:

    A 5’6″ first-baseman? Better have an infield with incredibly accurate arms.

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  4. Rut says:

    Couldn’t he DH in the Pacific League?

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  5. David says:

    I understand that Ichiro turns toward first base during his swing because it allows him to reach first base more quickly, but why do so many other players in Japan do the same unless they are groundball-speed guys like Ichiro? After watching the video of Nakata and seeing him do that, it looks like he is completely throwing off his swing and probably losing power while doing it.

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    • I agree. I think he’s going to struggle with outside fastballs until he fixes it. I’ve never seen a player of this size take that approach.

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    • Temo says:

      He’s 260 but runs like 240.

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    • joser says:

      Too many of them grew up watching (and imitating) Ichiro? I bet more than a few of them were holding their bat out with a straight arm while adjusting their sleeve for a good chunk of their development, too.

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  6. scatterbrian says:

    So he’s fat, not a right-fielder, not fast, and profiles as a pinch-hitter. How does he compare to Ichiro other than nationality?

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    • He’s a lefthanded contact hitter who points himself toward first base on the follow-through of his swing. The title is more meant to be an indication of the seemingly oxymoron-ish juxtaposition of his physique and his game, rather than a hard comparison to Ichiro.

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  7. KC says:

    I thought Pablo Sandoval was Fat Ichiro.

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  8. Raf says:

    Interesting field setup in the clip provided.

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