Thoughts on Nishioka

This was originally written on November 9th. It has moved back to the front page as a reference for Twins fans who want to read about their newest potential acquisition.

On Monday, a story that had been circulating around the Japanese press re-emerged in the US, with Tim Kurkjian reporting that Chiba Lotte Marines shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka is due to be posted this week. The Japanese media heavily covered the story when it first broke, but died down during the Nippon Series, which the Marines won. Now that hot stove season has kicked into gear there’s more to talk about.

Lotte’s management is understandably not too keen on the idea of posting Nishioka. Lotte’s management has been has made somewhat inconsistent remarks in the media. Prior to Kurkjian’s article, team director Akira Ishikawa commented in Sports Hochi “personally, I want to say no to a posting. I can’t imagine how our competitiveness would go down in the case that he isn’t here. It’s just not something I can decide, so I’ll consult with our president [Ryuzo Setoyama, the guy Bobby Valentine had a bunch of disagreements with].” Ishikawa was more positive in a Sanspo piece published on the same day: “we haven’t developed a new shortstop, but I also feel like I want to make his dream come true. If I hear something that changes me mind I want to consider it.” The latest is that the posting hasn’t been agreed to, and the two sides will discuss it on the 10th.*

So what kind of player is Nishioka? A pretty good one. Nishioka is coming off of a phenomenal year, which netted him the distinction of being my pick for Pacific League MVP. I think the question that I’m likely to be asked is how he compares to Hiroyuki Nakajima. The simple answer is that I like Nakajima better, but I wouldn’t call you crazy if you made the case that Nishioka’s skills are more transferable to MLB.

In the field

Nishioka has two Gold Gloves on his resume, awarded in 2005 (as a second baseman) and 2007 (as a shortstop). My observation is that he really has great range, but his arm is a somewhat below average as a shortstop. Nishioka’s 2010 fielding results illustrate how traditional stats can be misleading — he lead Pacific League shortstops in errors with 19 and finished last in fielding percentage at .972, but he also had more assists (440) and put-outs (222) than anyone else (data taken from this Japanese blog). The fact that he played every inning in 2010 helps his accumulated stats, though. Overall though, Nishioka feels more like a second baseman to me in MLB. And the standard disclaimer about adapting from turf to natural grass applies.

At the plate

After a career filled with nagging wrist, knee and neck injuries, 2010 was the first season that Nishioka was healthy enough to play a full, 144-game schedule, and he responded with a career year. Notably, he lead the Pacific League in hits with 206, becaming the second Pacific Leaguer to surpass the 200 hit mark (the first was someone you’ve heard of). He posted a career highs in all three slash categories, at .346/.423/.482 easily eclipsing his previous bests of .300/.366/.463. Nishioka’s batting average was backed by a robust .389 BABIP, so regardless of what league he plays in next year, it will remain to be seen whether his 2010 performance was the result of luck, a genuine step forward, or good health. My guess is that a little of each was involved. Nishioka is not much of a home run threat, but has good speed and will leg out the occasional triple, and swiped 22 bases in 33 attempts last year. He is a switch hitter, who hit well from both sides of the plate last year (.387 as a righty, .329 as a lefty).

Posting

If the Marines do post him, he’ll have the benefit of being a part of a rather weak class of middle infield free agents. At 26 he has some upside left, but overall I see him as a Ryan Theriot/Chone Figgins type.

* Update: Nishioka requested to be posted on the 10th (JST). The discussion with the team will take place after the Japan-Korea Club Championship game, which is scheduled for November 13th.



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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.


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DrBGiantsfan
Guest
5 years 8 months ago

Right off the bat, I would think the Mariners, Giants and Angels would have to be very interested in this guy, possibly the Dodgers too.

Steven
Guest
Steven
5 years 8 months ago

Mariners interest probably depends on how well Nishioka could make the transition to MLB shortstop, and how concerned they are about his injury history. Long-term, they’re in good shape at 2nd with Dustin Ackley, and Figgins remains in place with a tough-to-move contract to play third if they can move Lopez.

Jim
Guest
Jim
5 years 8 months ago

Heh…not a bad idea if the M’s do bid on Nishioka, but the thought of bringing in another injury-prone player to play at SS gives me pause, as it would likely become “The Battle of the Injured Shortstops!” in Seattle.

(i.e. Jack Wilson and Tsuyoshi Nishioka together might be able to put together one full season in Seattle for the M’s if they got him.)

But yeah, this could work under the theory that Nishioka could start out at 2B, then slide on over to SS when(not if) Wilson got injured and Ackley was ready in early June. Lopez becomes either trade bait or can be a bench player, but I think he’d have enough value to fetch something in return, too.

James III
Guest
James III
5 years 8 months ago

Orioles desperately need a shortstop

Alireza
Guest
5 years 8 months ago

Um, why would you consider Ryan Theriot and Chone Figgins as comparables? Figgins is a far superior player and a top notch fielder at 3B (Seattle was stupid to move him).

I also don’t see comparing Nishioka to Figgins, given that Figgins has one of the best infield arms in baseball.

I do think the Theriot comparison is a good one, though Nishioka hopefully has a better eye and is more efficient as a baserunner.

David
Guest
David
5 years 8 months ago

Please Orioles, please. Cezar is worthless.

Will
Guest
5 years 8 months ago

Figgins with one if the best infield arms in baseball??? I remember watching lots of mariners games and not thinking anything of the sort.

Alireza
Guest
5 years 8 months ago

Then you really don’t have much of an eye, nor have you researched his history.

CaR
Guest
CaR
5 years 7 months ago

Average infield arm, nothing special. “research shows’ that your advanced statistical analysis is horseshit, Alireza.

Alireza
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

Consistent accolades for his arm, the ability to play both RF and CF, originally drafted and developed as a SS. The guy’s arm is excellent

Taro
Guest
Taro
5 years 8 months ago

What is Nishioka’s usual BABIP? Do you have LD rates or BH%?

dylanj
Guest
dylanj
5 years 8 months ago

First you call him a pretty good player and then compare him to Ryan Theriot……….

Avi
Guest
Avi
5 years 8 months ago

With the information you’ve given, it appears he will regress from MVP to Ryan Theriot. That’s a solid player, but rather risky to assign millions to.

Chris From Bothell
Guest
Chris From Bothell
5 years 8 months ago

He’s a Japanese Jack Wilson, both in pluses and minuses. I think injuries would finish his MLB career inside of 3 seasons. Pass.

aGIANTfan
Guest
aGIANTfan
5 years 8 months ago

Patrick – how different do you see Nishioka being from Kaz Matsui? What might his salary be in the US compared to what he might make next year in Japan? Thanks…

Wayne
Guest
Wayne
5 years 8 months ago

Patrick, I thought you were in Europe now. Are you getting this
information overseas, or did you not go to Europe?

choo-choo train
Guest
choo-choo train
5 years 7 months ago

I’m not positive about his success in MLB. Many infielders from Japan(Tadahito Iguchi, Akinori Iwamura, Matsui Kazuo, etc.) came across the Pacific, but they failed to succeed. However Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui are outfielders and both succeeded.

hobby farm
Guest
hobby farm
5 years 7 months ago

“Many infielders from Japan….failed to succeed.”

Just to point out that there have NOT been many middle infielders from Japan…There have only been three. And two of them were starting 2B on world series teams. I believe that Iguchi has two world series rings. I would call that success. Only one, Matsui, was a disappointment, and even he had enough success to pull some decent coin from Houston.

enemyoftheworld
Guest
enemyoftheworld
5 years 7 months ago

Failed to succeed? Iguchi posted a 3.1 WAR in his age-31 season, his first in MLB. Iwamura got his major league career started with a 2.5 WAR at age 28. Admittedly, Kaz Matsui was a huge disappointment … and he had the highest expectations of the three. But to group Iguchi and Iwamura with Kaz is just wrong-headed. I think Iguchi and Iwamura performed very well coming stateside. Iwamura’s career has since been derailed by knee injuries and Iguchi didn’t age particularly well, but their careers can’t be labeled as disappointing by any stretch.

I think the (potentially) best comparison for Nishioka is Iwamura. The Rays posted $4.5M to win negotiating rights with Iwamura and the Twins posted $5M for Nishioka. There are likenesses in their speed/baserunning skills as both rely on reaction, timing and positioning rather than pure speed. Both are seen as contact hitters with limited power and decent patience. Both rate as well-above-average defensively. The difference is that Nishioka is 2 years younger than was Iwamura in entering the league and is a switch-hitter.

I think this is an interesting pickup for the Twins who are not usually in the ‘speculative market’ when it comes to player acquisition. Posting $5M before you even sign a player to a contract shows that the newfound fiscal flexibility is going to offer new avenues for the Twins in filling offseason holes. His defensive skills matched with moderate offensive upside make him an intriguing fit and the expectations likely won’t be high considering the Twins will bring back an already-solid lineup.

Many times teams seem to ease the transition for Japanese players by signing more than one, so it will be interesting to see if the Twins fill one of their bullpen spots with a former NPBL free agent.

James III
Guest
James III
5 years 7 months ago

I don’t know why it’s seen as a big risk to put up the $5M posting fee. If the negotiations don’t result in a contract, you get the money back, right? And at least in the Matsuzaka deal, the posting fee was basically included in the salary. It seems pretty smart to bid on these guys: no real downside!

phoenix
Guest
phoenix
5 years 7 months ago

i think thats more because ichiro has incredible contact skills and hideki matsui has legitimate power than that they both happen to play in the outfield. Its still hard to transition from japan to the mlb, regardless of position, but infield is harder to field because of the move from turf to grass. But that shouldnt change their hitting.

choo-choo train
Guest
choo-choo train
5 years 7 months ago

What you said makes sense but I think fielding can affect one’s hitting. If Nishioka cannot adapt to grass easily, he will have trouble in fielding and that may bother him while at the plate. Moreover both Iwamura and Kazuo when they were in Japan were better hitters than Nishioka. They had higher batting average(Iwamura: .300, Kazuo: .309) and more homers(Iwamura: 188, Kuzuo: 150 both played 9 years in Japan). Well… when I watched all of the Japan Series games this year, I thought Nishioka would have trouble in MLB.

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