Tsuyoshi Nishioka – A Revisionist History

In a move that was somehow simultaneously surprising and not, Tsuyoshi Nishioka was sent down to Triple-A Rochester Monday, and to say it’s been a tumultuous year for the man would be an understatement. No, this isn’t to evoke images of sympathy for a man who made $3 million for especially bad baseball last year, and is due a minimum of $6.25 million more.

But let’s consider some facts.

For one, Nishioka’s debut season was rudely interrupted by a takeout slide by Nick Swisher (seen below), which came in the second series of the ‘11 season, and shelved the Japanese import for 68 days a mere week into his rookie campaign.

Ironically enough, with a tip of the cap to colleague Jeff Zimmerman on the research, the only other player to have sustained a fibula fracture over the past 10 seasons is teammate Jason Marquis, who may be on equally shaky ground entering this season. Marquis suffered the break late last season with the Diamondbacks, coming out of the game an inning after the initial contact ostensibly fractured his fibula, before it completely gave way as he was facing Mets catcher Josh Thole — who was also a bit worse for the wear by getting plunked on the pitch that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

Nonetheless, It’s clearly a chicken-and-egg scenario when trying to determine if the Swisher play really derailed any chance Nishioka had of adapting to the American game. Here we are a year later, and all the Twins have to show for the investment — let’s call it $9.25 million + $5.33 million posting fee — is 240 plate appearances of .234 wOBA, -1.4 WAR, and to be matter of fact, just downright ugly baseball. It isn’t that Nishioka hasn’t been able to hit, it’s that at times he’s looked completely unable to make solid contact, to make routine plays and covering his bases, and all-in-all carrying himself like a big league player. This spring has been more of the same, as though Nishioka has been at least somewhat passable with the stick — .240/.269/.320 seems almost Ruthian compared to his .527 OPS last season — he’s still appeared completely flustered in the field.

It sort of seems unlikely that a Swisher takeout slide would cause this many dominos to fall, don’t you think?

To be short, like many big league talent evaluators have recently noted, Nishioka looks lost. He looks like a young man who can’t find his way, in a strange country, playing a game that’s completely foreign to him. To top it off, Nishioka’s wife, Naoku Tokuzawa, filed for divorce in the offseason, more or less confirming the notion that this was among the worst year’s in Nishioka’s life.

But it’s also important to consider what it has cost the Twins. A 99-loss season aside, the Twins dealt J.J. Hardy and signed Nishioka as the ‘answer’ at shortstop. Predictably, as a number of recent Twins moves have panned out, this fell flat, as Hardy regained his sapped wrist strength to the tune of a .343 wOBA with 30 long balls and his usual brand of stellar defense. In fact, take a peek at the Hardy-Nishioka discrepancy:

Stat Hardy Nishioka Difference
wOBA 0.343 0.234 0.109
UZR/150 11.7 -14.2 25.9
ISO 0.222 0.023 0.199
wRC+ 113 42 71
Raw OPS 0.801 0.527 0.274
WAR 4.8 -1.4 6.2

To take it a step further, here’s what Twins shortstops did as a unit last season: .234/.295/.329 triple-slash, -23.2 UZR, -1.1 WAR, .095 ISO, and a .278 wOBA. And that’s just players who played shortstop, including the likes of Trevor Plouffe, who also saw time in the outfield. A furtive glance at the BRef splits — presumably just of those who were starting at shortstop each particular day — is no prettier: .238/.292/.320. Guess that sort of leaves little doubt why GM Terry Ryan addressed shortstop right out of the gate when free agency opened last autumn.

I mean, there’s “Yeah, we goofed up,” and “What are you paying these guys for?” And obviously heads had to roll, and the head of said heads, Bill Smith, was re-purposed for less stressful duties, but it can’t be emphasized enough just how badly this was flubbed. As Eno Sarris noted, Smith was the first GM since 1950 to be canned in November. Ouch.

And the worst part? The Twins were forced to make a move this season to fill that gaping hole at short, inking diminutive but dependable Jamey Carroll to a two-year deal worth $6.5 million to ostensibly keep the spot warm for Brian Dozier and/or Levi Michael. Add that $6.5 million to the $14.58 of sunk cost — the definition of sunk cost, really — on Nishioka, and that gets us to $21.08 million.

The cost of Hardy’s freshly minted extension in baseball purgatory? $22.25 million over three years. It’s not an exact science, but I do know this: this season, the Twins have $5.75 million committed to the two players tasked with replacing Hardy — deemed too expensive, among other things, for the Twins to keep — while the O’s will pay him exactly $7 million.

Ain’t that a kick in the pants?

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In addition to Rotographs, Warne is a Minnesota Twins beat reporter for 105 The Ticket's Cold Omaha website as well as a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

24 Responses to “Tsuyoshi Nishioka – A Revisionist History”

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  1. J6takish says:

    The Twins under Bill Smith were one of the more bizarre and frustrating front offices. There obsession with slap hitters and pitch to contact pitchers is interesting, especially since a lot of talented players have made their way through the system only to become successful elsewhere

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    • mike wants wins says:

      That is not a BS issue, that’s the team that Ryan built also. I don’t get why people blame Smith for the organizational philosophy, when it clearly isn’t just him that built that.

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  2. Lindner says:

    Yes, Brandon. It is a kick in the pants..

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  3. Ronin says:

    While I think Jamey is gonna pick it up and do well for the Twins this is just another case of a team being penny wise, pound foolish. Sort of like the Tigers getting rid of Curtis Granderson so that they had enough money to reup Inge and Ordonez.

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  4. Patrick says:

    My question regarding this move is, did the Twins send him down to fix him or did they send him down to get rid of him?

    I would like to think that they can fix him and that he can contribute over the next 2 years of his contract but I wonder if I am just deluding myself.

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    • Bryz says:

      The Twins are going to sell it as fixing him, but I wonder if he can be fixed. He’s looked so awful in the big leagues.

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    • Visnovsky says:

      Yes you are deluding yourself. I would have sent him down to get rid of him. Personally, I believe they sent him to AAA only because rookie ball doesn’t start until June. I’m still holding out hope he gets sent to extended spring training instead of AAA so that the nice people of Rochester do not have to watch his own brand of awfulness.

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    • Tom says:

      I believe the expression if they “Kei Igawa’d” him…. i.e just get far away so we don’t have to be reminded on a daily basis of the bad contract.

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  5. randy says:

    Not a kick in the pants, a kick in the fibula.

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  6. Nolan says:

    The initial problem was, of course, trading Hardy for two relievers, a trade that never made sense from day 1.

    Compounding that mistake, Gardy moved Nishioka from SS (a position he held for several years in Japan) to 2b. His footwork trying to turn that DP was just wrong. Why did they make him learn a new position along with learning how to hit ML pitching, live in a new country, etc.?

    Also I totally see that as a dirty play by Swish who came in cleats up. That pat on the back afterwards just cemented it. If I were a Twins fan I would utterly despise the Yankees.

    Just a sad situation all around. I hope the kid finds his mojo in triple A.

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    • bill says:

      If I were anyone with a soul I would utterly despise the Yankees.

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    • Hayves says:

      The footwork was standard 2b double play stuff actually, nothing wrong with it. imo the problem was the slide, swisher was way off base and had his left leg way too high.

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    • Mark says:

      I am a Twins fan and that was not a dirty slide bt Fisher you idiot.

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    • Mark says:

      Oh, so since you are not a Twins fan you wouldn’t despise it???? You are an idiot, besides it was not a dirty slide by Fisher. I wish those of you who have no idea about the game of baseball to comment on something they might know an inkling about.

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    • Mark says:

      Ishioka is a bust, worst contract ever signed by the pathetic Twins, they are in real trouble, sign players that are established and pay more money instead of pissing away $20 million. There thousands of people out there that could have the Twins GM job making decisions that are real baseball moves, they are a pathetic organization, they need to start ALL over, trade Morneau, the whole ball of wax. They are real pathetic. They will have the most losses in the American league this year.

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  7. geo says:

    Nishioka and Marquis are the only players to sustain fractured fibulas in the last ten years? Do you mean only those that occurred on the playing field perhaps? Because Chad Billingsley fractured his fibula in 2008, but it occured at home.

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  8. Keystone Heavy says:

    To top it off, Nishioka’s wife, Naoku Tokuzawa, filed for divorce in the offseason, more or less confirming the notion that this was among the worst year’s in Nishioka’s life.

    Am I a bad person for laughing when I read this?

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  9. Great stuff, Brandon, as always. And I side with those who think he was Igawa’d.

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    • Yep. Luckily Nishi won’t have to drive like 100 miles each day like Igawa did.

      To Igawa’s credit, it seems like he was a good soldier about it. Then again, it was fat stacks of Steinbrenner cash.

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  10. MNzach says:

    I was so mad when we lost Hardy.

    Am I wrong that it was another case of Hardy not being one of Gardenhire’s “guys”. One of my biggest complaints about Gardenhire (I’ve been banging the “He is awful” drum since the early 2000s) is that he seems to have players he sticks with regardless of performance and others he just doesn’t like. Slowey comes to mind as a useful piece that was never plugged in properly.

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  11. Mark says:

    I am Twins fan and played baseball my whole entire life and that was NOT a dirty slide by Fisher of the Yankees you idiot.

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