Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s Big Day

The chapter began with the Minnesota Twins signing Tsuyoshi Nishioka to be a starting middle infielder. Two years later, the chapter ends with the Twins releasing Nishioka at his own request. There remained another year and some millions of dollars on Nishioka’s contract, but Nishioka has chosen to forfeit all of that and walk away. Reports say the news didn’t come as a surprise to the Twins organization, and, clearly, just from reading this paragraph, it’s evident that things didn’t go how they were supposed to go at the start.

There was promise, once. In Japan, Nishioka won awards for his defensive work. In 2010, he led his league in hits. That year Patrick Newman liked Nishioka as his Pacific League MVP. Obviously, the Twins thought they were getting a pretty good player. In Japan in 2010, Nishioka batted .346/.423/.482. In Japan in 2010, Norichika Aoki batted .358/.435/.509. With the Brewers, Aoki’s been successful. With the Twins, Nishioka was a nightmare.

We should note now that Nishioka batted just 254 times in the major leagues — 14 times in 2012 — so we can’t conclusively say he never would’ve cut it. Maybe Nishioka just needed a little more time to get comfortable, I don’t know. But evaluators frequently observed that Nishioka never looked comfortable, and this year in the minors he posted a .639 OPS. Nishioka’s offense didn’t make the transition, and his defense didn’t make the transition, either. It’s funny now to read near the bottom of that Patrick Newman post:

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.

Here are the lowest WARs between 2011-2012, setting a minimum of zero plate appearances. These have been the least valuable players in baseball.

  1. Chone Figgins, -2.2
  2. Felix Pie, -2.2
  3. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, -1.8

Chone Figgins-type, indeed. We’ll never know how things might’ve worked out for Nishioka had he not had his leg broken early on in his Twins career, and we’ll never know the effects of Nishioka’s off-the-field divorce, but as a big-league baseball player, Nishioka never hit a home run or a triple. He seldom walked and he was caught stealing twice as often as he successfully stole. He drew more jeers than cheers for his defense. Let’s just say that Tsuyoshi Nishioka very infrequently looked as if he belonged. Sometimes teams make the wrong evaluations. Sometimes teams make the right evaluations, and a player’s true talent just changes. For the Twins, Nishioka is just one of many things to go dreadfully wrong of late.

Just about every big-league career, though, has its highlights, and Nishioka’s career is no different. On August 12, 2011, Nishioka posted his highest single-game Win Probability Added, of +0.29. That day in Cleveland, the Twins were playing the still-surprising Indians, and Nishioka finished 2-for-3 with two runs driven in. The Twins scored just the two runs in what wound up a one-run contest. In the top of the third inning, Nishioka faced Justin Masterson and brought home Ben Revere.

In the top of the eighth inning, Nishioka faced Masterson and brought home Danny Valencia.

The first hit broke a 0-0 early tie, and the second hit broke a 1-1 later tie. The second single was the biggest hit of Nishioka’s entire career, with a win-expectancy swing of nearly 27 percent. You watch those highlights and you see how Nishioka could’ve been successful. You see the upside. Hard-hit low liner to left; hard-hit higher liner to right. Nishioka might’ve been lacking in power, and he might’ve just been a guy capable of spraying singles, but Nishioka wouldn’t have been the first Japanese import to have success with that style. With regular contact and line drives, a whole lot is possible.

Yet like many stories about Tsuyoshi Nishioka as a major leaguer, this one doesn’t have a happy ending. Shortly after Nishioka singled in the top of the third inning, he was thrown out trying to steal second. And for Nishioka and the Twins, the bottom of the sixth was a catastrophe. I present to you four .gifs starring Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

In the first one, Nishioka can’t handle a ball in play off the bat of Shin-Soo Choo. In the second one, Nishioka boots a grounder and settles for one out on a potential double play. In the third one, Nishioka can’t get the ball out of his glove in the turn in a potential double play. In the fourth one, Nishioka boots a roller off the bat of Travis Hafner. The Indians scored in the inning, and Nishioka basically gave away four outs. All of these plays happened in consecutive plate appearances, and none of this is taken into consideration by Nishioka’s Win Probability Added. In the biggest offensive game of his major-league career, Tsuyoshi Nishioka was an absolute defensive wreck.

Nishioka put the Twins up 2-1 in the top of the eighth. In the bottom of the eighth, the Indians scored twice, and in the top of the ninth, the Indians held on. The talk after the game wasn’t about Nishioka’s solid hitting; it was about missed opportunities in the field, and how those mistakes cost the Twins a win.

There’s precious little to celebrate about Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s major-league career, except for the fact that he had one. For some players, that would be enough. I don’t know if Nishioka is among them.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

25 Responses to “Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s Big Day”

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  1. CatcheroftheWry says:

    Not only did Nishioka wash out, his signing prompted the Twins to deal JJ Hardy to the Orioles. Kind of a lose-lose situation (except for the Orioles).

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  2. Jim says:

    I thought MLB contracts like his were guaranteed, meaning that even if released, he would be paid the $3 million he is owed for 2013(plus the buyout for 2014). Is is that he is voluntarily giving back the $3 million(plus the buyout), or does asking for one’s unconditional release mean they surrender the money? If so, I was unaware of such a rule. :)

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    • Jim says:

      That should be, “Is it that he is…” in my 2nd sentence, obviously. ;)

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    • MajorDanby says:

      i remember kenji johjima doing the same thing a couple years ago with the mariners. there was some sort of opt out clause that allowed him to go back to japan, but he wont get paid the rest of his contract

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    • Bry Jones says:

      He is supposed to get paid that amount of money because of MLB’s guaranteed contracts. However, he asked both for his release AND to forgo the money that was supposed to be paid to him, since he had not lived up to that contract.

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  3. rytwin says:

    Yeah it is guaranteed as long as he shows up. Asking for unconditional release doesn’t save the team the money usually, as plenty of players are cut and still owed money.
    So he voluntarily forfeited it. He mighta been cut anyways (he was atrocious after all) and then he would still be owed money, but I guess he had just had enough and wanted out.

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  4. snoop LION says:

    Not often you hear of a player forgoing guaranteed money.. Nishioka giving up 3.5? mill and leaving with a bit of pride intact is probably the highlight of his big league venture.

    Didn’t Gil Meche do this too a couple years back? He had like 12 mill guaranteed I think.

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    • Breadbaker says:

      The better cognate is probably Kenji Johjima, who left the Mariners with a couple years left on his contract to return to Japan. He also forfeited all the money remaining.

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    • gnomez says:

      Yep. Meche retired because he didn’t think he was worth the money. What a class act. I’d guess that Voluntary Retirement was actually the route Nishioka took.

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  5. Kevin says:

    Should have accepted the money and then donated all of it to charity or something.

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    • Zonis says:

      His view, my guess, was that the Twins had spent all this money on him, and were still going to spend money on him, and he had not done jack squat. So, feeling that he in no way deserved the money, forfeited it so that the team could use that money elsewhere to be better.

      As someone else said, Gil Meche did something similar. He saw that he was doing horrible, and not worth the huge sum owed to him, and decided that the organization and KC fans should use the money elsewhere, rather than taking it for doing nothing or being bad. After all, both of these players were financially well off already.

      I don’t know how this will compare to Johjima unless Nishioka goes back and plays in Japan right away.

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    • chucknsocal says:

      Not sure the PA would be happy with — didnt Schilling have some type of deal in his contract that the PA voided? Silly Union…

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      • dodgerblue808 says:

        too bad darren dreifort had no pride

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      • BX says:

        MLBPA can’t do that. They can advise someone not to (and players currently in the MLB who intend to stay in MLB almost always listen, since they are an incredibly powerful union), but they don’t have contract voiding powers.

        So for a situation like Meche, Johjima, or Nishioka, where the player’s leaving MLB for good, the MLBPA doesn’t really have say in the matter.

        Only the Commissioner’s Office can actually void a contract.

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    • Albert Belle says:

      I agree. He should have accepted the money and then sued to get his per diem paid as well.

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  6. Ron Wright says:

    Beats the hell out of my Major League career.

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  7. Jack Johnson says:

    Coming from a lifelong Twins fan (am 20, started really watching in 2005), Nishi was legitimately the worst ballplayer I have ever seen. Zero redeeming James Quall-ities, and I really do mean that; the epitome of horrible Japanese mechanics in the box, completely let fear get to his head while on defense, minus baserunning, etc.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    He looked extremely uncomfortable at shortstop from the get go, when Nick Swisher broke his ankle with a slide.

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  9. Darryl says:

    I saw him go 3-4 with a triple and 3 RBI’s when he was with Rochester this year. I had a good laugh.

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  10. nolan says:

    Here’s the long and the short of it: Nishioka signed a 3 year/9$ million dollar contract to play shortstop for the Twins. He gets to Spring Training and the team moves him from shortstop, a position he’s played all his life, to second base. So in addition to adjusting to an entirely new culture and team, he has to learn a position he hasn’t played since little league?

    I was stunned to find out that Nishioka had won defensive awards in Japan for his glovework. Stunned when I found out that in 2010 he batted .346/.423/.482 in Japan. That’s talent. Why did they move Tsuyoshi from the position in favor of Alexi Casilla? Alexi Freaking Casilla? Ask any Twins fan about Casilla.

    This would just be mismanagement if Nishioka hadn’t broken his leg because of it. Just two weeks into the 2011 season Nishioka fractured his fibula trying to turn a double play. He stepped in front of the bag to field the relay when Nick Swisher slid right into him. I remember the MLB network did a bit showing how Nishi’s footwork was wrong on the play. I don’t know but I’d like to think that in a game in early April most players wouldn’t slide directly into a helpless player. It’s just sad that it happened.

    Anyway, he wouldn’t return until mid-June. Give the Twins credit: they put him back at shortstop when he returned to action. But they also pushed him straight to the majors after two months of not playing baseball. He was set up to fail and he did. He hit almost as bad as Alexi Casilla.

    I don’t think Nishioka got a fair shot and I think he has legitimate grievances with how the team handled him. He gave two years of his prime to an organization that misled him and pushed him into the majors immediately after a serious injury.

    Which makes me admire the way Tsuyoshi handled this situation. He doesn’t need the Twins or their three million dollars. He can go play in Japan next year and be on a team that communicates with him properly and respects and values what he brings to the team.

    Swish is a douche: http://mit.zenfs.com/121/2011/04/AP110407046967.jpg

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    • nolan says:

      Here’s the video of MLB Networks Harold Reynolds’ breakdown of the play: http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=13562543&topic_id=&c_id=mlb&tcid=vpp_copy_13562543&v=3

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      • Sascha says:

        I mean it’s long gone but: Reynolds totaly uses footage from another play a second where Jeter slides into the bag. He also says stuff that does not relate to this particular play, if you happen to whatch the original clip from FSN, you’ll see that Nishioka had in fact he frontfoot poiting to first base, he was not on but besides the base and Swisher was sliding hard. You might say he was sliding to hard, it looks more like he is realy trying to harm Nishioka, while throwing his legs at him. Also in the Jeter-play you see Nishioka jumping, because he is on the base when Jeters is sliding in. Harold Reynolds is totaly wrong on that and it seems that he is so on purpose. I’m not a Swisher-hater but he looks more like the bad guy in this one than Nishioka, who was the one to blame for the most folks.

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    • Pitnick says:

      This isn’t quite right. Nishioka played mostly 2B throughout high school and played both 2B and SS for the first 3 years of his pro career.

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  11. Amanda says:

    I thought the way Nishioka left was a nice end to a terrible two years with the team. I wish more athletes would take responsibility like he did.


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