JABO: Learning From the Japanese Game

There in the Giants clubhouse, behind the stars you’ve heard everything about, are two rare players. They’ve made a circuit that very few players have made before. After surviving the gauntlet, they took some time to pass on what they learned with their travels East.

New Giants’ third baseman Casey McGehee was pretty sure his Major League Baseball career was over when he packed his bags for Sendai in Japan. “Going over there, that was one of the toughest parts, I knew the chances of coming back weren’t great,” the player said before FanFest last week.

But both McGehee and Ryan Vogelsong made it back, and to the same team no less. Of the 167 foreigners that have played in Nippon Professional Baseball since 1998, Brian Cartwright found that only 11 position players have managed more than 100 plate appearances back in America, and only Julio Franco and McGehee managed as much as 300 in one season. Only nine pitchers pitched for more than one season after returning from Japan.

Or: nobody has come back from Japan since 1998 and become a full-time starter like McGehee, and only Eric Stults, Colby Lewis, and Ryan Vogelsong have returned and managed more than 100 innings twice in the big leagues.

Though the game itself isn’t very different there — they bunt a little more, swing a little more, and play for one run more often — it could be that the trip over has that sense of finality to it that you hear from McGehee. You don’t usually come back and become an important part of a good team.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Phantom Stranger
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Phantom Stranger

What I took away is that the Japanese league faces far fewer fastballs than MLB hitters. It sounds like Vogelsong gained new confidence in his fastball after beating Japanese hitters with it.