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February 21, 2002

Japanese Baseball, Pt. 2

Players

by Clay Davenport

Many people have written to me about the article comparing the Japanese leagues to the American majors. Before looking at DTs of Japanese players, I'd like to address a few points common to many of those e-mails:

  1. Confusion over statistics. The statistic used in the article was Equivalent Average, not batting average. EqA values may look like AVG, but they incorporate walks, power, and base-stealing in a way that correlates very well with runs scored--better, in fact, than OPS does. The multipliers I gave out were multipliers for EqA, not for runs. I apologize for the lack of clarity on these matters.

  2. Offers of help from several BP readers in Asia. These have already filled in my missing 1996 data and may allow me to get stats from the Korean and Taiwanese professional leagues. Thank you very, very much.

  3. The "homesickness factor." The most common critique was that I had neglected to consider that the cultural adjustment to living in Japan affected playing ability, making players coming from the United States look worse than expected, and consequently making the Japanese leagues look stronger than they actually were.

    I ran two different studies to try and isolate that, and it does appear that there is something to it: perhaps the "real" quality multiplier should be between .92 and .93 instead of .94. The first study simply split the one-year differences into those going from the U.S. to Japan, and those going from Japan to the U.S., all of whom, until 2001, were returning to Western Hemisphere ball, and who, presumably, would not need extensive re-adjustment to American baseball. The homesickness effect should mean a higher difficulty rating for the US->JP group than the JP->US group, because they would have (real difference + adjustment) while the latter would only have (real difference).

    The multiplier for players going from the U.S. to Japan was .942 in 28,766 common plate appearances, while the multiplier for those going from Japan to the U.S. is .932 in a still-sizable 13,509 CPA, for a one-point difference in the results.

    The second study used two-year differences to rate league difficulty, for example, between players in the U.S. in 1999 and in Japan in 2001. That group was then split depending upon whether they spent the 2000 season in Japan or the U.S., hypothesizing that the adjustment factor would diminish or disappear after a full season spent in Japan. If adjustment is an issue, than players who go US-US-JP should make the Japanese leagues look better than those who went US-JP-JP, when the first and last years are compared. They do: the players in their first year in Japan drew a .922 rating, compared to .902 for those repeating Japan--a two-point difference.

    So it may well be that the .94 rating I gave to Japanese leagues is slightly higher than it should be, but I do want to emphasize "slight." I am still certain it is well above the .86 rating of Triple-A. Dropping a point or two, to .92 or .93, still leaves them right on the cusp of historical major-league strength, although possibly more on the short side of the cusp than they were before.

So who are some of the best hitters and pitchers in Japan over the last few years?

Let's start with the reigning American League MVP and batting champ, Ichiro Suzuki. If I'm right about the level of play in Japan, then he had a bad year in 2001:


Ichiro Suzuki                       Age 28
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1994 Orix     JpP 540 202  41   4  14  44  47 108  51  26   6  344 .374 .433 .543  .326 104  61 360
1995 Orix     JpP 547 195  27   4  29  65  45 120  91  46   9  361 .356 .442 .580  .339 121  75 362
1997 Orix     JpP 536 184  31   4  19  55  34  97  92  32   4  356 .343 .408 .522  .314  98  53 326
1998 Orix     JpP 506 180  38   3  13  34  34  82  70  10   4  330 .356 .403 .520  .306  85  43 314
1999 Orix     JpP 417 144  28   2  22  40  43  84  68  11   1  274 .345 .411 .580  .324  82  47 330
2000 Orix     JpP 395 155  21   1  13  44  34  62  61  20   1  241 .392 .458 .549  .343  83  52 345
2001 Seattle  AL  703 269  38   8  10  34  46 139  75  55  16  450 .383 .416 .502  .310 121  88 310 144-RF   3

     Majors       620 237  34   7   9  30  41 123  66  49  14  450 .383 .421 .502  .310 106  78 310
     Japan        593 214  38   4  22  57  48 112  87  29   5 1906 .360 .426 .548  .325 116 331 340
     Total        598 218  37   4  20  52  46 114  83  33   7 2356 .365 .425 .539  .322 114  69 335

Ichiro's .310 EqA last year was his second-worst since 1994. I think he changed his approach at the plate, concentrating on slapping the ball around without attempting to drive it. He got a boost to his batting average, but lost all his power. It would not surprise me at all to see him improve upon his MVP season. In another park, he'd have a realistic shot at hitting .400.

Sticking with the Pacific League, last year's MVP was an American import who tied the Japanese home run record, Karl "Tuffy" Rhodes:


Karl Rhodes                         Age 33
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Osa-Kint JpP 516 161  31   0  27  80 102  94 108  18   8  363 .312 .408 .529  .309  96  50 309
1998 Osa-Kint JpP 500 133  20   0  26  71 116  86  75  14   3  370 .266 .357 .462  .275  74  27 276
1999 Osa-Kint JpP 503 157  34   1  44  63 107 101 105   5   2  348 .312 .391 .646  .325 105  61 325
2000 Osa-Kint JpP 530 149  26   1  27  45 126  73  75   5   6  387 .281 .340 .487  .268  72  23 268
2001 Osa-Kint JpP 560 190  25   0  53  72 127 139 131   9   3  373 .339 .415 .668  .339 125  77 338

     Japan        577 175  30   0  39  73 128 109 109  11   5 1841 .303 .383 .560  .305 104 238 304

In 1993, Rhodes split a .291 EqA while playing for Omaha (Double-A), Iowa (Triple-A), and the Cubs, easily his best American season. The average of these seasons isn't out of line for a player who had that level of talent at age 24, but the peaks are better than you'd expect.


Nobuhiko Matsunaka                  Age 28
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Fukuoka  JpP  43  10   1   0   0   2  12   5   5   0   1   34 .233 .282 .256  .183   2  -2 179
1998 Fukuoka  JpP  72  20   3   0   4   9  12   9  11   2   0   52 .278 .365 .486  .286  11   5 288
1999 Fukuoka  JpP 403 113  22   4  25  42  56  63  74   5   2  292 .280 .365 .541  .293  68  31 293
2000 Fukuoka  JpP 477 154  24   1  36  44  46  66  91   0   1  324 .323 .387 .604  .315  90  49 315
2001 Fukuoka  JpP 485 166  30   0  35  48  70  81 121   2   1  320 .342 .402 .621  .324  96  55 324

     Japan        592 185  32   2  40  58  78  90 121   4   2 1022 .313 .382 .576  .308 107 138 307

A third baseman, and the league MVP in 2000. Nobuhiko Matsunaka played in the Hawaiian Winter League in 1997 as a teammate of Terrence Long and Michael Barrett, and for the Japanese Olympic team in 1996 and 2000.


Alex Cabrera                        Age 30
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
2000 El Paso  Tex 205  62  13   1  22  16  52  36  48   2   1  144 .302 .356 .698  .321  42  32 322  52-1B   4
2000 Tucson   PCL  77  19   5   1   3   3  18  14   9   0   0   58 .247 .288 .455  .241   8   1 242
2000 Arizona  NL   81  21   3   1   5   2  19  10  14   0   0   60 .259 .285 .506  .253  10   4 252  12-1B   1
2001 Seibu    JpP 519 149  25   0  47  73 136  95 121   3   1  371 .287 .375 .607  .310  99  52 310

     Majors        81  21   3   1   5   2  19  10  14   0   0   60 .259 .292 .506  .253  10   4 252
     Minors       609 175  39   4  54  41 130 108 123   4   2  202 .287 .332 .631  .301 101  46 299
     Japan        570 164  27   0  52  80 149 104 133   3   1  371 .287 .375 .607  .310 109  52 310
     Total        602 162  30   2  43  48 116  72  92   5   2 1076 .270 .327 .540  .278  90  38 278

Alex Cabrera followed up a monstrous seasons in the U.S. minors by having one more just like it in Japan.


Kazuo Matsui                        Age 26
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Seibu    JpP 578 182  26  12   9  38  84  94  65  51  16  412 .315 .360 .448  .275  82  30 276
1998 Seibu    JpP 578 183  39   5  10  45  86  95  59  39  13  408 .317 .367 .453  .278  83  31 277
1999 Seibu    JpP 549 186  32   4  16  50  70  93  69  30   7  370 .339 .394 .499  .301  92  45 301
2000 Seibu    JpP 554 182  41  10  25  33  56  84  75  24   3  375 .329 .368 .574  .307  98  50 307
2001 Seibu    JpP 556 174  33   2  22  37  75  94  75  25   9  391 .313 .356 .498  .281  82  32 281

     Japan        606 195  37   7  18  44  80  99  74  36  10 1956 .322 .369 .494  .288  94 188 288

Kazuo Matsui is not quite the caliber of hitter as some of the other players listed here, but he's a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. He is one of Japan's fastest players and a switch-hitter, making him a likely leadoff man. He has expressed strong interest in playing in the U.S., and will be a free agent in 2003.


Norihiro Nakamura                   Age 28
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Osa-Kint JpP 459 114  23   2  22  49  99  60  72   2   2  347 .248 .327 .451  .257  58  14 257
1998 Osa-Kint JpP 486 130  13   1  34  65 111  79  93   1   1  357 .267 .359 .508  .284  76  31 283
1999 Osa-Kint JpP 526 145  20   0  35  72 108  90 101   3   0  381 .276 .367 .513  .289  86  37 289
2000 Osa-Kint JpP 480 137  23   0  41  67 105  70  92   1   1  344 .285 .376 .590  .307  90  47 308
2001 Osa-Kint JpP 535 178  26   0  46  93  96 110 134   3   1  358 .333 .432 .639  .340 121  75 340

     Japan        571 162  24   1  41  79 119  94 113   2   1 1787 .283 .374 .543  .297  99 204 297

Norihiro Nakamura, a four-time All-Star third baseman, is one of the league's best power hitters.


Michihiro Ogasawara                 Age 28
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Nippon   JpP  94  21  11   2   0   2   9   8   7   0   0   73 .223 .240 .383  .203   7  -2 209
1998 Nippon   JpP  86  26   2   0   2   0  16   7  10   1   1   61 .302 .302 .395  .229   8   0 230
1999 Nippon   JpP 551 158  34   4  26  49  78  94  82   3   4  397 .287 .345 .505  .275  79  29 274
2000 Nippon   JpP 554 183  23   3  33  60  86 106  84  22   7  378 .330 .398 .561  .313 103  55 312
2001 Nippon   JpP 570 186  40   2  28  52  92 101  79   1   0  384 .326 .383 .551  .303  97  48 303

     Japan        597 185  35   4  29  53  91 102  84   9   4 1293 .309 .366 .525  .290  95 130 290

Michihiro Ogasawara is a two-time All-Star first baseman. Like Carlos Delgado, he is a converted catcher.


Frank Bolick                        Age 36
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Midland  Tex  94  24   4   0   5  20  20  17  15   0   0   70 .255 .390 .457  .287  15   7 283
1997 Vancouvr PCL 359 101  23   2  14  37  66  48  51   3   1  259 .281 .350 .474  .272  50  17 272
1998 Vancouvr PCL 272  69   8   2  12  23  44  35  25   0   1  204 .254 .315 .430  .245  30  17 244  29-3B   8 14-LF  -1
1998 Anaheim  AL   45   8   2   0   1  11   7   3   2   0   0   37 .178 .339 .289  .228   5   0 230
1999 Chiba    JpP 354  92  15   1  28  51  79  53  63   1   0  262 .260 .362 .545  .293  61  28 292
2000 Chiba    JpP 437 135  29   2  31  84  86  67  86   3   1  303 .309 .424 .597  .329  94  56 329
2001 Chiba    JpP 453 125  31   0  30  96 101  80  97   1   0  328 .276 .403 .543  .309  87  45 310

     Majors        45   8   2   0   1  11   7   3   2   0   0   37 .178 .339 .289  .228   5   0 230
     Minors       584 156  28   3  25  64 105  81  73   2   2  533 .267 .338 .454  .264  77  41 263
     Japan        548 155  33   1  39 102 117  88 108   2   0  893 .283 .395 .560  .312 107  57 312
     Total        560 154  31   2  34  90 112  84  94   2   1 1463 .275 .378 .518  .294  95  47 293

After an unimpressive U.S. career, Frank Bolick is clearly doing much better playing third base in Japan.


Kazuya Fukuura                      Age 26
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Chiba    JpP 219  64   8   1   7  16  34  30  24   0   1  156 .292 .349 .434  .260  27   7 260
1998 Chiba    JpP 467 135  35   3   3  43  76  65  58   1   2  334 .289 .354 .396  .254  54  12 254
1999 Chiba    JpP 260  75  15   1   4  18  35  23  37   0   0  185 .288 .344 .400  .251  29   6 252
2000 Chiba    JpP 452 140  22   4   8  23  55  51  48   1   1  313 .310 .349 .429  .260  54  14 259
2001 Chiba    JpP 450 154  32   5  15  49  67  79  63   0   0  296 .342 .407 .536  .310  79  41 311

Japan 602 185 36 5 12 48 87 81 75 1 1 1284 .307 .364 .443 .270 79 80 270

Kazuya Fukuura is Chiba's first baseman, playing opposite Bolick. He led the Pacific League in batting average last year. It has the look of a fluke season, but his age means it's possible that the season is a genuine breakout.


Hiroki Kokubo                       Age 30
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Fukuoka  JpP 532 163  36   3  39  46 105  96 117   3   3  372 .306 .366 .605  .306  97  49 306
1998 Fukuoka  JpP  72  17   4   1   2   2  18   8  11   0   0   55 .236 .266 .403  .219   6  -1 216
1999 Fukuoka  JpP 475 119  26   1  27  56  96  66  82   4   2  358 .251 .332 .480  .266  65  20 266
2000 Fukuoka  JpP 479 143  27   2  33  21  80  76  89   5   2  338 .299 .342 .570  .291  77  34 290
2001 Fukuoka  JpP 542 162  32   2  43  52  88 108 123   6   2  382 .299 .360 .603  .304  97  49 304

     Japan        599 172  36   3  41  51 110 101 120   5   3 1505 .288 .348 .561  .290  98 151 290

A third baseman converted from second base in the last few years, Hiroki Kokubo missed part of the 1998 season due to his part in a tax-evasion scandal (he was sentenced to a year on prison), along with a shoulder injury.


Roberto Petagine                    Age 31
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Norfolk  Int 448 134  25   1  28  71  84  79  85   0   1  315 .299 .402 .547  .310  84  44 312
1997 NY Mets  NL   15   2   0   0   0   3   5   2   1   0   0   13 .133 .278 .133  .164   1  -1 158
1998 Indianap Int 365 111  23   1  21  58  67  68  91   2   1  255 .304 .403 .545  .310  68  43 310  68-1B   1 20-LF  -1
1998 Cincnnti NL   63  16   3   1   3  16  10  15   7   1   0   47 .254 .405 .476  .300  12   9 304  10-RF   2
1999 Yakult   JpC 445 131  22   2  38 108  95  89  99   9   1  315 .294 .439 .609  .339 105  65 340
2000 Yakult   JpC 484 142  26   0  34  94 115  88  92   7   2  344 .293 .412 .558  .317  98  54 317
2001 Yakult   JpC 472 147  25   0  40 114  84  95 128   4   1  326 .311 .445 .619  .342 111  70 342

     Majors       523 121  20   7  20 127 101 114  54   7   0   60 .231 .381 .410  .278  80  54 281
     Minors       561 169  33   1  34  89 104 101 121   1   1  570 .301 .397 .545  .310 105  60 311
     Japan        530 159  28   1  42 120 111 103 121   8   2  985 .300 .429 .594  .333 119  71 333
     Total        541 161  29   1  39 109 108 103 119   5   1 1615 .298 .420 .571  .323 113  67 323

The reigning MVP of the Central League, leading the league in home runs, RBI, and EQA, Roberto Petagine had a lot to do with the Swallows (am I the only one who can't say without at least thinking "beloved Swallows"? Longtime r.s.b readers will know what I mean) winning the title last season. I was suspicious of his hitting improvement and the small dimensions of Jingu Stadium, but 1) the park doesn't show as being offense-friendly, and 2) he only hit 15 of his 39 home runs in 2001 there, one less than expected given that 59 of his team's 140 games were there.


Hideki Matsui                       Age 28
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Yomiuri  JpC 485 135  16   0  35  90  86  91  98   8   3  353 .278 .396 .528  .304  90  45 304
1998 Yomiuri  JpC 489 135  23   3  33  96 106 104  96   4   4  358 .276 .402 .538  .307  93  48 307
1999 Yomiuri  JpC 465 129  25   2  36  86 103  93  84   0   4  340 .277 .392 .572  .308  89  46 307
2000 Yomiuri  JpC 482 147  31   2  40 104 107 117 108   5   2  337 .305 .430 .627  .337 111  68 337
2001 Yomiuri  JpC 483 151  25   4  33 112  91 106  99   3   1  333 .313 .442 .586  .334 108  65 334

     Japan        540 157  27   2  40 110 111 115 109   4   3 1721 .290 .413 .570  .318 110 272 317

AKA "Godzilla," or "Big Matsui" in contrast to Kazuo, "Little Matsui." Hideki Matsui was one of the most anticipated draft picks in Japanese history, and has lived up to the anticipation. For his consistency, I would name him the best native hitter in Japan right now. He's always had power, and has developed his other hitting skills to the point that he led the league in batting average last season, and was the league MVP in 2002. While he plays center field for the Giants, he would be a corner outfielder in the U.S. He's a free agent after 2002, and while a number of U.S. teams are interested in him, he hasn't yet decided whether he wants to cross the Pacific.


Tomoaki Kanemoto                    Age 34
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Hiroshim JpC 464 130  17   2  30  71 107  74  77  11   9  343 .280 .378 .519  .291  78  35 291
1998 Hiroshim JpC 499 120  32   3  21  62  99  78  72   9   5  384 .240 .330 .443  .256  64  15 256
1999 Hiroshim JpC 494 131  22   2  29  65  96  78  83   9   3  366 .265 .354 .494  .279  75  29 279
2000 Hiroshim JpC 492 140  21   2  26  77 100  92  83  28   9  361 .285 .390 .494  .296  86  40 296
2001 Hiroshim JpC 481 147  27   2  26 122  65 104  95  19   7  341 .306 .446 .532  .326 103  60 326

     Japan        559 154  27   3  30  91 107  98  94  17   8 1795 .275 .381 .496  .290  94 179 290

A left fielder for the Carp, Tomoaki Kanemoto has generally played second fiddle to teammate and center fielder Koichi Ogata, although Ogata, who is a year younger, hasn't aged nearly as well.


Leo Gomez                           Age 35
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Chunichi JpC 491 151  23   1  31  66  78  87  82   2   0  340 .308 .392 .548  .307  89  46 307
1998 Chunichi JpC 426 116  13   0  28  53  69  60  79   1   1  311 .272 .359 .500  .281  65  26 282
1999 Chunichi JpC 474 135  18   1  34  66  62  82 104   4   1  340 .285 .380 .542  .300  84  41 300
2000 Chunichi JpC 442 122  19   1  24  57  75  59  79   1   2  322 .276 .365 .486  .280  67  26 280
2001 Chunichi JpC 302  96  14   0  21  45  33  33  67   0   0  206 .318 .406 .573  .317  58  32 317

     Japan        573 166  23   1  37  77  85  86 110   2   1 1519 .290 .379 .528  .296  97 171 296

Leo Gomez, the former Oriole and Cub, is still playing third base in Japan. His best seasons in the States were 1990, when he hit for a .290 EqA as a 23-year-old in Rochester; 1992, when he hit .286 for the Orioles; and 1994, when he hit .295 for the Cubs. For several years now he's been the only offensive threat for a punchless Dragon team.


Atsuya Furuta                       Age 36
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Yakult   JpC 509 156  30   2   9  60  66  73  84   8   4  357 .306 .390 .426  .279  73  28 279
1998 Yakult   JpC 492 132  18   1  10  41  65  59  64   5   4  364 .268 .333 .370  .239  51   5 240
1999 Yakult   JpC 477 133  27   2  11  47  43  75  64   9   3  347 .279 .347 .413  .257  58  14 259
2000 Yakult   JpC 494 129  22   0  16  45  54  63  64   5   5  370 .261 .336 .403  .248  57  10 248
2001 Yakult   JpC 446 142  20   0  17  40  39  61  68   1   0  304 .318 .374 .478  .283  65  26 283

     Japan        593 170  29   1  15  57  65  81  84   7   4 1742 .286 .356 .417  .261  75  83 261

He's past his prime, but Atsuya Furuta is one of Japan's greatest active players. A seven-time Gold Glove catcher, he won the MVP award twice ('93 and '97). He's also the president of the Japanese players' union and a strong advocate of reform, such as allowing players to use agents and reducing the current nine-year threshold for free agency.


Akira Eto                           Age 32
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Hiroshim JpC 393  92  13   3  25  73  95  76  71   3   0  301 .234 .358 .473  .277  61  23 278
1998 Hiroshim JpC 476 114  15   0  28  89 108  88  79   7   3  365 .239 .362 .447  .272  71  24 273
1999 Hiroshim JpC 430 113  27   3  23  70  83  75  69   8   3  320 .263 .369 .500  .287  71  30 287
2000 Yomiuri  JpC 461 115  18   1  31  57  91  86  92   7   1  347 .249 .336 .495  .273  67  23 274
2001 Yomiuri  JpC 486 131  20   2  29  68  68  86  85   9   3  358 .270 .359 .498  .281  75  30 282

     Japan        561 141  23   2  34  89 111 103  99   8   2 1691 .252 .357 .483  .278  86 130 278

Akira Eto used to be the best defensive third baseman in the league, but after 12 seasons he is slowing down. The Yomiuri Giants, who play in Tokyo, are sort of like the Yankees of Japan, the team with the grandest history and the most money right now. Eto, a seven-time All-Star, was the premier free agent available two years ago, so of course the Giants got him.


Takuro Ishii                        Age 31
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Yokohama JpC 520 157  21   1  10  48  60  92  43  20  17  381 .302 .367 .404  .258  65  16 258
1998 Yokohama JpC 554 164  34   4   8  57  73 104  47  39   9  399 .296 .368 .415  .273  77  27 273
1999 Yokohama JpC 529 141  22   3   7  68  84 101  52  36  11  399 .267 .357 .359  .254  65  14 254
2000 Yokohama JpC 543 153  19   5   9  60  82  90  48  34  10  400 .282 .357 .385  .259  68  18 258
2001 Yokohama JpC 584 170  36   6   7  50  77  84  36  25   9  423 .291 .347 .409  .257  71  17 257

     Japan        589 169  28   4   9  61  81 102  49  33  12 2001 .288 .359 .395  .260  75  92 260

Takuro Ishii is considered a good defensive shortstop, but not at the level of Little Matsui. However, he does have enough speed and on-base ability to be a reasonable top-of-the-order man.


Kazuhiro Kiyohara                   Age 34
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Yomiuri  JpC 464 110  21   0  31  55 156  64  92   0   0  354 .237 .330 .483  .266  64  20 266
1998 Yomiuri  JpC 385  99  13   0  23  62  80  67  78   1   0  286 .257 .370 .470  .281  60  23 280
1999 Yomiuri  JpC 261  56  11   0  12  43  71  37  42   0   0  205 .215 .346 .395  .253  33   7 253
2000 Yomiuri  JpC 218  62   9   0  16  25  51  42  55   0   0  156 .284 .379 .546  .300  38  19 301
2001 Yomiuri  JpC 468 132  24   0  30  60 133  66 119   0   0  336 .282 .364 .526  .289  75  33 289

     Japan        572 146  25   0  36  78 156  88 123   0   0 1337 .256 .356 .486  .277  86 102 277

Kazuhiro Kiyohara is merely an average defensive first baseman. He suffered extensive injury problems in 1999 and 2000.


Tsuyoshi Shinjo                     Age 30
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1994 Hanshin  JpC 470 117  26   7  17  25  97  57  69   7   5  358 .249 .296 .443  .241  51   6 259
1995 Hanshin  JpC 315  71  16   3   7  20  77  35  38   5   4  248 .225 .281 .362  .215  27  -5 227
1997 Hanshin  JpC 487 112  18   3  20  37 123  63  69   7   4  379 .230 .294 .402  .231  49   1 236
1998 Hanshin  JpC 417  93  23   3   7  22  68  42  29   1   2  326 .223 .271 .343  .206  31 -10 208
1999 Hanshin  JpC 468 113  21   8  12  22  75  52  54   8   2  357 .241 .289 .397  .229  45   0 230
2000 Hanshin  JpC 513 139  23   1  27  33  92  72  85  15   5  379 .271 .316 .478  .261  66  18 260
2001 NY Mets  NL  404 110  23   1  10  23  65  47  57   4   5  299 .272 .320 .408  .241  43  28 242 109-OF   9

     Majors       404 110  23   1  10  23  65  47  57   4   5  299 .272 .328 .408  .241  43  28 241
     Japan        613 148  29   6  21  37 122  74  79  10   5 2053 .241 .292 .408  .233  62  10 238
     Total        614 151  30   5  20  36 119  73  80   9   5 2352 .245 .297 .408  .234  62   8 239

Tsuyoshi Shinjo wasn't remotely among the best hitters in Japan prior to coming to the U.S., but was regarded as Japan's best center fielder defensively. It is notable for how closely his 2000 and 2001 seasons match, almost identical except for the extra 75 points of slugging in his last year in Japan.


So Taguchi                          Age 32
Year Team     Lge  AB  H   DB  TP  HR  BB  SO  R  RBI  SB  CS  Out  AVG  OBP  SLG   EQA EQR Val  Pk Defense
1997 Orix     JpP 573 170  35   4  11  42  69 100  57   6   1  404 .297 .348 .429  .261  71  19 261
1998 Orix     JpP 499 138  28   1  10  40  66  89  45   7   8  369 .277 .334 .397  .244  54   7 243
1999 Orix     JpP 530 149  22   1  10  24  84  84  58  11   6  387 .281 .313 .383  .234  51   2 234
2000 Orix     JpP 513 147  27   3   9  43  75  66  42   8   2  368 .287 .345 .404  .254  60  13 255
2001 Orix     JpP 455 129  22   6   7  35  80  69  41   6   2  328 .284 .335 .404  .248  50   9 249

     Japan        607 173  32   3  12  43  89  99  63  11   5 2464 .285 .336 .405  .249  68  69 249

Like Shinjo, So Taguchi is noted primarily as a defensive player, not as a hitter. The former teammate of Ichiro was signed by the Cardinals this off-season, but is unlikely to be an impact player in the National League.

How about pitchers? Let's start by looking back at some players who have already come over:


Hideo Nomo                          Age 33
Year Team      Lge    G   GS     IP    H   ER  HR  BB    K    ERA  W  L   H/9 HR/9 BB/9  K/9   KW  PERA   STUF
1994 Osa-Kint  JPL    17  17  115.0   97   61  10  78  111   4.77  6  7   7.6  0.8  6.1  8.7  0.7  4.54     18
1995 LosAngls  NL     28  28  192.3  130   59  16  73  212   2.76 15  6   6.1  0.7  3.4  9.9  1.5  3.15     36
1996 LosAngls  NL     33  33  230.7  187   91  25  79  207   3.55 16 10   7.3  1.0  3.1  8.1  1.3  3.88     23
1997 LosAngls  NL     33  33  207.7  201  107  26  83  201   4.64 11 12   8.7  1.1  3.6  8.7  1.2  4.80     21
1998 LosAngls  NL     12  12   68.0   59   35   9  35   64   4.63  4  4   7.8  1.2  4.6  8.5  0.9  5.53     14
1998 NY Mets   NL     17  16   90.3   76   47  12  51   82   4.68  5  5   7.6  1.2  5.1  8.2  0.8  5.14     10
1999 Milwauke  NL     28  28  179.3  173   93  25  65  145   4.67 10 10   8.7  1.3  3.3  7.3  1.1  4.46     13
2000 Detroit   AL     32  31  196.3  184   99  27  73  179   4.54 11 11   8.4  1.2  3.3  8.2  1.2  4.10     19
2001 Boston    AL     33  33  201.3  171   93  24  91  209   4.16 12 10   7.6  1.1  4.1  9.3  1.1  4.29     25

     Majors          216 214 1366.0 1181  624 164 550 1299   4.11 84 68   7.8  1.1  3.6  8.6  1.9  4.25     22
     Japan            17  17  115.0   97   61  10  78  111   4.77  6  7   7.6  0.8  6.1  8.7  0.7  4.54     18
     Totals          143 141 1510.7 1304  699 175 644 1429   4.16 92 77   7.8  1.0  3.8  8.5  1.8  4.25     22

I only have one year of Japanese data for Hideo Nomo (technically, I have Nomo's stats for prior years, but not the league's, so I can't run a DT). Except for walks, and the difference 2.5 walks per game makes on ERA, his overall performance has been identical.


Hideki Irabu                        Age 33
Year Team      Lge    G   GS     IP    H   ER  HR  BB    K    ERA  W  L   H/9 HR/9 BB/9  K/9   KW  PERA   STUF
1994 Chiba     JPL    27  26  209.0  173   85  18  86  211   3.66 14  9   7.4  0.8  3.7  9.1  1.2  3.38     31
1995 Chiba     JPL    28  27  197.3  176   76  12  67  195   3.47 14  8   8.0  0.5  3.1  8.9  1.5  3.86     30
1997 Columbus  Int     4   4   27.0   21    7   1   5   19   2.33  2  1   7.0  0.3  1.7  6.3  1.9  2.65     20
1997 NY Yanks  AL     13   9   54.7   68   45  14  17   54   7.41  2  4  11.2  2.3  2.8  8.9  1.6  7.41     11
1998 NY Yanks  AL     29  28  178.0  145   79  25  68  122   3.99 11  9   7.3  1.3  3.4  6.2  0.9  3.74      8
1999 NY Yanks  AL     32  27  174.7  174   83  23  38  132   4.28 10  9   9.0  1.2  2.0  6.8  1.7  4.57     13
2000 Montreal  NL     11  11   55.7   77   40   8  12   37   6.47  2  4  12.4  1.3  1.9  6.0  1.5  6.75      0
2001 Montreal  NL      3   3   16.0   22   12   3   3   14   6.75  1  1  12.4  1.7  1.7  7.9  2.3  4.68     15
2001 Ottawa    Int     4   4   22.0   24   13   3   8   14   5.32  1  1   9.8  1.2  3.3  5.7  0.9  6.27     -6

     Majors           75  69  479.0  486  259  73 138  359   4.87 26 27   9.1  1.4  2.6  6.7  1.4  4.85     10
     Minors           22  22   90.0   86   46  12  22   58   4.60  4  6   8.6  1.2  2.2  5.8  1.3  3.83     25
     Japan            55  53  406.3  349  161  30 153  406   3.57 28 17   7.7  0.7  3.4  9.0  1.3  3.61     31
     Totals          140 132  975.3  921  466 115 313  823   4.30 58 50   8.5  1.1  2.9  7.6  1.8  4.24     18

Hideki Irabu's performance has to be rated as a definite disappointment; I don't think his velocity in America was as good as advertised, and the results were definitely less. Of possible interest is his performance this winter, which translates as:


Year Team      Lge    G   GS     IP    H   ER  HR  BB    K    ERA  W  L   H/9 HR/9 BB/9  K/9   KW  PERA   STUF
2001 San       PRL    12  12   65.0   58   25   6  16   48   3.46  4  3   8.0  0.8  2.2  6.6  1.5  3.19    17

I think the Rangers would be thrilled to get 25 starts halfway between those numbers and his major league average.


Shigetoshi Hasegawa                 Age 33
Year Team      Lge    G   GS     IP    H   ER  HR  BB    K    ERA  W  L   H/9 HR/9 BB/9  K/9   KW  PERA   STUF
1994 Orix      JPL    25  22  159.7  166   75  14  42   76   4.23 10  8   9.4  0.8  2.4  4.3  0.9  3.50     4
1995 Orix      JPL    24  23  167.0  179   90  20  48   74   4.85  9 10   9.6  1.1  2.6  4.0  0.8  4.00    -2
1997 Anaheim   AL     50   7  120.0  116   57  13  40   80   4.28  7  6   8.7  1.0  3.0  6.0  1.0  4.18    -1
1998 Anaheim   AL     61   0  100.3   84   41  13  29   71   3.68  7  4   7.5  1.2  2.6  6.4  1.2  3.03     1
1999 Anaheim   AL     64   1   79.7   77   43  12  28   44   4.86  4  5   8.7  1.4  3.2  5.0  0.8  4.43   -14
2000 Anaheim   AL     66   0   99.0   96   46   9  31   58   4.18  6  5   8.7  0.8  2.8  5.3  0.9  3.35    -5
2001 Anaheim   AL     46   0   57.0   52   24   5  19   39   3.79  4  2   8.2  0.8  3.0  6.2  1.0  4.04    -2

     Majors          287   8  456.0  425  211  52 147  292   4.16 28 22   8.4  1.0  2.9  5.8  1.0  3.77    -4
     Minors            2   2    2.0    3    1   0   0    0   4.50  0  0  13.5  0.0  0.0  0.0 -1.0  6.83   -36
     Japan            49  45  326.7  345  165  34  90  150   4.55 19 18   9.5  0.9  2.5  4.1  0.8  3.77     1
     Totals          338  55  784.7  773  377  86 237  442   4.32 47 40   8.9  1.0  2.7  5.1  0.8  3.77    -2

Shigetoshi Hasegawa converted from a starter to a reliever when he came here. He's done a touch better than expected, but not remarkably so.


Masato Yoshii                       Age 37
Year Team      Lge    G   GS     IP    H   ER  HR  BB    K    ERA  W  L   H/9 HR/9 BB/9  K/9   KW  PERA   STUF
1994 Osa-Kint  JPL    21  19   98.7  117   70  19  34   37   6.39  4  7  10.7  1.7  3.1  3.4  0.5  6.70    -21
1995 Yakult    JCL    34  22  139.7  129   56  13  33   83   3.61 10  6   8.3  0.8  2.1  5.3  1.3  3.55      5
1997 Yakult    JCL    28  20  165.0  150   66  15  42   97   3.60 11  7   8.2  0.8  2.3  5.3  1.2  3.47     10
1998 NY Mets   NL     29  29  173.7  169   85  23  49  103   4.40 10  9   8.8  1.2  2.5  5.3  1.1  4.33      5
1999 NY Mets   NL     31  29  177.7  167   82  24  49   95   4.15 11  9   8.5  1.2  2.5  4.8  1.0  4.23      1
2000 Colorado  NL     29  29  172.0  197  103  25  44   78   5.39  8 11  10.3  1.3  2.3  4.1  0.9  4.32     -4
2001 Montreal  NL     42  11  108.0  124   62  15  23   51   5.17  5  7  10.3  1.2  1.9  4.2  1.1  5.00    -11

     Majors          131  98  631.3  657  332  87 165  327   4.73 34 36   9.4  1.2  2.4  4.7  0.7  4.41     -1
     Japan            83  61  403.3  396  192  47 109  217   4.28 25 20   8.8  1.0  2.4  4.8  1.0  4.29      1
     Totals          214 159 1034.7 1053  524 134 274  544   4.56 59 56   9.2  1.2  2.4  4.7  0.8  4.37      0

Almost identical performances on both sides of the Pacific, in sum, by Masato Yoshii. Age is catching up with him.


Kazuhiro Sasaki                     Age 34
Year Team      Lge    G   GS     IP    H   ER  HR  BB    K    ERA  W  L   H/9 HR/9 BB/9  K/9   KW  PERA   STUF
1994 Yokohama  JCL    31   0   43.7   28   13   6  13   56   2.68  4  1   5.8  1.2  2.7 11.5  2.2  2.49     33
1995 Yokohama  JCL    47   0   54.3   31   12   5  14   72   1.99  5  1   5.1  0.8  2.3 11.9  2.6  2.05     39
1997 Yokohama  JCL    49   0   58.0   26   11   6  15   93   1.71  5  1   4.0  0.9  2.3 14.4  3.1  0.97     56
1998 Yokohama  JCL    51   0   53.7   33   12   5  12   75   2.01  5  1   5.5  0.8  2.0 12.6  3.1  1.29     45
1999 Yokohama  JCL    23   0   22.3   19    7   1   6   33   2.82  1  1   7.7  0.4  2.4 13.3  2.8  2.04     47
2000 Seattle   AL     63   0   64.3   40   22   9  25   77   3.08  5  2   5.6  1.3  3.5 10.8  1.5  3.23     23
2001 Seattle   AL     69   0   68.0   48   17   6  10   59   2.25  6  2   6.4  0.8  1.3  7.8  3.0  3.20     15

     Majors          132   0  132.3   88   39  15  35  136   2.65 11  4   6.0  1.0  2.4  9.2  4.5  3.21     19
     Japan           201   0  232.0  137   55  23  60  329   2.13 20  5   5.3  0.9  2.3 12.8  2.7  1.69     45
     Totals          333   0  364.3  225   94  38  95  465   2.32 31  9   5.6  0.9  2.3 11.5  7.6  2.24     35

I didn't realize, until researching this article, that Kazuhiro Sasaki was the highest-paid player in Japan before leaving--which means Japanese front offices inflate a closer's value as badly as their American counterparts do. The fact is, though, that he was practically unhittable in Japan, and his performance here, good as it has been, is well below the levels he established for himself over there.


Kazuhisa Ishii                      Age 28
Year Team      Lge    G   GS     IP    H   ER  HR  BB    K    ERA  W  L   H/9 HR/9 BB/9  K/9   KW  PERA   STUF
1997 Yakult    JCL    18  15  112.3   75   31   5  44  112   2.48  9  3   6.0  0.4  3.5  9.0  1.3  2.36     33
1998 Yakult    JCL    28  27  187.0  151   79  14  97  232   3.80 12  9   7.3  0.7  4.7 11.2  1.2  4.18     37
1999 Yakult    JCL    23  21  126.7  121   71  15  69  157   5.04  6  8   8.6  1.1  4.9 11.2  1.1  5.47     30
2000 Yakult    JCL    29  27  173.7  139   69  15  75  189   3.58 12  7   7.2  0.8  3.9  9.8  1.3  2.96     33
2001 Yakult    JCL    27  27  172.7  141   77  20  77  146   4.01 11  8   7.3  1.0  4.0  7.6  0.9  4.33     15

     Japan           125 117  772.3  627  327  69 362  836   3.81 50 35   7.3  0.8  4.2  9.7  1.2  3.89     30

Kazuhisa Ishii is the left-hander the Dodgers bought the rights to this winter. He has a high-90s fastball and excellent slider, and was the most dominant strikeout pitcher in Japan. However, he has led the league in walks and wild pitches several times, he has missed parts of several seasons with arm trouble, and his strikeout and stuff numbers took a precipitous decline last season.


Satoru Komiyama                     Age 36
Year Team      Lge    G   GS     IP    H   ER  HR  BB    K    ERA  W  L   H/9 HR/9 BB/9  K/9   KW  PERA   STUF
1997 Chiba     JPL    27  24  192.0  186   67  10  27  121   3.14 14  7   8.7  0.5  1.3  5.7  2.2  3.19     18
1998 Chiba     JPL    27  27  200.0  227   99  23  23  122   4.45 11 11  10.2  1.0  1.0  5.5  2.7  4.84     10
1999 Chiba     JPL    21  21  141.7  164   77  22  13   87   4.89  7  9  10.4  1.4  0.8  5.5  3.3  5.10      8
2000 Yokohama  JCL    26  24  151.7  165   86  23  38   97   5.10  7 10   9.8  1.4  2.3  5.8  1.3  4.41      6
2001 Yokohama  JCL    24  24  147.7  151   61  10  28   62   3.72 10  6   9.2  0.6  1.7  3.8  1.1  3.70      3

     Japan           125 120  833.0  893  390  88 129  489   4.21 49 43   9.6  1.0  1.4  5.3  1.9  4.22     10

Satoru Komiyama, who played for Bobby Valentine in Chiba in 1996, was picked up by the Mets this year. He's getting up in years--his stuff scores have declined four years in a row, and his strikeouts dropped from an acceptable mid-fives to a dangerous sub-fours level. Despite all that, he finished fourth in the league in ERA. Komiyama throws five different pitches with excellent control, with a reputation as a fierce competitor and team leader.


Akinori Otsuka                      Age 30
Year Team      Lge    G   GS     IP    H   ER  HR  BB    K    ERA  W  L   H/9 HR/9 BB/9  K/9   KW  PERA   STUF
1997 Osa-Kint  JPL    52   0   83.3   46   21   3  42  118   2.27  7  2   5.0  0.3  4.5 12.7  1.4  2.66     40
1998 Osa-Kint  JPL    49   0   54.7   44   22   6  21   71   3.62  4  2   7.2  1.0  3.5 11.7  1.7  3.44     29
1999 Osa-Kint  JPL    25   0   29.7   25   10   1   9   29   3.03  2  1   7.6  0.3  2.7  8.8  1.6  4.09     17
2000 Osa-Kint  JPL    39   0   41.7   32   13   3  11   45   2.81  4  1   6.9  0.6  2.4  9.7  2.0  2.06     25
2001 Osa-Kint  JPL    48   0   55.7   45   19   6  13   73   3.07  4  2   7.3  1.0  2.1 11.8  2.8  4.28     33

     Japan           213   0  265.0  192   85  19  96  336   2.89 21  8   6.5  0.6  3.3 11.4  1.8  3.23     32

Japan's premier closer since Sasaki left, Akinori Otsuka throws a mid-90s fastball and a slider. He suffered from some elbow trouble in 1999, but it looks like he has recovered completely.


Shigeki Noguchi                     Age 28
Year Team      Lge    G   GS     IP    H   ER  HR  BB    K    ERA  W  L   H/9 HR/9 BB/9  K/9   KW  PERA   STUF
1997 Chunichi  JCL    11   7   35.0   46   25   2  18   13   6.43  1  3  11.8  0.5  4.6  3.3  0.4  8.50    -26
1998 Chunichi  JCL    27  27  181.0  175   78  13  58  129   3.88 11  9   8.7  0.6  2.9  6.4  1.1  3.53     15
1999 Chunichi  JCL    29  29  191.3  197   91  13  65  140   4.28 11 10   9.3  0.6  3.1  6.6  1.1  3.54     15
2000 Chunichi  JCL    33  27  163.0  199  108  20  60  115   5.96  7 11  11.0  1.1  3.3  6.3  1.0  6.04      2
2001 Chunichi  JCL    26  26  191.3  174   59   8  26  157   2.78 15  6   8.2  0.4  1.2  7.4  3.0  3.72     29

     Japan           126 116  761.7  791  361  56 227  554   4.27 45 39   9.3  0.7  2.7  6.5  1.2  4.35     14

Shigeki Noguchi was the Central League's MVP in 1999, when he went 19-7, and he is the reigning ERA champ. He is a left-hander who relies primarily on his fastball.


Daisuke Matsuzaka                   Age 21
Year Team      Lge    G   GS     IP    H   ER  HR  BB    K    ERA  W  L   H/9 HR/9 BB/9  K/9   KW  PERA   STUF
1999 Seibu     JPL    25  24  180.7  130   65  16  78  137   3.24 13  7   6.5  0.8  3.9  6.8  0.9  3.01     15
2000 Seibu     JPL    27  24  167.3  136   69  14  77  133   3.71 11  8   7.3  0.8  4.1  7.2  0.9  3.97     15
2001 Seibu     JPL    33  32  240.7  189   96  24 100  189   3.59 16 11   7.1  0.9  3.7  7.1  0.9  3.92     15

     Japan            85  80  588.7  455  230  54 255  459   3.52 40 26   7.0  0.8  3.9  7.0  0.9  3.65     16

Daisuke Matsuzaka has played three years in Japan's major leagues, and has been named the league's best pitcher three times. He throws as hard as Ishii does, but from the right-hand side, and blew Ichiro away three times the first time they met. I also have to think he's a good candidate for arm trouble, given his age and workload.

Clay Davenport is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

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INCOMING ARTICLE LINKS
2012-11-26 - Premium Article Overthinking It: The Art of NPB Scouting
2009-08-19 - Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run: Vlad and the Right F...
2007-05-17 - Nippon Prospectus
2006-01-04 - Battle of Champions
2005-11-23 - Prospectus Notebook: Royals, Mariners