Michael ends his look at Japanese imports with some conclusions and a look at the future of the transpacific player market.
In the Asian Equation series, I’ve traced the history of the current posting system that imports players from NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball, the Japanese major leagues) and how the success of Ichiro Suzuki has affected it, from the position players who arrived in his wake to the pricey disappointments among starting pitchers and the marginally successful relievers. In this final column, I’ll take a look back to draw conclusions from this history and see what we can expect from the NPB market in the future. As with my previous columns, Patrick Newman’s advice and ideas were very helpful, as is his website, NPB Tracker.
The simplest, broadest conclusion concerns the players themselves, where we must draw an important distinction between talent and skills. As Craig Brown wrote in the comments section of his article on Tsuyoshi Nishioka, “. . . comparing two middle infielders just because they come from Japan is like comparing two middle infielders just because they come from Delaware.” Just because they’re from Japan doesn’t mean we can draw specific conclusions about individual ballplayers, their talents, or their ability to succeed in Major League Baseball. This goes double for Ichiro, whose skills are idiosyncratic on either side of the Pacific. Throwing money at Japanese players expecting them to be slap hitters with weird batting stances and an uncanny ability to find defensive holes is as foolish as thinking every Venezuelan shortstop will field (and endure) like Omar Vizquel. We can’t expect specific players to have certain inherent talents just because they were born in Japan.
In his third column on Japanese-American player movement, Michael looks at the position players who followed in the wake of the unique Ichiro Suzuki.
Thus far in the Asian Equation series, I’ve explained the early history of Japanese-American baseball traffic which lead to the posting system and the signing of Ichiro Suzuki, who is among the most idiosyncratic players in either league. As we discussed in the comments section, the success of one unique player from Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) doesn’t mean that all of them can succeed, a logical fallacy that has eluded many baseball executives.
Although the feeding frenzy has declined lately, the last decade was marked by many teams gambling on the next Eastern import, hoping for another Ichiro to take them to the next level. A few players have succeeded, collecting World Series rings and postseason acclaim, but many of them have simply survived—a dream for any player, but not what the general managers were laying out serious cash for.
Teams dish out the dough for players whose only task is to mash, but they don't always get a good return.
The designated hitter is one of those principles that seem to be a lot better in theory than in practice for most American League franchises. In theory, AL clubs can replace their feeble-hitting pitchers with a big, strong bat that will help the offense’s efficiency. But those big hitters are not always plentiful for some teams and not affordable for others. For every Edgar Martinez out there, a team ends up with Pat Burrell, as the only guarantee a designated hitter gives a team is the right to choose not to put the pitcher in the batting order.
What about the doings of the ballclub from that other city by the bay?
The A's are invariably interesting to talk about, not simply for personal reasons. On the one hand, they might be seen as overachievers, managing 81 wins to finish second in the short stack. On the other, this is the team we here at BP have managed to collectively peg as a likely division winner as recently as 2009. And no, they did not win the division, though there's no real joy in confessing my own innocence and failure to get aboard to projected performance bandwagon. If the A's had really been a little engine that could, that would have been swell, what with a new East Bay stadium in Fremont San Jose a location TBD to winkle out of an unwilling public, not to mention the even less tractable, ungenerous Giants.
In the last of his preseason "Hot Spots," Michael Street looks at the underappreciated 1B Billy Butler, the increasing flexibility of DH Hideki Matsui, and how Scott Rolen and Juan Francisco fit in to Cincinnati's 3B picture.
For this final preseason Hot Spots column, I’m focusing on underdrafted players, anticipating our shift to targeting undervalued players during the regular season. There’s no better place to start than Kansas City, whose offense is projected by BP to score 741 runs, fourth-worst in the AL, making fantasy owners overlook Royals players.
One who doesn’t deserve such a snub is Billy Butler, whose 32.3 VORP in 2009 was second-best on the team. He’ll need to reach his 80thPECOTA percentile to beat that VORP in 2010, but even his 50th percentile has fantasy value. Though he isn’t a slugger, Butler’s 14% strikeout rate and 8% walk rate from 2007-9 show his strong BA contributions. If he can recapture the patience he exhibited in 2008, when he had a career-best 12.9% K rate, Butler could hit .300 again in 2010; his 60th percentile would get him there, while also cresting .500 SLG.
Having achieved the goal they set for themselves with last winter's shopping spree, they can also credit the Core Four and more.
Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter may be the Yankees for whom the spotlight shines the brightest, but it was Hideki Matsui who did the dirty work on Wednesday night. Tying a single-game World Series record with six RBI, Matsui collected big hits in his first three at-bats to help the Yankees pounce on Pedro Martinez and the Phillies early, building up a 7-1 lead by the end of the fifth inning. As the Yankees did two nights earlier when they found themselves in an early hole, the Phillies made a game of it by summoning a brief hint of their offensive firepower, but it was too little, too late. For the first time since 2000, the Yankees are the World Champions.