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.
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At the dawn of the posting system, the arrival of the unique Ichiro Suzuki would forever change the player market between the U.S. and Japan.
Last month, I traced the early history of Japanese-American player traffic, from the Pirates’ sly attempt to sign Eiji Sawamura in the 1930s to the loophole-leaping of players like Hideo Nomo and Alfonso Soriano in the 1990s. To close that voluntary-retirement loophole and to prevent trading players like Hideki Irabu without their permission, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and Major League Baseball (MLB) agreed on the current posting system in 1998. The system was designed to allow MLB teams to sign NPB stars without turning the NPB into another minor league, by forcing MLB teams to pay twice for NPB players, with about half of the total fee typically going to that player’s club.
During the leagues’ offseason, NPB teams can choose to post players who want to test the MLB waters. Once a player is posted, any MLB team has four days to submit a bid to the MLB commissioner for the right to negotiate with him. The highest bidding team then has thirty days to sign a contract. If they succeed, the team pays the posting fee to the player’s NPB club, but if they can’t come to an agreement, no fee is paid. The winning club thus pays for a player twice, with a portion going to the team as a non-negotiable sealed bid. This kind of blind bidding can easily lead to overpaying, benefitting the NPB club, but not the player.
PECOTA's strange history with Ichiro Suzuki suggests some areas for improvement.
Were Ichiro Suzuki represented by Scott Boras, the super-agent might be able to make a more convincing case than usual for his client’s singular, once-in-a-generation talent. Actually, Ichiro-types don’t come along even as often as that, especially in PECOTA’s post-World War II player comparison pool; the baseball gods appear to have both made and broken the mold especially for him.
Attempting to assign credit and blame around the diamond when the ball is put into play.
When last we met, we were playing the blame game, and specifically asking the question, when a batter strikes out, who is responsible? The batter? The pitcher? Random noise? It turns out that after some numerical gymnastics we find that, on a strikeout, a batter deserves about 56 percent of the blame (from his perspective anyway), while the pitcher gets about 43.3 percent. Background noise from the league takes up the remaining 0.7 percent. Today, we’ll take a look at some of the other (more complicated) events in baseball, but if you haven’t read part I (which lays out the methodology I’ll be using), now would be a good time to go back and do so.
David Wells cements his status as a track and field legend, Ichiro and Kenji Johjima feel each other out, and Grady Little is coming to an insane asylum near you.
"At this stage of my career, it takes four singles to score me, or something in the gap when I'm on second."
--Padres P David Wells, on getting a hit and being thrown out at home in Sunday's game against the Reds (San Diego Union-Tribune)
Today or tomorrow, Ichiro Suzuki will set the record for most hits in a single-season, breaking a mark set 84 years ago. The BP crew looks at the achievement and the player.
Joe Sheehan: Is this record a little bit cheap? I think the guy is having a good as season as he can have playing the way he does. A .414 OBP and 13 net steals with good defense is a strong year, if not an MVP one. But his performance in September seems to have been reduced to hitting groundball singles in a specific effort to chase Sisler, and it just looks cheap to me. He has three extra bases in September, for an ISO of .026, and just four unintentional walks in 126 plate appearances. A couple of weeks ago, he bunted for a hit with a runner on second base and two men out in the sixth inning on a two-run game. I have no idea how that helps the team, or what might have happened if, say, Milton Bradley had done that.
While not as prolific a hitter as Barry Bonds is, Ichiro Suzuki is productive, exciting, and as big an outlier in his own way. Nate Silver explains.
The trouble is, Ichiro is doing one hell of a number on our projection system. PECOTA predicted Ichiro to hit .309 this year. It thought there was greater than a 40 percent chance that he wouldn't even manage .300. It gave him better than a one-in-three probability of having a collapse season at the plate. For PECOTA, Ichiro is this year's Javy Lopez.
Ichiro Suzuki is chasing an 84-year-old record that has barely even been challenged in that time. Can he get there? Joe Sheehan looks at his chances.
I don't get the same thrill out of watching Ichiro play as others do, and as I've pointed out before, the style points people are so willing to grant him mean that he'll perpetually be overrated. In his best seasons, he'll be an above-average player wrongly considered an MVP candidate. In others, he'll be an average player called "above average." In any case, his offensive value is entirely dependent on how high a BA he can put up.