Our first look inside the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
This is Part 1 of a multi-part series on the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement
On November 22 of last year, Major League Baseball and the MLBPA did something that the NFL and the NBA could not: reached a new labor agreement without a work stoppage. For those that follow baseball’s labor history, it has become a miraculous run. By the time the current five-year Basic Agreement (read here) expires on December 1, 2016, it will have been 21 years of uninterrupted labor peace.
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Looking at Sports Illustrated's first ever mentions of two of Japan's biggest MLB stars, Hideo Nomo and Ichiro.
The news that Yu Darvish has finally signed with the Rangers inspired me (again) to do a little digging into the history of Japanese ballplayers in the Major Leagues. Not that we're talking ancient history here. Other than the Giants' 1960s relief pitcher MasanoriMurakami, the only major league Japanese players have been playing only since HideoNomo found a loophole in his contract and retired from Japanese baseball to make his way to the Dodgers in 1995.
The first mention of Nomo in Sports Illustrated came in February of that year, shortly after he discovered his path to the majors. Despite being a big star in the Far East, Nomo and his fight to get into American baseball was unknown stateside:
After starring for opposing teams in the Japan Series, Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada will try to adjust to life in Baltimore and last place, as the Orioles react to the new CBA by plugging their pitching holes with Asian imports.
On November 12th, 2011, as Major League Baseball recovers from one of the most exciting World Series in recent memory, Nippon Professional Baseball begins its own best-of-seven championship: the Japan Series.
Much like MLB, Japanese professional baseball has two leagues—the Central and the Pacific—and much like MLB, the champions of those respective leagues play each other to determine a final champion for the entire season. As NPB has only 12 teams compared to to MLB's 30, however, the playoffs are structured a bit differently; with only six teams per league, NPB does not bother with divisions or Wild Cards—the best three teams in each league make the playoffs, with the league's top seed getting a first-round bye. The second and third seeds play a best-of-three series, and the winner faces the first seed in a best-of-five “Climax Series” that's roughly analogous to MLB's League Championship Series. The winning club from each league's Climax Series is that league's champion and advances to the best-of-seven Japan Series to determine which is the best club in NPB. The Climax Series format was implemented first by the Pacific League in 2004 and then adopted by the Central League three years later. Previously, there had been no real postseason in NPB: the team with the best season record from the Central would play the team with the best season record from the Pacific in the Japan Series, and that was that.
Will Yu Darvish's Japanese League domination translate to major-league success?
Rumors abound that Yu Darvish, perhaps the most hyped player to come from Japan since Daisuke Matsuzaka, will be posted by his Nippon Pro Baseball team this winter. If that happens, Major League Baseball teams will have the right to bid on exclusive negotiating rights with Darvish in the hopes of securing his services for their rotation. This possibility has the blogosphere abuzz, with many a writer speculating on where he’ll end up or how he’ll fit in with a blogger’sfavoriteteam.
But the big question on everyone’s mind is how much of this buzz is merely hype and how much is legitimate. As Michael Street has shown, Japanese pitchers (particularly starters) have a very spotty track record when they come across the Pacific, and even a guy like Matsuzaka only managed one above-average season before giving way to injuries and ineffectiveness.
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 fourth column in the Asian Equation series, Michael looks at the starting pitchers who have crossed the Pacific, in which many failures are punctuated with a few very notable successes.
In the flood of players coming from Japan, the majority (34 of 43) have been pitchers. Unlike the pursuit of the next Ichiro I described in my previous column, this has less to do with the success of Hideo Nomo than it does with the pitching market–pitching is a difficult commodity to find in any league. What has doomed many NPB starters in MLB, however, has been both talent and adjustment to a different pitching philosophy. To understand and explain the differences between the two, I’ve drawn not only on my own expertise, but relied on Japanese pitching expert Patrick Newman at NPB Tracker for additional insight.
Pitching differences reflect a deeper philosophical difference between Japanese and American baseball. As I discussed in my first Asian Equation column, Japanese culture appreciates baseball’s emphasis on discipline, sacrifice, and the dramatic showdown between pitcher and batter. Instead of putting a batter away quickly, NPB pitchers build tension by indiscriminately filling counts before a perfectly placed strike three resolves the battle. These aren’t seen as “wasted” pitches, instead reflecting the samurai-like virtues of endurance and dramatic battles.
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.
Two Japanese pitchers deal with the impact of the earthquake on their lives.
In the aftermath of last Friday's massive earthquake in Japan, as I pulled away from the spectacle of the shocking footage on television and helped the Prospectus staff gather information on the ballplayers affected by the disaster, I found myself gravitating towards the stories of two pitchers who happened to be at more or less opposite ends in my personal pantheon. The Brewers' Takashi Saito hails from Miyagi Prefecture, whose capital is Sendai, more or less the epicenter of a massive earthquake that measured 9.0 on the Richter scale. The Yankees' Kei Igawa is from Oarai, a port city engulfed by the subsequent tsunami.
A preview of the Dominican Winter League, taking a look at the teams, stadiums, managers, and players to watch for.
The "National Religion" came back on October 16th, as the Dominican League launched its 56th edition. Reliably praised as having the highest level of talent among the winter leagues, one should expect to watch another mix of highly ranked prospects, mid-level major leaguers, a few recognizable American players, veterans looking for another shot, and some major league stars between now and the end of the Caribbean Series in February. The league format has six teams playing a 50-game regular-season schedule, with the four best records advancing to a long 18-game round-robin playoff, and the two remaining best clubs play a best-of-nine final series to decide the league's champion. Without further ado, here's what this season will bring us:
Tigres del Licey (Licey Tigers)
Home: Santo Domingo
2008-09 record: 26-24, fourth place (tied) regular season; 12-6, first place round-robin; beat the Gigantes in the final series 5-0.
Ballpark: Estadio Quisqueya; strong pitcher's park, with a Park Factor of 92.
How long can revised expectations for two big-name Japanese free agents go?
While it may seem like a wave of Japanese players have come across the Pacific to the US, the numbers aren't so large when you start isolating them by position. There have only been three pitchers in the last 10 years who came from Japan to the US to pitch at least 120 innings in a major league season. Those three: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hiroki Kuroda, and Kazuhisa Ishii. Another notable Japanese starter-Kei Igawa-came to the US with the intention of starting, but he failed to make the grade. This year, though, we have two more Japanese starters here to try their luck: Kenshin Kawakami with the Braves, and Koji Uehara with the Orioles.
Translating statistics between different leagues is a difficult enough task under the best of circumstances; translating across different cultures is even harder. A funny thing happened as I was researching this piece and zeroed in on Japanese starting pitchers-I came to the conclusion that there is a substantial difference in the performance of relief pitchers who worked in both Japan and the US, and the performance of starting pitchers.