The World Baseball Classic has brought unprecedented popularity and attendance figures to Korean baseball.
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
Daniel Kim is a baseball columnist for Daum Media and a lifelong New York Mets fan. He has served in various roles for major-league organizations, including the Mets and Cincinnati Reds. He’s currently based in Seoul.
In his fifth Asian Equation column, Michael looks at the relievers who have enjoyed modest success--and failure--making the move from Japan to America.
The last group in my analysis of the player’s who have migrated to MLB from Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) are the relievers, the least appreciated members of a successful baseball team. Yet, of all NPB imports, they have been the most numerous (explaining the length of this article, for which I apologize in advance) and the cheapest. Diminished quality is the most obvious reason for these extremes, since starters who don’t meet MLB standards get shifted to the bullpen, and lesser talents also keep salaries down. Additionally, the typical NPB pitcher’s arsenal matches well with an MLB reliever’s skillset.
As I discussed in my last Asian Equation article, NPB is a breaking ball league, which translates better to relief than starting. A good breaking ball might fool major league hitters the first or second time they see it in a game, but it probably won’t the third or fourth time. As an illustration, here’s how batter OPS rises against two of the biggest NPB starting-pitcher busts as compared with three current MLB pitchers: the best, the most mediocre, and an old junkballer. While MLB batters’ performance improves against each pitcher the more times they see him in a game, the change is far more dramatic with Matsuzaka and Kawakami.
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Some players end up waiting what seems to be an eternity before finally playing a meaningful game in October.
When you’re a ballplayer you don’t control your own destiny. There are 24 other guys, a manager, and a general manager who all have to do their job in order for you to be “a winner.” If they do, you don’t necessarily have to be good yourself; you can just go along for the ride, and many do—Enrique Wilson played in five postseasons, Ernie Banks none. It’s an unjust universe. Or is it? In honor of World Series combatants Aubrey Huff and Michael Young, both of whom are enjoying their first postseason in their 10th full season in the majors, a non-inclusive All-Star team of players who more than paid their dues before finally getting to the postseason, with a couple who didn’t quite pay theirs mixed in.
Which Japanese players are able to slip across the Pacific without going through the posting system?
At the start of the 2007 season, I introduced a list of players possibly primed to make the jump from Japan to the majors. This list included both free agents and posting candidates that had been whispered about in the Japanese and American press. Free agency is a fairly straightforward process, where names are available for discussion well in advance of the seasons close. Posting, on the other hand, is highly subjective, and is essentially a guessing game. I will attempt to bring you some analysis in the piece centered on the free agent crop, and follow up at a future date with information regarding posting situations as they become more clear.
Looking at the free agents, I will organize the names according to tiers. Top-tier free agents are players who should command the attention of every MLB club, and who stand a good chance at contributing on an everyday basis with superior results. Think about Ichiro, Godzilla, Dice-K-first-name basis players. The second-tier free agents are players who will command limited but significant attention from major league clubs, and can play a valuable specialized role on a regular basis. Think Hideki Okajima, Kazuo Matsui, Akinori Iwamura, and Takashi Saito. Finally, tertiary-tiered free agents are players who might be on the radar of some clubs, but stand little chance to contribute on an everyday basis. Essentially, these players can play a role from the bench. Think So Taguchi.
One league's already into its postseason, and the other's almost there. What's up on the other side of the pond?
With the regular season finally coming to an end, it's time to turn our attention to the first round of the NPB postseason. This is the first year in which both Pacific and Central Leagues will be participating in the three-game opening round format, pitting the second- and third-place clubs against one another for the opportunity to meet the first-place club in their league's championship series. Best of three is certainly less than ideal, and would seem to devalue the regular season, but it is what it is. A typical cast of characters has emerged in the playoff picture, and the final standings for 2007 demonstrate that the traditional powers have again dominated the underdogs, claiming the six playoff berths.
The playoff race is beginning to heat up in both the Pacific and Central Leagues, but for now all eyes will be on the prestigious Koshien High School Baseball Championship.
The season in the NPB has been very interesting so far. Each of the leagues boast compelling battles for first place, as well as for the three playoff berths. For the most part, the Central League has been led by the Yomiuri Giants and Chunichi Dragons, with several teams fighting for the final playoff spot. Yokohama has looked strong throughout the year, but never count out the Hanshin Tigers, and even the Carp and Swallows both have reason for optimism as well. If I were to choose the third team at the start of August, I would pick the Tigers, if only because their pitching has been consistently good so far this year.
The Pacific League has been more dramatic. Nippon Ham was in last place during the early part of the year, then rocketed into first past everyone thanks to a team-wide improvement in all phases of the game. What looked like a one-man show thanks to the brilliance of Yu Darvish has been transformed into a team effort that promises to give the Sapporo club a great chance at repeating as champions. SoftBank has disappointed, especially thanks to the shoulder woes of Kazumi Saito and the deteriorating hitting of the once-mighty Nobuhiko Matsunaka. With their deep roster, they still have a chance of passing the Fighters to move into first. The Chiba Lotte Marines look to be a lock for the third playoff position on the strength of a surging offense and a deep rotation of good, not great starting pitching. The Lions, Buffaloes, and Eagles are virtually out of contention, but each team's fans have something to follow as the stretch run begins.
The Marines are up and the Lions down since our last report from across the Pacific.
The Pacific League has been tumultuous this season, as several teams have spent time in first place, and more than one club has seen a dramatic turn in fortunes. If you like drama and excitement, the Pacific is full of fascinating story lines, characters, and winning and losing streaks that keep the highlight reels full every night.
I present you the Pacific League as of June 16th, 2007. Teams are listed in their current order in the standings with both runs scored and allowed.
The Snakes bury John Patterson, the Red Sox sort through a batch of soft tossers, the Marlins vie for a 25-catcher roster, and the Devil Rays solve all their problems by grabbing Al Martin and Damion Easley.