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December 27, 2013 8:43 am

How Much Will Masahiro Tanaka Make?

0

Josh Herzenberg

How good (and how rich) is Tanaka going to be?

As I attempted to digest an enormous Christmas Eve meal, a string of text messages appeared on my phone, all sent around the same time on Tuesday.

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Ben and Sam talk to Jason Coskrey of The Japan Times about Masahiro Tanaka and the recent changes to the NPB-MLB player posting system.

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From denim jerseys to Wily Mo Pena Beards, the very best products from NPB’s online shops.

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.

Michael Clair writes Old Time Family Baseball and contributes to the Platoon Advantage. Follow him on Twitter @clairbearattack.



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Wladimir Balentien is threatening to break Japan's single-season home-run record. Does that mean he can hit in the majors?

You might remember Wladimir Balentien from his age 22-24 seasons, when he hit a combined .221/.281/.374 for the Mariners and Reds, or his age-25 season, which he spent with Triple-A Lousville because he was blocked by the barely passable bat of Austin Kearns. Then again, you might not, because your brain has space for only so many baseball players, and Balentien didn’t make much of a case for inclusion.

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Ben and Sam discuss how Wladimir Balentien's explosive season in Japan would translate to the majors, then examine the notion that Billy Beane's teams play better in the second half.

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Ben and Sam discuss the Mariners' decision to bring in (and lower) Safeco Field's fences, then talk about what the seasons of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Norichika Aoki say about the difficulty of projecting the performance of Japanese imports.

Ben and Sam discuss the Mariners' decision to bring in (and lower) Safeco Field's fences, then talk about what the seasons of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Norichika Aoki say about the difficulty of projecting the performance of Japanese imports.

Episode 55: "Shrinking Safeco/The Unpredictability of Japanese Players"

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The AL West added a couple of the premier international players over the offseason, and both are already contributing to their new teams.

Two high-profile international free agents came to the American League West this year. The two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers won negotiating rights (with a $51.7 million bid) to Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish in December 2011 and signed him to a six-year, $56 million deal the following month. Meanwhile, the small-market Oakland A's surprised everyone in February by landing Cuban center fielder/Internet sensation Yoenis Cespedes at four years, $36 million.

Darvish was the better-known quantity, having generated buzz well in advance of his U.S. debut, and was expected to contribute right away. Cespedes came with more questions attached, and it wasn't certain that he would break camp with the big club. But he did, and he made an immediate impact, launching a home run in his big-league debut (amusingly enough, played in Japan).

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January 18, 2012 3:00 am

Heartburn Hardball: The Hawk and the Dragon

16

Jonathan Bernhardt

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.

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September 20, 2011 10:41 pm

The Asian Equation: The Future of the NPB Import Market

13

Michael Street

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.

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August 4, 2011 12:17 am

The Asian Equation: Finding Relief from NPB

1

Michael Street

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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July 7, 2011 9:00 am

The Asian Equation: The Decline of NPB Pitching Imports

14

Michael Street

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.

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June 8, 2011 9:00 am

The Asian Equation: The Futile Quest for the Next Ichiro

5

Michael Street

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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