An indecent proposal

Yomiuri Giants “owner” Shoichi Oikawa revealed to various media sources Wednesday that Nippon Professional Baseball’s owners are negotiating two options for a revised posting system with Major League Baseball. Both systems will look to base team compensation on a percentage of what players earn in signing bonuses, incentives, salary that would eliminate NPB teams’ ability to select the amount of money they want in exchange for posted players.

The two proposals, according to Oikawa are:

A: 15 percent of all money paid to a player

or

B: 15 percent of all money paid to a player up to $100 million. Over $100 million, the posting fee would be $20 million.

Under these conditions, established pros under 25 who are considered amateurs under the majors’ new CBA could be had for peanuts. The Nippon Ham Fighters, the last team to reap a huge posting fee (around $50 million for Yu Darvish) would be shafted out of the $20 million that would be on the table for Shohei Otani now and instead receive around $1 million — because the PL’s 2016 MVP is an “amateur.”

Should these pass, it will put NPB one step closer to being a minor league for MLB, with NPB teams forced to accept terms that no MLB owner would ever consider.

Mommas don’t let your babys grow up to play defense

…that is, if you want them to win a monthly MVP award in Nippon Professional Baseball.

I totalled up NPB’s monthly MVP awards for position players today and found some not so surprising results. It has always seemed that whoever it is who does the selecting only looks at triple crown stats and stolen bases, so I was curious just how many players at more difficult to fill defensive positions did in the selections.

Without further a dew, here are the results since 1989, when the leagues decided to honor a position player and pitcher from each league.

Catchers: 19 — 5.5% of total
First Basemen: 95 — 27.4%
Second Basemen: 26 — 7.5%
Third Basemen: 48 — 13.8%
Shortstops: 19 — 5.5%
Outfielders at all positions: 131 — 37.8%
Designated Hitters: 9 — 5.2%

Because I don’t have the breakdowns by outfield positions and DH hand for the years between 1989 and 2002, it’s kind of a rough estimate, but it’s pretty clear, that the farther to the weaker end of the defensive spectrum a player is, the more likely he is to win an NPB “player” of the month award.

I do have better games played by position details from 2003, so here are the breakdowns from 2003 through 2017, when ironically, six of the eight winners are outfielders and five of those six have been center fielders.

Anyway, here are the breakdowns since 2003:

Catcher: 10 — 6%
First Baseman: 43 — 25.9%
Second Baseman: 15 — 9%
Third Baseman: 21 — 12.7%
Shortstop: 8 — 4.8%
Left Fielder: 25 — 15.1%
Center Fielder: 18 — 10.8%
Right Fielder: 17 — 10.2%
DH: 9 — 5.4%

The 10 catcher awards are largely due to future Hall of Famer Shinnosuke Abe, who has won 6 monthly MVP awards and another middle-of-the order guy, Kenji Jojima, who won two of the 10 at the position since 2003.

When Daiei Hawks designated hitter Kaz Yamamoto won the award in April 1994, he was batting second, and I was curious how often it was for a No. 2 hitter to be monthly MVP in a country that reserves that batting order spot for players who make lots and lots of outs.

With the exception of Yamamoto and one other player, the No. 2 hitters who won a monthly MVP award were shifted to other spots in the batting order after they disqualified themselves for the NO. 2 spot by being productive. The only Monthly MVP who batted second much of his career was Hankyu Braves second baseman (and current Orix Buffaloes manager) Junichi Fukura, who was a quality hitter but also fit the NPB stereotype of a No. 2 man by being a fast, good-glove middle infielder who excelled at bunting and rarely struck out.

Monthly MVPs

NPB’s pitchers and hitters of the month will be announced shortly, actually the awards are “Player of the Month” and “Pitcher of the Month” but they could be just as well called “high average hitter of the month or “winning starting pitcher of the month” since those seem to be the principle concerns for the award selectors.

Here are some basic monthly stats for the top hitters and top pitchers from NPB for March and April. Enjoy.




4 years after shafting NPB, MLB ready for another posting system plunge

OK. So while we’ve all expected Shohei Otani to move to the majors at the end of this year, Major League Baseball may be in the process of wrecking that prospect.

Four years after MLB last took Nippon Professional Baseball teams to the cleaners ahead of Masahiro Tanaka’s posting, MLB is looking to renegotiate its sweetheart posting deal with NPB, a source told Kyodo News this week.

In the winter of 2013, just days prior to the anticipated posting of Tanaka, currently the ace of the New York Yankees, the Rakuten Eagles’ expected posting wind fall went from a possible $100 million to $20 million as the Yomiuri Giants and SoftBank Hawks pressured other NPB clubs to agree to a new deal that was friendlier to MLB. And now MLB is at it again.

Small-market MLB teams had been unhappy with the pre-2013 deal that saw the winners of closed bids pay in the area of $50 million for the exclusive negotiating rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish. Because money paid to NPB teams in posting fees don’t count against MLB’s luxury tax, it was a tax dodge for clubs willing to break the bank for overseas talent.




The current system allows every team to negotiate with a posted player provided it is willing to pay the posting fee demanded by his NPB team up to a maximum of $20 million. This drives down the amount that rich clubs can shelter from the luxury tax but does nothing to make high-value foreign talent more accessible to small-market teams since posted players are now able to sign with the highest bidder.

Four years after the Giants and Hawks conspired with MLB to get NPB to agree to a lousy posting system for Japan’s other teams, they can again be counted on to ram another lousy deal down their fellow owners’ throats just in time, perhaps, to prevent the most interesting baseball player in the world, Otani, from leaving NPB.

MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement prevents a bidding war this year for the 23-year-old slugging ace pitcher by treating him as an amateur until he’s 25. Otani is still in Japan as arguably the country’s best pitcher and its best hitter BECAUSE the Nippon Ham Fighters agreed to post him when he is ready. Manager Hideki Kuriyama told a press conference in Tokyo last winter that his plan was to give Otani a shortcut to the majors.

At last year’s winter meetings outside Washington, an MLB executive said that while Cuban pros rather than Otani were the reason for the new CBA. The CBA reduces his posting payday from somewhere in the $200 million-to-$300 million range to something in the area of a maximum of $10.5 million.




Otani had wanted to sign directly with a major league team as an amateur, but didn’t, and one gets the impression that MLB is not happy about that. By closing the opportunity of teams like Nippon Ham to offer another superstar a similar shortcut, MLB is hoping that more amateurs skip NPB altogether, sign for small amounts on standard seven-year minor league deals — and demolishing the posting system is one way toward that end.

Of course, since the advent of the new CBA, some American writers have speculated that an exemption might be in the works to ensure Otani comes, since MLB does want him to come, MLB might actually want to sweeten the posting fee for players it considers amateurs, although that seems highly unlikely.

Masanori Murakami book signing with Robert Fitts

Masanori Murakami, Japan’s first Major Leaguer, and author Robert Fitts will sign copies of their book Mashi at Legends Sports Bar in Roppongi on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 from 7 to 9 PM.  Copies of the book will be 3000 yen (cash only) and include a free autograph.  Mr. Murakami will sign additional autographs at 3000 yen each.  Legends Sports bar is located at 3-16-33 Roppongi.

Back in the day with Hiroshi Gondo

Hiroshi Gondo

Hiroshi Gondo is famous in Japan for a number of things, including being one of only two men to manage NPB’s Taiyo-Yokohama-DeNA franchise to a pennant. But most of all, he’s famous for his historic 1961 season, when the 22-year-old Chunichi Dragons rookie led Japan’s Central League in wins and strikeouts and won the Sawamura Award, as the CL’s most impressive pitcher, and the Rookie of the Year Award.

Considering that season, one who is used to today’s game where NPB starters typically throw two bullpens during their six days between starts, how often Gondo went to the pen to freshen up.

“Never,” he said Wednesday at Tokyo Dome. “I pitched every day!”

OK. That’s not exactly true, as you can see here: Gondo 1961 game log This is a look at what a 429-1/3 inning season looks like. Sorry for the Japanese characters in the team names.  The column “G order” indicates his appearance order for his team’s pitchers in that game.

“If I was in the bullpen and my fastball had great life, I don’t want to waste it there. I wanted that for a game.”

He was pitching in an era when managers didn’t hesitate to summon a reliever to the mound without having him go to the bullpen to warmup.

“That happened sometimes. The skipper would say, ‘Gon-chan, get in the game.’ And I’d throw my seven pitches on the mound and that was that. I had been an infielder until my second year in high school and it didn’t take me that long to get warm. Even if I was in the bullpen for a game, I’d throw five or six pitches, then seven on the mound and let’s go. But bullpens between starts? No. What was the point?”

He led the CL in wins the following season, but his career was largely done after 1961. When did he know there was a problem?

“My mistake was in resting and not moving my arm after that (1961) season. After a month or so, I tried to throw and my shoulder was frozen. Lifting it was painful. It hurt all the time.”

Japan’s pitching coach Hiroshi Gondo was once the hardest-working pitcher in baseball

Source: Samurai Japan’s Pitching Coach Hiroshi Gondo Is A Legend | BaseballAmerica.com

 

My mea culpa Chapter 243 or “Why I was wrong about Yakult’s defense”

Seeing less of this in 2017

It would have been a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I’m no prophet.

Seconds after saying on this week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast that people who report on baseball are prone to say dumb things, I went out and proved it.

I said the Yakult Swallows defense was vastly improved and was catching the ball well. Well, I misspoke. I read the wrong line on my database file and

While poking around today, noticed that and a few other things. OK. While it is true that the Swallows are better, they are not the best Central League team at turning batted balls into outs. They are about average. But where I really goofed was in saying they were good at turning double plays. That couldn’t have been more wrong. The data file was not linked the way I thought it was and I got screwy results.

In fact, the Swallows are the worst team in NPB at turning the double play. They entered the games of Thursday, April 27, having had 150 opportunities to register a GDP. How many had they converted? Eight.

Part of that is because the Buffaloes, while not an extreme ground ball club, get more ground ball outs than fly ball outs, while the Swallows are one of three teams that get more fly outs — the others being the Fighters and Marines. The Swallows got 28 ground outs in double play situations but got DPs on just 29 percent of those. The Buffaloes, by contrast, got 43 ground balls when they had a chance to turn two and converted over half.

Tsutsugo unleashes his power

Three weeks ago, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo talked about the successful adjustment of his batting contact point last year. This is not going to be news to everyone, since my colleague who covers the DeNA BayStars explained it to me during the interview, but one of the things I like to do is see if I can spot the adjustment in game results.

There was some talk that Tsutsugo was pulling the ball less during the second half of last season, but he is and always has been a spray hitter with between 46 and 52 percent of the balls he puts in play going toward second, short and center or to the pitcher.

Of course, there’s no guarantee in this data that the second baseman isn’t playing in the hole behind first, but I thought it was better to define the pull and opposite fields as balls to the corner infielders and outfielders.

So while the number of balls he hit to each part of the field didn’t change that much, the results he got from those hits last year were massively different. Discounting his 2013 season, when he barely played, Tsutsugo hit homers out to left 11 times more often last season than he had in the past. His home run power to right nearly doubled, while his batting results up the middle barely changed.

Here’s the data:

MLB’s new CBA a blow to diversity, growth

Major League Baseball took a subtle step toward greater homogenzation in January, when it ratified a labor deal with its union that will lead to less experimentation and fodder for evolution. Aimed at robbing Cuban professionals of their bargaining power in the same way MLB robs homegrown amateurs of theirs, the new agreement will lead to a duller, less imaginative brand of baseball.

The agreement raises the age for foreign pros to be treated as anything but amateurs from 23 to 25, not a huge increase but one which could dissuade talented amateurs in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan from turning professional in their home countries and instead signing directly with MLB clubs.

This would allow MLB teams to scoop up more foreign talent at rock-bottom prices rather than paying out huge sums for professional free agents years down the line. Yet, some of the value overseas pros bring to MLB is not measurable in physical attributes alone but in having competed in a radically different environment, having developed different skill sets and going up against some elite professional opponents at a young age.

The blindingly obvious example is Shohei Otani, a name familiar to every top executive on every MLB team. The 23-year-old Otani was the most valuable player in Japan’s Pacific League this year, is Japan’s fastest pitcher while being one its elite hitters. His Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, will allow him to move to the majors in the autumn, but because MLB’s new labor deal defines Otani as an amateur, a player whose contract was expected to range from 200 to 300 million dollars, will be on the market for around $10 million.

While Japan’s two top leagues lack the talent depth of their U.S. counterparts, Otani is the first in Japanese pro history to hit 10 or more home runs in the same season in which he won 10 or more games, and has done it twice. The only other player to do that in a top-flight professional league was Babe Ruth – who then gave up pitching to concentrate on batting every day.

The right-handed throwing, left-handed hitting wunderkind will, as early as 2018, get a chance to see how well his talents play in the big leagues. Ironically, Otani had not planned on turning pro in Japan, and had to be convinced not to sign with an MLB club. But the Nippon Ham Fighters drafted him and manager Hideki Kuriyama convinced him that his club would allow him to both hit and pitch and by competing against Japan’s best at the age of 18, prepare him for the majors at an early age.

Although many former ballplayers in Japan scoffed at Otani wasting time on hitting when he should be honing his pitching skills, the youngster has shown an amazing ability to both develop his arsenal and velocity on the mound, while refining his swing and his batting approach. And like the old guys here, major league scouts are beginning to think his batting – Otani was voted his league’s best pitcher and designated hitter this year – could have value at the highest level. While the competition in Japan is different from the majors, Otani’s batting compares favorably with Hideki Matsui’s at the same age, while his pitching prowess has matched Yu Darvish’s.

We will never know good a pitcher Otani would be now if he had gone directly to the States as an 18-year-old, but we do know this: Had he signed with an MLB team out of high school, nobody would know he could hit, because no big league club would have permitted him to do both.

Otani is a better and more exciting player because he stayed in Japan, competing against NPB’s best and playing for a team and a manager who were willing to do things differently. If he does buck the odds and succeed in the big leagues on the mound and in the batter’s box – as only Babe Ruth has ever done – it may change baseball’s thinking about what a determined and talented player can accomplish and mean teams will no longer tell players it is impossible to both pitch and bat at a high level.

When Otani does move to the U.S., MLB will benefit from the lessons he learned in NPB. But by discouraging future amateurs from following Otani’s route and by having them skip the advanced skill lessons Japanese pro ball teaches and the U.S. minors don’t, the American game is narrowing an avenue for future growth and evolution and will be the poorer for it.

Former big leaguer Litsch raising China’s game

Baseball is finding a home in some unlikely places around the world and one of them is China’s Yangtze River Valley, where Major League Baseball has established development centers in Wuxi, Changzhou and Nanjing.

There, pitching coach Jesse Litsch is passing on what he learned in a career that culminated in five big league seasons on the mound with the Toronto Blue Jays and is enjoying the experience to the fullest.

“It was a pleasant surprise, the way they (the Chinese students) wanted to play baseball, the way they present themselves on the fields,” Litsch told Kyodo News recently by telephone. “In the States, you don’t know what you’re going to get with some kids.”

“Here, they really appreciate it.”

Jim Small, MLB’s vice president for Asia and the Pacific, said last month that China was one of four areas MLB is targeting.

“We have really tried to focus on China and in Mexico, where baseball is underdeveloped, and in Europe and Brazil,” Small said. “We look at pockets, where we think we can go in and make a difference.”

MLB opened its first Chinese center at Wuxi’s Don Bei Tang school in 2009 and this past school year trained 85 student athletes, who now come from all parts of China.

Litsch, who last pitched in the majors in 2011, was hurt in spring training the following year and unable to return despite undergoing a host of procedures. After calling it quits in 2014, he was looking around for coaching jobs and found an offer online that brought him to China for a one-month trial last November.

“I sent a resume and it turned out it was with MLB,” Litsch said. “I went with the mindset of ‘Who knows?'”

“I had a few pro job offers. I turned them down because I felt I could make more of an impact here, show off more of my skills. As a pro, you’re doing things the system’s way.”

Since taking on this challenge, Litsch, who is all too familiar with various surgeries, has spent a lot of time learning best practices for young pitchers, and said one of the advantages of working with Chinese youngsters is that many of them are starting from scratch. They have few bad habits to unlearn and are keen to pick up whatever they can from their instructors.

But while there are many pitching mechanic pitfalls Litsch can help them avoid, so much is unknown about the best way to develop young pitchers in a time when there is an epidemic of elbow ligament injuries in the States.

“I went to a couple of my doctor buddies to get as much info as you can get,” said Litsch, who has a huge number of decisions to make regarding how to bring the youngsters along.

Assisting in the process is Jackson Zhou, a graduate of the program who now works as an interpreter.

“I started playing when I was nine years old and now it’s getting popular,” said Zhou, who graduated in 2014. “The staff is great. They help you a lot in baseball. I’m working with (head coach) Bill Thomas and Jesse and they’ve taught me so much about baseball and life.”

MLB’s program, which uses fields and facilities that would make many American junior college programs envious, began seeking talent in the area around Wuxi, home of this season’s China Baseball League champion Jiangsu Pegasus.

“The first recruiting class in 2009 consisted of 16 players, mostly from the local area of Wuxi,” said Rick Dell, MLB’s Director of Baseball Development Asia. “Since that time, we have expanded our recruiting to the four corners of China.”

“We have developed relationships in what we call ‘Independent Pockets’ throughout China…a Korean, American or local Chinese, working in an area wanting to do a good thing, organizes a baseball club. They have little support (but) we help them with our consulting. They develop players and we give them an opportunity. It is a win-win situation.”

Because students who attend are getting into universities, and have the opportunity to play abroad, interest is growing. Dell said they are now fielding requests for tryouts and not only from mainland China but also from Taiwan and South Korea.

“For some of these kids, it’s a 38-hour train ride from their hometowns,” Litsch said. “This is an adventure for me, but it’s an opportunity for life for them.”